“What has been the hardest thing for you to adjust to here in Nicaragua?” my host dad asked me one evening when we were eating dinner. I thought about a number of different things I’ve had to adjust to: the food, the climate, living with a host family, work ethics, transportation, etc. But as I reflected on each one of these aspects I thought of both challenges and gratifications. For example, there have been days when I completely dreaded the thought of another plate of gallo pinto and others when I couldn’t wait to eat it with a fresh corn tortilla and cuajada on the side.
So what part of being in Nicaragua have I experienced more displeasure than pleasure? Then it finally came to me – catcalls. The ridiculous amount of catcalls that I have heard here in Nicaragua is one aspect that has constantly made me uncomfortable and I have yet to figure out how to cope with it.
My host dad responded by laughing.
Not only have I struggled with how vulnerable catcalls makes me feel, but I have also struggled with being able to properly communicate my frustrations to host country nationals in Spanish. If my host dad truly knew what I meant I don’t think he would have laughed.
When I first came to Nicaragua, I was told piropo was the Spanish word for “catcall,” but I was also told piropo meant, “compliment.” So when I tell locals I don’t appreciate piropos, it is like saying I don’t appreciate compliments. Which could explain why my host dad laughed at me.
To aid in the struggle I was having in properly communicating myself, I decided to do three things: look up the definition of the word piropo, find a more appropriate Spanish word for “compliment,” and find a more appropriate Spanish word for “harassment,” which is really more like what a piropo felt like to me. This way I could more accurately portray my feelings towards the discomforting experiences I was having.
This is what I found:
- Piropo is defined as, “un dicho breve con que se pondera alguna cualidad de alguien, especialmente la belleza de una mujer” (a brief saying in which ones weighs the quality of someone, especially the beauty of a women.)
- A more appropriate word to use for “compliment” is elogio, which is defined as “alabanza de las cualidades y méritos de alguien o de algo” (to praise the qualities and merits of someone or something) or cumplido, “acción obsequiosa o muestra de urbanidad” (to present or show courteousness).
- For me, a more appropriate word to use instead of piropo is acoso, which is defined as, “efecto de apremiar de forma insistente a alguien con molestias o requerimientos” (the result when someone urges in an insistent form on someone else with nuisance or requests.)
(The definitions above are defined by the Real Academia Española.)
Knowing the right words is powerful. Now I feel like I can more accurately portray to people my point of view on these comments I receive in the streets and how I feel about them. It’s not that I don’t like these comments because I am so full of myself that I don’t need to hear that I am pretty from strangers, which is how people might have interpreted it when I used the word piropo, but rather that they make me feel vulnerable because they are unsolicited, I don’t know how to respond, and because I have no way of knowing if it could escalate. By using the word acoso, people are able to better understand what I mean and, hopefully, we can have a more fruitful conversation.
– Lindsay Nason
Peace Corps Nicaragua EEP 65
GAD Committee Member
As many volunteers can attest to, there is no easy solution on how to react in these often difficult encounters, nor an ideal way to talk about them, but it’s always helpful to hear others’ perspectives. Here at GAD Nicaragua, we’d love to hear your experiences and suggestions in the comments below. How have you approached the topic of piropos or acosos with host country nationals? What coping mechanisms and strategies have worked for you?