Language and culture For Members

Is the Spanish word 'guiri' (foreigner) offensive?

The Local Spain
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Is the Spanish word 'guiri' (foreigner) offensive?
Guiri isn't the correct way of referring to foreigners in Spain, but is it offensive? (Photo by SAMUEL ARANDA / AFP)

UK tabloids have recently been referring to this Spanish word as a "secret code word for Brits" that's "unflattering" and "offensive". Is there any truth to this? What do you think?


What does guiri mean in Spanish?

If you’ve visited or lived in Spain, and you're a foreigner who matches the description of the stereotypical tourist from northern Europe, you will probably have been called guiri (although not necessarily to your face).

Spain’s Royal Academy defines guiri (pronounced guee-ree) as a colloquial way of referring to a foreign tourist, but that doesn’t go very far into describing what Spaniards consider to be a guiri.

In fact, the more informal online website Urban Dictionary paints a clearer picture of what guiri refers to: “a somewhat pejorative term for a foreigner, usually a tourist, who happens to be in Spain and stands out as being pretty obviously not a local. The term is usually used to refer to fairer-skinned people from the likes of Great Britain or Germany”.

It's definitely not used to refer to all foreign tourists. In an 2019 article in El País titled the "The elusive meaning of guiri", author Alex Grijelmo argued that Spaniards wouldn't call a Uruguayan tourist a guiri because he speaks Spanish, nor would a Portuguese, Brazilian or Italian holidaymaker be deemed a guiri because they're like distant cousins, and a black African tourist wouldn't be called a guiri either.

So guiri definitely alludes to northern European or pale-skinned tourists and who aren't Latin in culture or language. By that definition, many American, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand nationals in Spain could also be referred to as guiris, as could Eastern European holidaymakers from the Czech Republic, Hungary or Latvia.


So regardless of whether you’re a German tourist, an exchange student from Sweden or a British pensioner living in Spain, you could be called a guiri.

However, any stereotypically sunburnt/drunk foreigner in Spain sporting socks with sandals or ordering bratwurst or beans on toast at a Spanish tasca stands a higher chance of being singled out as a guiri.

Therefore, British tabloids such as The Sun, The Mirror and the Mail Online, or UK website LADbible - all of which referred to guiri as a nickname just for Brits, were incorrect in doing so. Perhaps it's just another attempt at clickbait by pitting Britons against foreigners?
It's also not a 'secret codeword', it's widely used and known by everyone in Spain. 


Is guiri offensive or an insult?

Generally speaking, it is not considered offensive, but some people do find it insulting.

On the one hand, it’s true that guiri can refer to someone’s physical appearance (white skin, badly dressed etc). It also alludes to bad behaviour (drunk and disorderly), poor taste in food and a reluctance to adapt to Spanish habits, the least favoured qualities of some tourists and so-called expats in Spain. 

But then again, in most situations guiri won’t be used with any malice even though it's not exactly politically correct.

Some interpret it as a term of endearment or friendly mocking that you'll hear from anyone who's picked up on something particularly un-Spanish about you. 

Take Michael Robinson, the former footballer turned Spanish pundit whose passing led to an outpouring of grief among Spaniards who grew up watching him on TV.


The newspapers ran with headlines such as “el guiri más español” (the most Spanish foreigner) and “el guiri más querido de España” (the most loved foreigner in Spain). They loved him, even the fact that after thirty years in Spain he still couldn't shake off that guiri accent in Spanish.  

Obviously if guiri is accompanied by de mierda or puto (f*cking) or any other Spanish swear word, then the use of guiri isn't at all friendly and is meant to be insulting.

So it's largely about tone and context, but for some commentators it is always inappropriate to say guiri

Example of a newspaper headline referring to Michael Robinson as a 'guiri', but not in an offensive way.


The origins of the word guiri

There are a couple of theories relating to the origin of the word guiri.

The most widely accepted is that it was first coined in the 19th century during Spain’s Carlist Wars, a series of civil wars fought between the Carlists, the supporters of royal Infante Carlos, and the Cristinos, the followers of Queen María Cristina de Borbón.

The word guiri developed from "guiristino", which was the pronunciation of Basque-speaking Carlist forces for the name of their enemies the Cristinos.

Another theory is that guiri is a neologism from Caló (the language of Spanish Romani people), which in turn stems from Moroccan and Algerian Arabic word “gaouri” (with a similar meaning as “guiri” applying to Europeans).

Another interesting fact is that during the 20th century guiri was the colloquial way to refer to a Spanish Civil Guard officer rather than to foreigners.

And it gets weirder. The word guirigay means gibberish, chaos or racket (noise) in Spanish. 


Can you give me some examples?

“En verano la playa está llena de guiris.”

“During the summer the beach is full of foreign tourists”


“Esta es mi amiga Wendy. Es escocesa pero no parece guiri.”

“This is my friend Wendy. She’s Scottish but she doesn’t look foreign.” 


This article, first published in October 2020, is an update in response to recent articles about the word guiri in the UK tabloids.


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Helen Wright 2023/04/26 20:52
In the Malaga area the non Spanish born football fans who support Malaga CF call themselves the Guiri Army and seem pretty proud of that so guessing not offensive at all
[email protected] 2020/10/01 23:08
How does the "guiri" word compare with the local words<br />"Emmet" in Cornwall and "Grockle" in Devon - both in UK?<br />These are words applied to "non-local" people within a<br />relatively small local area. Are there similar usages in Spain?

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