Chivalry and Piropos

Just the other day I was taking the elevator in my apartment building to the basement level of the parking garage. On the elevator there was only one other person – a man who just so happened to exit the elevator in front of me when the doors opened. It struck me as odd for just a moment and I couldn’t help the thought, this would never happen in Chile.

Not like it bothers me or anything, it’s just a difference in our cultures that became very clear to me only weeks into my time in Chile. I had to take an elevator in almost every building I entered and there easily observed notable acts of chivalry. And by the way, is it not the least bit ironic that the country that endures a high number of earthquakes has very tall buildings and so many elevators??

The men in Chile are extremely chivalrous. If you’ll allow me to use the elevator scenario as an example: I cannot tell you how many times I saw close to 5 women waiting for the elevator and one man who steps aside to let all of us enter first. This may seem trivial, but when we got to the desired floor and the doors opened, who do you suppose was closest to the door? The man, of course. And without exiting the elevator and having little space to move, he would do his very best to push himself against and practically into the wall, allowing all females to exit before he took his turn. It was remarkable for me to witness this, as it seemed like it would just be so much easier for the person closest to the doors to exit first.

This is how they are. They will always hold open doors for you, let you walk in front, and be on the lookout for whatever way they might honor a lady or show an act of chivalry. Even other friends’ boyfriends would be such gentlemen to me, making me feel very much like a lady.

The confusing part of this culture, however, is when you see this aspect is in sharp contrast to the cat calls you get anywhere and absolutely everywhere. Clapping, whistles, shouted compliments, and even creepy whispers in the ear were all too common of an experience for me when walking down the street. I garnered more attention in South America than I ever have in my life and it was not easy getting used to the piropos (cat calls).

“Hola chicas, soy chileno.” – this was one of my favorites coming from a very confident guy with a tone that suggested he was big stuff. But when you’re in Chile…what else would you expect other than chilenos??

“Alemana! ALEMANA!” – attempts to get my attention by some guys that just assumed I was German.

*slow clap* Excelente!” – when I rounded a corner to a street full of tire and car repair shops. I was trying to get to the bank and was wearing the most uninteresting outfit ever.

“Ricas in la foto!!” – came from a passing car as my Australian friend and I were having another tourist take our picture.

These are just some examples, and hardly the worst. Even at the end of my time there it still took me off guard a bit when someone yelled something at me like what is written above. I would face that on the streets each day and then enter the bank building and be treated with respect, dignity, and such chivalry. It was confusing!!

I kind of feel like such opposite ends of the spectrum sort of cancelled each other out. I’m sure that the same guys who were stepping aside on elevators were not hollering at girls in the street, but nonetheless, it’s a very serious problem in Chile and Latin America. Still, they sort of got me accustomed to assuming my right to exit the elevator first, and I suppose I’ll think of all those nice empresarios chilenos whenever I’m in one.



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