Oye, rubia: Catcalling in Madrid

Oye, rubia: Catcalling in Madrid

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Hubba hubba – Expatica blogger Kristen Bernardi talks about men on the prowl in Madrid: is it a compliment or controversy?

Are your feet tired? Because you’ve been running through my mind all day. 

Did it hurt?
When you fell from heaven? 

I lost my phone number. Can I have yours? 
There are loads of cheesy pick-up lines out there.  Most of them don’t work. 
When I first arrived in Spain, I remember being a bit shocked the first time I heard a man utter guapa under his breath as I passed by. In the staunchly politically correct United States, catcalls in the street went out in the ‘60s, other than the occasional construction worker with a wandering eye.
But here in Madrid, it’s not just obreros and viejos verdes. I’ve heard a whispered guapa or preciosa from old and young, Spanish and South American, men in suits and teenagers in track suits. 

[And I’m no supermodel! I maintain that being naturally blonde in Madrid is an anomaly akin to Haley’s Comet or a competent cashier at Día. Blonde women: if you’ve got a face like the back end of a bus, but fair hair – get thee to Spain, stat! You will get attention like never before.] 
Anyway, these piropos are commonplace for any young, sweet thang walking down Gran Vía. 
An impossibly leggy friend of mine who resembles American model Christy Turlington was once told: “Tienes las piernas como jamones cinco jotas”. The guy meant it as the ultimate compliment, but we both agreed that in the States, comparing any part of a woman to any part of a pig would probably not be a good idea. 
One day I wondered aloud to a Spanish friend: “What would happen if girls actually stopped in the street to chat with these guys?
If we said: ‘Oh, you think I’m pretty? Let’s go have a coffee and see where it leads.’” 
My friend just shook his head. “That’s not the really the goal,” he said. “When you get a piropo, someone is simply appreciating you – complimenting something nice. It’s not dirty or perverse, they just want to tell you that you’re nice to look at.” 
A popular feminist argument would be that piropos are degrading or lecherous.
But I have to say, in some cases, I agree with my Spanish friend. They almost always seem to be intended as a simple compliment, and in this case, intention is everything. 
One of my coworkers who just got back from a trip to Buenos Aires, said the catcalls there were definitely of the x-rated variety. She felt like men everywhere were undressing her with their eyes, while licking their lips and spouting out things that would make a porn star blush. By comparison, the occasional ‘rubia’ seems downright tame. 
So what do you do when you’re on the receiving end of a piropo? Do you smile? Do you nod in acknowledgement? Do you ignore it and just keep on walking? 
And here’s the clincher, ladies: If one day you leave the house looking what you think is your best, and you stroll past a group of red-blooded men without hearing any ‘guapa!’… are you just a little disappointed?
Not in Spain... but just for laughs.
17 April 2009
Kristen Bernardi / Expatica
Kristen Bernardi is an American journalist living in Madrid. She has contributed to various travel publications including Fodor's, TimeOut, The Insider's Guide, Spain Magazine and InMadrid. Kristen writes a blog, Oye, rubia, on a wide range of topics for Expatica on fortnightly Fridays
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2 Comments To This Article

  • Cocinitas posted:

    on 10th October 2011, 09:21:40 - Reply

    Piropos are very common in spain, the one with the one of the jamón cinco jotas is very common as well as "estás más buena que una tajada de lomo" wich means you are hotter than a piece of lomo.
  • Gus posted:

    on 28th May 2010, 14:04:30 - Reply

    "So what do you do when you’re on the receiving end of a piropo? Do you smile? Do you nod in acknowledgement? Do you ignore it and just keep on walking? "

    Just say "Anda ya...!"