Cubans are famous for many things: cigars, salsa, and rum jump to mind, with world class athletes not far behind. But that’s amateur hour; after a little more experience and exposure, outsiders (and all non-Cubans are considered so at some time, to some degree) will appreciate less commercial, but equally celebrated traits like Cubans’ sense of humor and solidarity and their art for artifice.

Those who walk the walk and talk the talk know there’s another especially Cuban art and craft – that of come-on lines, known in local lingo as piropos. Whispered your way as you walk by or shouted from a bustling corner, every pretty, average, and ‘butter face’ Cubana has received her share of flowers from the mouths of appreciative men.

“If you cook like you walk, I’ll scrape the bottom of your pan,” (see No. 1) is probably the country’s most popular piropo and anyone with a little swing to their hips has heard it. And while the sentiment sets the imagination awhirl, not a few foreign women have complained to me about how this and other come-on lines tossed their way. In short, they find them offensive.

My friend Juan Carlos argued famously on this precise point with a US feminist poet of note while she was living in Cuba. At that time, she was (and probably still is) vehement in her position that piropos are an affront to women. She’s not alone: similar views were shared here when I mentioned the piropos I receive as I ride this city’s streets on my beloved new bike (see note).


To be clear, I’m not talking about groseros – rude, crude lines reinforcing a patriarchal power structure. These are something else entirely and should be rebuked as so. Nor am I referring to the ubiquitous tssssss, tssssss, tssssss that’s used to catch the attention of women countrywide (and which I’m terrified I’ll let slip while beckoning a New York City waitress resulting in bodily harm). No, what I’m concerned with here are those delightfully cunning lines which show appreciation for the female form; I, like my friend Juan Carlos, don’t see the problem.

By way of disclaimer: I was raised by a feminist (by nature, not indoctrination) and I pride myself on being a non-biased, all-inclusive kind of gal who doesn’t give a damn about the color of your skin, to what gender you ascribe, before which god you kneel, or who you choose to screw. Everyone is equal in my heart and mind (until they prove otherwise through moral/ethical digressions). But since so many foreign women have complained to me about piropos, I have to wonder: am I missing something?

And further: what of my impulse to toss out my own piropos to some delicious specimen – a mangón of such magnitude I can’t let him pass without voicing appreciation? Does that make me a failed feminist or a femachista – a term coined by my friend Rigo for those women who talk a good feminist game but reinforce the machismo that is so rampant and damaging here?

After ten years living and working in this wild, incomparable place, I think not. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that the well-crafted come-on line does no harm. In essence, good piropos are funny, imaginative fare designed to make the recipient pause long enough to laugh; and laughter, along with a sharp mind, is the best aphrodisiac I’ve found – two characteristics which the best piropos embody. This struck me squarely the other day when a guy said to me: “your name must be Alice because looking at you sends me to Wonderland.” I laughed out loud and responded: “good one, brother!” And he laughed too.

I have to ask, then: two strangers laughing out loud at a line cleverly crafted. What’s so wrong with that?

Many foreigners don’t always get this. Furthermore, their attempts at piropos usually pale in comparison. To wit, my old friend Mountain was infamous for cooing “oh to be a bicycle seat” to any pretty girl who rode by.

But to every rule, there’s an exception, like the handsome Swiss stranger who leaned in to tell me: “you must be from heaven, because you have the scapula of an angel.”

Personally, I say ¡Sí! to piropos cubanos.

Note: Curiously, the quantity and quality of piropos I get while on two wheels differ considerably from those I get on two feet.

1. Si cocinas como caminas, me comería hasta la raspita.
If you cook like you walk, I’ll scrape the pot clean.

2. Por eso hay tantos apagones, porque la Empresa Eléctrica confía en que tú nos ilumines.
So that’s why there are so many power cuts: the Electrical Supply Company is counting on you to light us all up.

3. Niña, estás como la quincallita, chiquitica pero bien surtidita.
Girl, you’re like the ironmonger’s shop. Small, but well-stocked.

4. Hombre: ¿Tú te llamas Alicia?’
Mujer: Yo no, ¿por qué?
Hombre: Porque una mujer como tú solo puede venir del País de las Maravillas.
Man: Is your name Alice?
Woman: Me? No, why?
Man: Because a woman like you could only have come from Wonderland.

5. Podré no verte, podré no hablarte, pero lo que jamás podré será olvidarte.
I could bear not seeing you, I could bear not speaking to you, but what I could never bear would be to forget you.

6. Bendito el escultor que hizo tus curvas.
Blessed be the sculptor that made your curves.
7. Las estrellas están enojadas con Dios, porque no las hicieron tan hermosas como te hicieron a ti.
The stars are angry with God because he didn’t make them as beautiful as you.

Pick up lines Cuban style

8. Estás como los almendrones, de uso pero en buen estado.
You’re like a classic car, used but in good condition.

9. De qué juguetería te escapaste, muñeca?
Which toyshop did you escape from, you doll?

10. Quisiera ser un cigarrillo para quemarme en tus labios.
I’d like to be a cigarette, to burn up on your lips. 

11.Amor, ¿quién fuera patito de goma para nadar en tu bañera?
Love, if only I were a rubber duck to swim in your bath. 

12.Ay mamá, tú con tanta carne y yo pasando hambre.
Oh, Mama, you with so much meat and me so hungry.

Pick up lines Cuban style

13. Si algún día quieres matarme no lo hagas con un puñal, deja un momento de amarme y el golpe será mortal.
If one day you want to kill me, don’t do it with a knife, just stop loving me for one moment and it’ll be a mortal blow.

14. Si el sol pudiera mirarte, nunca sería de noche.
If the sun could see you, night would never come.

15.Eres más linda que un domingo de dominó en la playa.
You’re better than a Sunday of dominoes on the beach.

16. Si vuelves a sonreír me derrito como helado en agosto.
If you smile again I’ll melt like an ice cream in August.

November 2006

Piropos yes or no, what do the Cubans think? 

Havana city 


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