Adios ángel con alas en los pies. (Farewell angel, with winged feet). Ladies, how might you feel if after dancing together, a tanguero whispered this to you? Or, De qué estrella te caíste? (Which star did you fall from?) Would you feel outrage for being objectified by a man? Or pleasure at the chivalrous attention?
A year or so ago, when the award-winning Argentine feature film El secreto de sus ojos (The secret in their eyes) was released here, an ex-patriot porteño expressed delight with several piropos (flirtatious compliments), peppered through the early part of the movie. I think that he felt a twinge of nostalgia for his home-town and the local practice of a man expressing appreciation for a woman, traditionally done in clever, poetic form. This has been described as the habit of delivering a verbal flower to the ladies that pass by … (Sergio). A crude wolf-whistle hardly has the same effect!
Call me old-fashioned, but IMHO the piropo belongs perfectly in traditional tango culture, where the woman is respected and treasured. Men are macho, but not in the sense often used by gringos. Totango’s article about male & female roles, and tango gender equality provides a revealing insight into this side of tango.
Some say that the piropo is dying out, losing its poetry and becoming more mundane. Certainly Qué ojos! (What eyes!) is less likely to enchant, than Dame de tus ojos la alegría y de tu boca dame la vida (From your eyes give me joy and from your lips give me life) Luis Alberto. Perhaps Argentine men are becoming a little too busy and too stressed nowadays to come up with witty metaphors.
On the other hand, for Valentine’s Day this year, the organisers of La Milonguita ran a competition for the best piropo. The many clever entries show that this tradition is alive and well after all, at least in Argentina!
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