Ahhh, the infamous Latino man. You hear that stereotype about the “latin lover” – he can dance, he can romance, he can take you to the moon and back. He can also eyeball at a whole new level.
It took a while for me to learn and adjust to their unique ways while travelling, which DO vary vastly from those of your average Australian man or any gringo, really. Here’s what I have gathered in my experiences so far in South America:
“If they talk you, they want you”
Unlike in Australia and other Western countries, men and women rarely have platonic relationships in South America. My Chilean friend Esteban, who to prove my point has only one “friend girl” – me, once explained the situation quite clearly. “You think if he talk you, he wants be your friend. No, no, no. If he talk you, he want you.” HA!
To me, this notion was at first ridiculous. But after dealing with numerous chatty taxi drivers wanting to get my phone number, extra-helpful receptionists coming into my dorm to “salsa dance” and enthusiastic tour guides sending me a butt-tonne of “friendly” emails, it became very apparent that he was right.
I also consulted other Latino men on this topic and they agreed. One man from Arequipa (Peru) laughed when I asked him about the latino man gringa woman fiasco. He said “the problem I notice with gringas is that they are always saying “yes” to men here. If a guy asks them to a party, they think he’s just being friendly and accept. And he thinks he is in.”
One day I had an epiphany and sent my friend Esteban a message, saying “Oh my god. You said if a guy talks to me, he wants me. Does that mean if I talk to him, he thinks I want him??”
Holy shit! So, apparently I had been leading them on the whole time. He said I need to start saying I am travelling with my boyfriend and LOTS of friends. But, although this improved things, it didn’t entirely work either. I then started trying to avoid conversation, but even when I faked not understanding any Spanish on a bus in Ecuador, the guy merely started talking with his hands, was miming and seemed to just find it cute that I couldn’t understand. I even tried pretending I was ASLEEP, and no success. Which brings me to my other realisation…
No doesn’t mean no, it means try again in five minutes
I remember in Australia I used to sometimes kiss boys I didn’t like purely because I felt awful pulling away. Insane, I know, but I just didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so would kiss them for a second then smoke bomb. One night out in Bondi I (rightly) decided I wasn’t doing it anymore, and my very fear came true: the guy was embarrassed, borderline horrified. He got up and left and I never saw him again.
This is NOT how it works in South America.
They are relentless. Like the Southern Italians (startling parallels when it comes to crazy driving and sleazy men), resistance or flat-out rejection doesn’t deter them. If anything, it encourages them. Adds fuel to their Latin “fire” (another great Esteban-ism).
I remember in Sicily this guy I was couch surfing with (another topic I feel strongly about), tried to kiss me at least a dozen times. I should’ve just left, but he wasn’t forcing anything, just kept having a crack. One day he said he had a surprise for me, and next thing I know I come out from the bathroom, romantic music is playing and he’s holding a floppy rose from his mother’s garden decorated with glitter. He enthusiastically comes in for the kiss, I pull away for the thirteenth time, and he is absolutely exasperated as though he doesn’t know what on earth will work, if that big romantic gesture failed. But, of course, he tried again later!
Ollantaytambo – Dirty Peruvian hostel owner who “accidentally” brushed his groin against my butt while pointing out the mountain trails. Vom! Look at that slime!
Don’t say “hola” back
One thing that really strikes me about men here, is that they have no qualms about blatantly eyeing you up and down. Never in my life have I come across such epic stare bears. I think a lot of them are genuinely just curious, but there is of course a large counterpart who are undoubtedly undressing you with their hungry brown eyes and thinking that saying “hola” might give them a chance to get you in the sack.
You might say that they are just being friendly, it’s nice to greet people you pass by, blah blah blah. But when I was in Nasca (Peru), I had this sudden realisation that only men were saying “hola” to me in the street.
My thoughts are backed up by the “women travellers” sections in Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring guide which are very telling. It says that us ladies shouldn’t encounter any great difficulties but should come mentally prepared for a conspicuous amount of attention – nailed it there!
Don’t get me wrong – the whole thing is very entertaining at times. While I was in Nasca walking through a market, an old man (I’m talking like 75) looked me up and down and said “ooh, la, la” – it doesn’t get much better than that. Even my dad agreed it was pretty fantastic. And generally nothing comes of the unwanted male attention, it’s more just an assertion of their manhood in countries where machismo is alive and oh-so well. Nonetheless I do think it best, despite it being completely against my nature, to simply ignore them. Plus, this is apparently what local women do, so when in Rome (where many such perves exist)…
There have also been cases where it has undoubtedly worked to my advantage. I have received at least 40 cents off in some motor taxi rides, for example. And I have scored some other bonuses. In Huaraz (Peru), I arrived after yet another jet-lag inducing night bus to a hostel which had a dorm bed which had disappeared when I returned from breakfast. I think I was too out of it to ensure I had actually reserved it, but after much talk among the guys running the hostel, they said they would “adopt me” as long as I stayed three years, not three days. Over the next three days silly jokes ensued such as responding “Wonderful now that you’re here” when I asked “How are you?” but towards the end one man was hassling me a lot, even saying “why do you hate me?” because I was talking to other backpackers (too much chatting, I should’ve known better). So it probaaaaaably wasn’t worth it haha, but the point is I wouldn’t have had a bed if I had had a penis.
One of the funny cheesy sleazy hostel owners from Huaraz – not the bunny boiler nut bag!
This isn’t the first time I have experienced the “Latin fire”. When I was in Mexico in 2009, from the moment I opened my hotel door to the moment I returned that night, the catcalling and hollering was constant. “Ehiiiiiii!! Mamasita, bonita, querita, hermosita!” (Hey!!!! Hot mama, pretty lady, blondie, little beauty!). Never in my life had I been exposed to so much NOISE coming from men via their mouths, car horns, truck horns, even hands. I remember watching a Seinfield episode once where Jerry says that men like women, they know they want women, but they don’t really know how to get them so they just kind of blurt out anything to get their attention. This is Mexico fo’ real. It was incredibly overbearing, but looking back on it, it was super funny. And I must admit that when I went back to gringo-land in the US, the sudden silence was a bit jolting. I thought “Have I lost it?” – ahh, how fickle I am!
And some of the things they say, like the old fart in Nasca, are truly priceless. I was also once told in Buenos Aires that “You, in Argentina, with blue eyes and blonde hair…you are diamond” – now, you don’t get THAT at home!
So I think ultimately, with a little bit of cautiousness and a LOT of patience, the Latinos should, like any other part of their culture, be considered “an experience” and something to smile, sometimes laugh at. Like this photo from the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.