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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Spanish word of the day: ‘Guiri’

If you’re reading this article, chances are you are a “guiri”.

Spanish word of the day: 'Guiri'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Why do I need to know this word?

Well if you’re a foreigner in Spain, especially one that matches the description of the stereotypical tourist from northern Europe, you will probably have been called this (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”.

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 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”.

Is it offensive or an insult?

Generally not. “Guiri” is used mainly for fair-skinned northern Europeans, Americans, Australians, Canadians but not all types of foreigners.

It’s true that “guiri” can refer to someone’s physical appearance and cultural background and therefore could be interpreted as offensive, but in most situations it won’t be used with any malice even though it's not exactly politically correct.

It could be interpreted 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 pundit whose recent 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 something like “de mierda”, “puto” or another Spanish swearword, then the use of “guiri” isn't at all friendly and is meant to be insulting. So it's all about tone and context.

 

“Guiri” doesn’t sound like a Spanish word.

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 “guiris” 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.” 

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Member comments

  1. How does the “guiri” word compare with the local words
    “Emmet” in Cornwall and “Grockle” in Devon – both in UK?
    These are words applied to “non-local” people within a
    relatively small local area. Are there similar usages in Spain?

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SPANISH WORD OF THE DAY

Spanish Word of the Day: ‘Chachi’

Who would’ve thought that there’s a word used all the time in Spain that has something to do with Winston Churchill? Or so the story goes. 

Spanish Word of the Day: 'Chachi'

Chachi is a colloquial way to express approval for something or someone, in the sense of it/them being cool, awesome or great.

It’s mainly a word used by young people in Spain, so saying it to your bank manager or boss may raise an eyebrow or two, but it’s in no way derogatory or rude.

There’s even the expression ¡Chachi piruli Juan Pelotilla! that was popularised by a 90s’ kids show on TV called Telebuten, but it’s now a rather outdated way of saying ‘cool’ in Spanish. 

Chachi is certainly a rather bizarre sounding word and Spain’s Royal Academy actually has it recorded as deriving from chanchi (which nobody uses).

Linguists are not 100 percent certain about the origin of the word but there are two very interesting theories. 

The first is that chachi was first coined in the southern coastal city of Cádiz during World War II, at a time where hunger among locals and contraband at the port were both rife.

Smuggled goods from nearby Gibraltar were considered of the utmost quality as they came from the United Kingdom, and the story goes that Gaditanos (the name for people from Cádiz) referred to these bootlegged products as ‘charchil’, in reference to UK Prime Minister at the time Winston Churchill.

Over time, charchil became chachi, a slang word which (if the story is true) came to mean ‘cool’ across Spain.

Other philologists believe that chachi comes from Caló, the language spoken by Spain’s native gipsy or Roma population. 

Chachipé or chachipen reportedly means ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ in this language spoken by 60,000 people across the Iberian Peninsula.

This could’ve been shortened to chachi and gone from being used like chachi que sí/claro que sí (of course) to chachi to mean ‘cool’.

Whichever theory is true, chachi is a great word to add to your arsenal of Spanish vocab. 

There’s also the Spanish word guay, which has a very similar meaning to chachi; we reviewed it here.

Examples: 

Carlos es un tío chachi. 

Carlos is a cool guy.

¡Pásalo chachi!

Have a great time!

La verdad es que es juego de mesa muy chachi.

The truth is it’s a very cool board game.

¡Qué chachi! Van a hacer un concierto en la plaza.

How cool! They’re going to hold a concert in the square.

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