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Yes, the word ‘guiri’ is offensive

9 June 2022

Author: Leah Pattem

No foreigner being called ‘guiri’ is going to take it as a compliment yet we’re expected to just take it. Digging deeper into the word guiri, I’ve confirmed that it is, indeed, not something that I’m okay with being called. Here’s why.

The word guiri entered the Spanish dictionary in 1925. According to the Real Academia Dictionary, it has Basque origins in reference to the Cristinos (pronounced guiristinos) during the Carlist Wars. A guiristino (guiri for short) was a member of the enemy forces. Guiri then became a popular way to describe opposing political parties and, later, during the Francoist regime, to describe the Guardia Civil. Another potential origin is from Caló, the language of Spanish gitanes. In Caló, a guripa (also kuripén) is someone who maintains order – perhaps the community’s own way to describe the Guardia Civil.

But there’s another word that must be considered in the origin of the word guiri, which is gora. It means ‘white people’ in Hindi (gori means white woman) and is widely used in India and among the Indian diaspora. Because it’s believed that Roma people originated in India, this could suggest that the word guiri may in fact go back even further than the Basque country and even further back than 1925. It also establishes that the naming and, therefore, the othering of white people has long had its place in communities around the world.

Today, in the context of Spain, guiri typically refers to a pale white person – someone whiter than the way most Spaniards perceive themselves. Guiri is also a cultural reference for someone who is from a northern European country or a predominantly English-speaking continent such as America and Australia, also including people of colour.

Guiri is also a term that carries entitlement, imperial wealth and power, a lot like how Gora is used in Hindi, and how guripa is used in Caló. But a guiri is also categorised as naïve and/or ignorant, trapped in their own culture due to refusal or inability to integrate. They will dress wrong, be sunburnt and generally look hot and bothered.

A stag do in Benidorm

Spaniards look down on guiris and may even feel pity for them, seeing them as missing out on Spanish culture because they’re too lost in their own world. Most Spaniards will argue that the word guiri is not offensive, but it undeniably makes sweeping assumptions about a person based on either their appearance, their nationality, or their behaviour.

I’ve been called a guiri many times and I don’t like it. Although I don’t find it as offensive as racist slurs I have been called (I’m mixed-race, white/South Indian), nor do I categorise Guiri as a racist term, being called a guiri does remind me of how it feels to be othered for my appearance, my origins, or assumptions made about my culture and behaviour. While the racism I’ve received has aimed to position me as being less intelligent, less able, and less capable than my white counterparts, I feel that the term guiri carries the idea that I’m better, or at least I think I’m better than Spaniards, which, if true, would be quite problematic.

In 2017, Spain’s Christmas lottery, El Gordo, released an advert called “The Guiris”. The advert was filmed in Benidorm, a popular tourist destination where many ‘guiris’ can be found. According to La Vanguardia, “The Guiris shows, in a humorous tone, how foreigners are adopting all Spanish customs. They eat paella, dance, or sunbathe by the sea, but they also buy the Christmas Lottery to buy a flat in Benidorm or even “a piece of the beach”.” In the closing scene, the music becomes menacing and the camera pans to guiris holding their lottery tickets as they laugh wickedly.

A screengrab from “The Guiris”

The moral of the story: Spaniards, buy a lottery ticket and reduce the chances of guiris winning your money and therefore buying up your land! The advert openly demonises guiris and perpetuates the idea of them colonising Spain. Although is not the case with most foreigners who visit Spain or live here, it must also be noted that some foreigners do, in fact, colonise Spain.

Blackstone is an American vulture fund that owns tens of thousands of residential properties in Spain, including thousands of social housing units. The company is responsible for a bulk of Spain’s daily, violent evictions, but foreign companies and individuals are not solely responsible. Spanish landlords have cashed in on the property and tourism industries, indirectly displacing long-term residents.

The Spanish government too is to blame, having consciously dragged its feet in regulating the property industry. Instead of ensuring that its citizens have access to decent and affordable housing (a basic human right), the government’s neoliberal approach to the Spanish economy has resulted in mass deregulation and privatisation. They’re encouraging mass foreign investment and takeovers, causing devastating cuts to public institutions, such as healthcare, housing, and education. This capitalist and globalist policy strategy has exacerbated hatred towards foreigners in general, adding further stigmatisation to the word guiri.

