Piropos: ‘Tis the Season to Cat Call

As one of my students put it, it’s spring and the women have started peeling off their clothes as the weather has increased.  There are certain things that draw more male attention here in Chile, and one of them, unsurprisingly, is skin.

That settles it then—let the season for piropos begin!

Piropos; piropear: cat calls or pick up lines; to cat call.

Typical Piropos:

Piropos wordle

Guapa, hermosa, preciosa, maravillosa, linda, bonita: These are all words that are used to say beautiful or pretty.  They can be used in many variations to modify the meaning.  For example, adding superlative with –ísima.  Here are some other uses:

  • ¡Guapísima!
  • Ay, !qué hermosa! (How beautiful!)
  • Qué lindos ojos tiene.  (What  pretty eyes you have.)
  • ¡Super preciosa! ¡La cosa más maravillosa que he visto en mi vida! (Super beautiful!  The most marvelous thing I’ve seen in my life!

Rica: This stands alone to me… probably because it means “sexy,” but it also means that something is delicious.  You might notice people comparing you with cakes or other tasty things to eat:

  • Rica la torta.  (The cake’s delicious.  They say this about you, just to be clear.)
  • ¡Qué bombón!

Another typical piropo is the “Hello” adorned with compliments and dripping with suggestiveness:

    • Buenos días, señorita.  (Good morning, miss.  But trust me, there’s a big difference between how a polite concierge may say this and… well, not so polite people.)
    • Hola, mi amorcito.  (Hello, my love.)
    • Hola, mi reina.  (Hello, my queen.)

Sound effects are an essential part of piropos.  This can range anywhere from:

  • Whistling to
  • Incredibly loud kiss noises to
  • Honking (sometimes with excitable car horns) to
  • Making words sound longer.  You can do this by simply yelling “ooooh” at the end of a word (for example: ¡Ricaooooo!) or by adding “eh” (“Super linda, eh.”)

Finally, remember that piropos can also be pick up lines.

  • Tantas curvas y yo sin frenos (“So many curves, and I’m without breaks.”)

If you’re interested in hearing more Chilean pick up lines… that are totally inappropriate… check out the video Mejores Piropos Chilenos.

Oppression or Appreciation?

There are many reasons piropos might make you uncomfortable or unsafe.  Something about someone older than my father breathing “riiica” into my ear as he passes me on the street simply gives me the heebie jeebies.

Still, many people argue that there is no harm in piropos, that it is a form of showing appreciation for women.

Well, it depends on your definition of women.  If you define a woman as a body and not as an individual, I suppose this is a way to show appreciation.  More specifically, you’re expressing a sexually charged judgment of her body.

I recently went to our church for a father-daughter dinner, which I knew would give me more perspective on gender here in Chile.  Sure enough, during a competition of several father-daughter pairs to see who knew each other the best, I heard the message that women are valued for their bodies and beauty while men are seen more as individuals.

The first question was for the fathers:

What part of her body does your daughter think is most beautiful?

The second question was for the daughters:

What does your father think is his greatest virtue?

I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but it is in these subtleties that we learn how to understand ourselves as gendered beings.  For example, I learned that Chilean men are all expected to be hardworking and easily angered (trabajador y enojón).

And taking it back to piropos, I’ve noticed that the second attention-grabber to get the piropos going is exactly what two out of the three daughters said was their most beautiful part: HAIR.

If I wear my hair down I get many more piropos than if my hair is up and I walk down the same road at the same time of the day in the same outfit.

Chime in!

What do you think of cat calls?  I would love to hear others’ stories and opinions.


You’ve got to start somewhere, ¿cachaí?

Shortly after you arrive in Chile, you will notice two constant tag-ons at the end of most sentences: ¿cachaí? and po.

The po is the simpler of the two—it’s just a bastardized version of the word “pues” and is used to emphasize everything and anything.  For example:

  • Sí, po (“Yes!” or “Of course.”)
  • Ya po  (This can mean agreement, like “alright”; it can also indicate a complaint, like “Yaaaa, po, stop bothering me!”)
  • ¿Cómo estaí, po? (“How are you??”)
  • Or… ¡Pero no me peguííííís, po! (Don’t hit me!!)


Many of you Spanish students may not recognize that this is, in fact, a verb.  What?  What kind of conjugation is that? you may ask yourself.  That, my friends, is the Chilean version of voseo.  But we’ll get to that lovely detail in another post.  In the meantime, it’s only important for you to cachar the meaning and some uses of the verb cachar.

There are a couple different stories about where this word comes from, but the most popular is that it comes from the English “to catch,” as in “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”  And so finishing a sentence with ¿cachaí? effectively translates to: “you catch?” or “you dig?” or better yet, this Jack Nicholson impression in Aladdin.  You got it?

