‘YOUR eyes are like grapes, your mouth like an apple, what a great fruit cocktail we’d make with my banana.’

EYE POPPIN’: Modern Valentine’s Day cards are strong medicine
EYE POPPIN’: Modern Valentine’s Day cards are strong medicine

Let’s face it, if a guy shouted that out to a woman in the street these days he’d be had up for sexual harassment.

And that’s one of the tamer piropos – chat-up lines rooted in Hispanic courtship culture but still bandied about in Spain today.

Derived from the Greek ‘pyro’ meaning fire, in centuries past they allowed a young swain to express admiration for a member of the opposite sex. But if you’re thinking of trying one out on Tracy in accounts this Valentine’s Day to show her what a cultured romantic you are, don’t. The only flames you’re likely to ignite will be the ones you’re shot down in as you crash and burn.

The dictionary definition of ‘piropear’ is ‘to pay a compliment’ but in these PC times I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t want to guarantee the public safety of any man who was to shout ‘¡Eso son carnes y no lo que echaba mi suegra al cocido!’ (loose translation, ‘That’s real meat and not the kind my mother-in-law cooks…’) … or ‘De qué jugueteria te sacaron, muñeca?’ (‘What toy store did they get you from, doll face?’)

Even at their least offensive – ‘I wish I was cross-eyed so I could see you twice!’ – the object of your affection will be searching for the sick bag.

While at their tackiest – ‘I wish I was a pirate so I could plunder the treasure between your legs’– you’ll be lucky to get away with your own family jewels intact. It’s no surprise there’s pressure from womens’ movements to criminalise the practice.

Most piropos use metaphor and food is a popular motif for flattering a hot woman, as in the popular Andalucian saying: ‘Pepper is small and spicy and seasons stews; you are small and spicy and my body is unseasoned’.  Although I’m not sure what the racial equality lobby would have to say about the Mexican piropo: ‘Hey black woman, if you shake it as you move it, what a chocolate!’

Perhaps to be expected from a nation where ‘me caga en la hostia’ (‘I shit on the communion wafer’) is a curse still in common usage, scatological humour is another strong theme of the piropo. In the interests of not grossing out OP readers I will quote the following example in the vernacular: ‘Estás tan buena que te comería todo y me cosería el culo pa no cagarte.’

Even if you say it in Spanish, you feel the need to wash your mouth out with soap.

As for ¡Ay, hija mía, si fueras lavadora, cuántos polvos te echaría!’ – safe to say, it has nothing to do with washing powder.

Spain’s President of the Observatory against Gender Violence, Maria Angeles Carmona, has declared the piropo ‘an invasion of a woman’s privacy’.

“The piropo has always been permitted and assumed to be normal but no one has the right to make a comment on the appearance of women and it must be eradicated,” she says.

She may have a point. Mind you, she hasn’t seen this season’s crop of English Valentine’s cards, beside which even piropos seems tame.

With apologies to this organ’s esteemed editor, it’s amazing what you can still get away with in print!

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