Not long after I moved to Spain, I began to hear the word “guiri” being used and was curious as to what it meant.
According to Urban dictionary a Guiri (pronounced: [ˈɡiɾi]) is defined as:
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, but can be extended to any foreigner that is in Spain.
In practice, however, the definition is not quite so straightforward. When I asked my Spanish friends what it meant, they agreed that guiri definitely includes fair skinned, light haired foreigners from places such as northern Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia, often tourists. (I am a stereotypical guiri!!)
All were in agreement that the term wouldn´t apply to native speakers, say from Latin America. With other nationalities, however, opinion differed…some Spanish friends said the term included people from places such as Japan, but others disagreed.
The term “guiri” became popular in Spain in the 1960s when thousands of tourists from northern Europe began to flock to Spanish resorts. One theory of the origin of the name is the Spanish word for gibberish “guirigay”, the explanation being that this is what the foreigners were speaking when they arrived.
Another theory is from the name given to supporters of Queen Cristina during the 19th century civil war, so called “cristinos”. The war mainly took place in the northern Basque and Aragon regions of Spain, and “cristinos” was changed to “guiristinos” in the local dialect.
How to spot a guiri
No matter how guiri you look, however, you may be guilty of demonstrating the following guiri tendencies which make you stand out straight away in Spain!
Is it intended to be offensive? It can be, depending upon the context in which it is used, but it can also be used in an friendly or affectionate way, with Spaniards even referring to their “guiri” friends.
And is it possible to ever stop being a guiri? For example if you speak fluent Spanish and fully integrate into Spanish society? When I asked my Spanish friends they laughed and said no, no, you will always be a guiri!!
In which case we may as well embrace our inner guiri…anyone for a pinta?