First things first. A piropo is a flirtatious, admiring compliment in Spanish, they thrive on the streets of Latin America, and while some may consider them annoying or even verbal assault, others consider them an art form. As a verb, you can say echar un piropo or piropear. Yes, piropos often have the reputation of just being sleazy pickup lines. They don’t have to be, though; they can be an amorous compliment y ya, nada más y nada menos.
I always kind of wanted to write a blog post on Spanish catcalls in the street. I dreamed up assignments of traversing Latin America’s alleys and avenues and reporting on what the men were saying in El Salvador, the heights and depths of creativity in Chile, the levels of desperation in Puerto Rico, the poetry of the side streets of Bolivia. People talk about learning Spanish that’s more de la calle, and I remember once having a book called Streetwise Spanish (alas, lost in the great taxi heist of 2010)– what could be more callejero than piropos? While there are surely many nasty, creepy, and wildly inappropriate comments made to women in the streets, many beautiful and lyrical compliments are paid as well. It could be a pain walking around in Colombia, no doubt–sunglasses, a quick pace, and a menacing, no me jodas look were my friends. I also know that my imperfect Spanish comprehension shielded me from many things that were spoken too fast or mumbled too pasito for me to catch them. In general, I gave groups of men as wide a berth as possible, especially the omnipresent construction workers. All that to say that I was probably protected from the most lecherous comments. Still, I defend piropos in general. It all depends on who’s administering them.
What woman can say that a really charming and reverential piropo launched when she was least expecting it hasn’t made her day at one point or another? Most of what was said to me was highly respectful or, failing that, at least flattering. Look, my ego isn’t made of steel. Even the most hackneyed lines would often give me a small pep in my step, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss them. Most piropos ran along the lines of something like:
Qué nena tan linda.
Uy, qué guapa.
Eres la mujer más bonita en toda la ciudad. Buenas tardes.
You get the picture. And then there were two red-letter days, two piropos that made me beam inside for a good couple hours.
Eres un poema visual. (On the street)
Para mis ojos, tu hermosura es perfecta. (I was sitting at a café in Bogotá reading Cien años de soledad.)
The best piropo of my life, however, didn’t happen in Colombia. It wasn’t even in Spanish. It was right here in my city on a fall Sunday afternoon much like this one five years ago. I’d been scrunched up on a bench in front of a café for a few hours furiously reading Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! All of a sudden, an older man (they’re always older men) came up, nonchalantly handed me a small slip of paper, and walked away.
Not hitting on you. Not even leaving my name. Just know this: you are absolutely beautiful. I hope you are acting or modeling. Go well.
I was woozy for weeks.
But enough about me and some of the kind things strangers have felt compelled to say to me. What about you? What piropos have you received? What piropos have you delivered? What piropos would you give out if only you had the guts to do so? Hmm. I am a strong believer in remarking on beauty when it strikes you, when it catches you unawares, when it overwhelms you to the point that it hurts just a little to take it all in. I want to give out piropos, I do. So I shall, somehow. To someone. Somewhere. All he has to do is walk by me.
How you go about constructing your piropos is your business, your prerogative. The idea is originality, which doesn’t have to mean spontaneity. The dear, bumbling Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice had some wise words on this point.
“. . . I am happy on every occasion to offer those little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies . . . These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay.”
“You judge very properly,” said Mr. Bennet, “and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”
“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”
As unbearable as that creature was, there is a measure of insight in what he had to say–it is best that your piropos don’t sound canned. I will be more than a little devastated if hundreds of you respond to say that you received that same slip of paper while reading at a coffee shop. You will have to work on making your piropos elegant and delicate; they should nacerte, that is, flow out of you. In the meantime, here are a few basics for talking about beauty in Spanish.
linda, bonita, hermosa, divina, guapa, atractiva, bella, preciosa, (estar) buena, sexy, despampanante (stunning), una muñeca, una princesa, una reina
Those are just a few of the words that should work everywhere, and every city and country has its regional descriptors as well. For example, churra and chusca are very popular in Colombia; there’s also pispa in Medellín and chirriada in Bogotá. (though I think that’s old-fashioned) And un bizcocho (cake) is a beautiful woman (un bagre [catfish] is an ugly one).
My friend Rafael is convinced that I’m an angel fallen from heaven, and he’s been telling me so in long, lavish, strictly respectful, strictly-as-a-friend messages for years. He loves to say swoony things to me like:
Hola, ¿cómo estás aparte de bella, dulce y sonriente, preciosura?
Y vos, ¿cómo está la chica más linda del vecindario, la que da alegría a todo mundo con su linda sonrisa y su angelical cara?
Hola bella damisela.
Hola dulce y elegante flor de primavera, que por la primavera haces botón, por el verano floreces y en el otoño nos das de tu perfume y por invierno tu delicadeza.
Hola bella fémina.
Hola bella y gentil dama.
He’s Mexican, but he also does his best to woo me in Colombian Spanish.
Pues, de una, parcera.
Con mucho gusto te colaboro, bizcocho.
¿Cómo estás hoy día, bella paisa?
Turning the adjectives into nouns, he’ll also talk about my belleza, dulzura, gentileza, nobleza and grandeza for a change. There’s also hermosura, preciosura, and a word I learned just today– lindura. From the DRAE, lindura–1. Cualidad de lindo; 2. Persona o cosa linda. Good to know.
These are just some of the piropos that haven’t worked on me (although they certainly charmed me). Imagínense the ones that have.
guapo, lindo, apuesto, buen mozo, (estar) bueno, simpático
In Colombia, they also say churro, chusco, pinta, chirriado as well as many other words I either never learned or have forgotten.
Long live piropos! When done right, they can be so musical, so poetic, so galvanizing. Now I walk down the street and everything’s silent; if I walk down a major road, all I get are prosaic honks. I drive most places, and cars are not exactly piropo-friendly. I just got a bike, though, so maybe some gallant, some knight in a shining Armada will valiantly stick out his neck to pay me a long overdue piropo. And, smitten, of course I’ll pay him one right back.
(I haven’t forgotten about that second load of laundry, btw. Still working on it.)
What about you? What piropos have you received or doled out? Are you a fan of them, or do you despise them? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with? What other general and country-specific vocabulary can you teach us for describing other people’s good looks?