Spanish word of the day: ‘Guiri’

Spanish word of the day: 'Guiri'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
If you’re reading this article, chances are you are a “guiri”.

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

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  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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