Good.  Let’s move on to some other applications.

  • ¿Cachaste?  You are walking with your friend when one of her coworkers appears.  “Oh,” she says.  “Catalina.  She always gives me ugly looks.”  After the two parties pass silently, your friend turns to you and says, “¿Cachaste?”  You agree that Catalina did give her an ugly look.  “Sí, caché.”
  • Cáchate  Why say cáchate when you could just say cacha for an imperative?  Because the –te adds emphasis.  This is a very emphatic command: COMPREHEND.  For example, you’re explaining how you had been trying to pay your phone bill for weeks, but all of the bank’s services were down.  Then you got stuck with a huge interest charge.  You might finish the story with an incredulous “cáchate.”  Like a “just imagine that!” or “let that one soak in for a bit.”
  • No cacha ni una… He doesn’t understand anything.  Ni una huevada.  But if he is diligent in his attempts to understand, he eventually can say…
  • Por fin, me pegué la cachada.  Finally, I got it!

As you can see, this verb can be used in all forms and tenses, although it is pretty informal, and I wouldn’t recommend using it in conjunction with usted.

Variations in accent:

Finally, there are notorious accent differences in the pronunciation of cachaí.  This is because of the gradation in percussiveness of “ch” according to class.

  • People from the upper classes will often make the “ch” sound like ⟨t͡s⟩, almost like in “pizza.”
  • A more moderate pronunciation is , the sound we use in “church.”
  • And people from more rural or working class backgrounds are more likely to make an /sh/ or ʃ sound.  ¿Cashay o no cashay?

Bad luck, friends.

Chilenismos of the Week!

From: Inciclopedia

As many of you know, Chileans speak a unique form of Spanish that is known in more technical circles of linguistic study as gibberish.  Part of this is the infamous Chilean accent, which, of course, varies slightly by region and, more notoriously, by class.  Another is the Chilean adaptation of voseo.  And then there is the lexicon, a mash of words adopted from Mapudungun, ascribed double or triple meanings, or strung together into idiomatic phrases that you won’t understand unless you’ve been to Chile.  In short, these are the Chilenismos.

I’ve taken it upon myself to spread knowledge of this language and expand its reach beyond its Darwinian isolation.

This will be a weekly post of about five words or phrases that I’ve been mulling over during the week.  ¡¡Warning: Some of these posts will deal with strong or vulgar language!!  I will mark them with “¡!” in case you are not interested in reading them.

Enjoy!  Feel free to post comments, questions, or requests.

Trámites: Bureaucracy’s Blue Screen of Death (Part 1)

Don't Enter: Residents OnlyWarning: This post should be used mostly for entertainment.  If you want to know more about the right way to marry a Chilean, I will soon post more information.

I have returned to Santiago and want nothing more than to begin my life as a professional.  Unfortunately, I still don’t have residency.

I know, we all thought it would be much simpler—I am a gringa, after all.  And I married a Chilean.  Isn’t there some privilege that goes along with being a white, American professional that magically ushers me into all things good?

My many privileges aside, it turns out that paperwork is still paperwork.  Bureaucracy remains the same.

Registro Civil sign in Rapa Nui

Translated into Rapanui for your enjoyment

Fortunately, there exists in Spanish a word that very aptly describes what I’m going through: trámites.  (For you newcomers, check out Intro to Trámites.)  And I’m not really surprised that such a succinct way of putting it doesn’t exist in English.  It means you’re in the process of something, the formalities; it means you reel about from one building to the next, waiting in line after line, taking number after number, filling out form after form, and always thinking the end could be just one little slip of paper away.

The process that we’ve been through so far is longer than was necessary because we didn’t have the right information before moving to Chile.

So here is what we have done so far:

1.  I showed up to the country and paid $160 for a three-month tourist visa.

2.  We headed to the Departament of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.  We thought we had all the necessary documentation to be considered married and to apply for residency. Turns out our marriage was not valid in Chile (kind of obvious, I know).

After waiting in a line that extended down six flights of stairs just to take a number, we waited three or four hours in the waiting room for our number to be called.  The woman who assisted us told us not to worry!  We could get married again here in Chile.  Simple.

Window at the Civil Registry

Graffiti at the Civil Registry

3.  We braved our first attempts at getting a marriage appointment.  There was a three-month waiting period.  That wasn’t going to work.  I had a job offer, and my visa expired in three months.

4.  We decided to take a trip with my in-laws to see Edwin’s grandfather in the south of Chile (See also: From Lake to Sea and Tractor Crossing).

We would take advantage of a pituto, which is Chilean for a connection or an “in” with someone, in the registro civil in Valdivia; we’d be married by the time we got back to Santiago.  Unfortunately, the pituto was on vacation.  And the waiting period was too long for us to tie the knot before returning home.

Looks promising...5.  Back in Santiago, we decided that we simply had to make an appointment at the registro civil in Maipú.

After waiting in the wrong line for an hour, as there were virtually no signs or indications of where we needed to be, we were directed upstairs.  There were a couple of people there staring at an empty number dispenser.  (The dispenser has since been removed, as shown in the picture to the right.)  The frosted glass doors were closed and unlabeled.

A woman would periodically pop out of the door to hand us numbers, but then she proceeded to call numbers out of order, asking people, “What are you here for?  Oh, no; you have to wait.”

Broken windows

A little run-down, I guess…

When it was finally our turn, we explained our situation and what we had been told to do.  Her response was, “What?  You can’t get married again.  You’re already married.  Someone will find out, and it will get back to me.  They’ll come asking why I married two people who were already married.”

But just to make sure, she called someone else and put us on the phone with them.

Finally, we had some of the information we needed.

Stay tuned for the thrilling details of the actual process we needed to go through…

Peeled Paws and Epic Fails

Some thoughts that have passed through my head in the last couple days:

I will never understand platinum blonde hair.

I met a Chilean named Jonatan on Monday.  He told me his name, quickly informing me that it was missing an ‘h.’  He then pointed to his name tag where there should be an ‘h’ and said, “FAIL.”  I died laughing.  He later used “EPIC FAIL.”  We talked a little about Starcraft.

Chocolate and basil is a great combination.

Latest Chilean bagged item: juice concentrate.

I’m not sure how many times watching A-ha’sTouchy” in the Metro station is too many…

Good idea: fans in the Metro.  Dumb idea: to have those fans mist you with water so that you feel grossly cool for 1.7 seconds before hitting the thick wall of hot, sticky humidity in a train that forces skin-to-skin contact on you.  Santiago is fairly dry; keep it that way.

Lessons in Chilean:

Andar a pata pelada—literally, going around with peeled paws.  I’m always barefoot, and my host parents always think I’ll be cold.  It’s summer here.

Te fijaí—(frequently used at the end of a phrase…like cachaí)  You know?  Did you catch that?

Ponte tú—basically another way of saying, ‘you know,’ or ‘you realize’… I think of “doncha know” in Minnesota for any of the three “you knows” listed above.

BananoFanny pack.  It’s what all the cool kids here do.  I’m getting one.  Probably today, even.  Don’t judge me.

Funny story about fanny packs: a Chilean friend in Oasis (Ricardo) was explaining how he avoids being pickpocketed to another gringa and me.  His advice was basically, “See, I just wear my banano here,” indicating with both hands the area where he wears it… I’m not sure I have to go into much detail here, but I will say that we gringas were scandalized.

Pega—work… other meanings of pegar: to stick or glue, to hit or kick.  Also, pega apparently means magpie.  But in Chile, it means work.  Like, trabajo.  Good job, Chile.

Penca—I love this word.  It can mean many things, though… and I have made the mistake of leaving the meaning up in the air before.  Here are some uses: boring/fome, shoddy/low quality, I guess it can mean the stem of a plant or the salad of that plant, or …ummm…

Some stories involving “penca”:

A friend of mine was describing the most penca situation he’d been in, which was crashing on a couple of couches at a sold-out hostel in Buenos Aires.  I talked about a leaky, super-penca hostel I stayed in Viña del Mar.

A couple of days later, Ricardo asked me what my favorite Chilenismo was. (How could I chose??)  I said a couple of things and then, “Me gusta ‘penca’.”  Laughter and an exclamation: EPIC FAIL.

Apogón—blackout… they happen here.  Twice in the last week, in fact.  That means no electricity, no internet, and no cellphone service.  But don’t worry; I just light a mosquito repellent candle in my room.  And now I can pull out my charango.

I don’t think they’re speaking English…!?!

Or Spanish, for that matter.  Here are some fun words that don’t exist elsewhere:

(Word—English/ should be)




Agüita—herbal tea/ té de yerbas


Bacán— means it’s goooood, kind of like a baller… like, “Yo, man, that’s ballerrrrr”

Piropos—flattery, cat calls: “¡Que linda la roja!”

Canuto—evangelist, bible-thumpin’


Fome–as in “¡que fome!”… lame, dull, boring.  I hear this all the time.  Probably because I don’t carretear(see above) enough.

Huevón… if you know Chile, you know huevón.  Similar to the word clemenche.