I’m not saying we should stop using the word guiri or that it doesn’t exist – some people do fall into the definition of a guiri. They arrive in Spain with a preconceived idea of what this country and its people are. They look down on Spain, exploit it and treat it like their playground. They even impose their own narrative on what this nation is, serving to justify their obnoxious and, at times, xenophobic behaviours towards Spaniards. This is the reality of the definition of the word guiri, and I don’t like it.

In an interview for El País, a journalist referred to Madrid No Frills as “the guiri blog”, which I felt demonstrated a disappointing lack of pre-interview research. The grassroots journalism that I do requires integration and a deep understanding of the environment around me. It requires building trust with marginalised communities – Spanish and foreign – and speaking Spanish.

So please don’t call me a guiri, because I’m not one. And don’t tell a person that, when you call them a guiri, you don’t mean to cause offence. It’s not the person using the word that gets to decide if a word is offensive, it’s the person on the receiving end.


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6 Comments

Carlos 10 June 2022 at 6:54 am

Sorry – intent matters when using a word. You can’t say someone not to use a word because you find it offensive.

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Patricio 14 June 2022 at 7:47 pm

That’s… exactly how it works, actually? I am a fluent Spanish speaker who is not from Spain and I agree with every word Leah has said; guiri is offensive and dismissive. You can still use it, no one can stop you, but that doesn’t make it non-offensive.

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Elle 10 June 2022 at 12:20 pm

Yes yes and yes! We’ve been arguing against the use of it for many years now – and our Spanish friends NEVER refer to us as “guiris”. It seems (to us anyway) that it is the British who seem to think it is acceptable.
Not to our household it isn’t.

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Ale 27 June 2022 at 12:09 pm

Technically a guiri is also someone with non-Mediterranean northern european or anglosaxon features who comes from richer countries. Blonde, blue eyed Spaniards are often referred to as “guiri” as a nickname. A black American in Spain will rarely be referred to as a guiri. Neither will a Greek person or an Italian or even a (blond) Ukrainian immigrant. Any pejorative element in the term is a throwback from when Spain was a poor country which recieved richer tourists from northern Europe. Now its less of an insult than 15 or 20 years ago since Spain has become a fully developed country.

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Tony 27 October 2022 at 9:28 am

I’m in complete agreement with you. It’s not up to the user of en ethnic slur to decide whether it’s offensive. When doing some research into Barcelona’s El Raval, I was dismayed to see an academic paper using the term (https://www.cccb.org/es/publicaciones/ficha/del-chino-al-raval/35089). A look into this and other ethnic labels can be found here: http://www.ub.edu/geocrit/sn-94-58.htm

A few of years ago I went to visit a couple of Catalan friends in Barcelona. They used the ‘guiri’ label for me half a dozen times over the first two days until I objected. They countered that when they’d visited Lisbon earlier in the year, they’d joked that as tourists they were now the guiris.

I pointed out that I wasn’t a tourist, that I’d spent over a decade of my life in Barcelona, spoke Catalan and Spanish fluently, had translated two books and play from Catalan, but was still being lumped in with ‘tourists’ by my hosts. I was also from a small and until recently relatively poor country that had always been a huge tourist destination.

They still looked puzzled. So I tried a different approach: “You come from a part of the world that feels chronically misunderstood. You demand attention to and comprehension for your identity and difference get offended when others don’t give it to you or take you seriously. But here you are using a blanket label for huge swathes of humanity, lumping me in with people from places I’ve never been to, with whom I have nothing to do. And you’re surprised when I get offended!” That actually worked.

And to their credit, they didn’t kick me out of their home for my tirade!

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Jefe Comanche 28 November 2022 at 4:59 am

I would find really amusing that some foreigners took offence on terms such as ‘guiri’ when the cultures of their respective countries systematically oversimplify mostly anything related to other places, societies and cultures. It’s in their movies, in their books, in their songs, and all over the place sometimes. If I moved to the British Isles I’d always be a ‘dago’ to many people if they knew about my nationality, no matter how hard I tried to be one of them (which I wouldn’t want, btw). If we call someone a guiri we’re simplifying the simplifier for a start, sort of a war of egos.

I have never actually called anyone a guiri in their face, rather the opposite: some foreign friends of mine have dubbed themselves as ‘guiris’, probably to sound friendlier or more accessible, but I always downplayed it telling them they were not guiris. Mind you: these people are nice, polite, uncomplicated and unpretentious (um, that’s why they’re my friends). I never called them that term at their backs either of course, they simply don’t feel like guiris to me, and even if they act a bit guiri, I am quick to forgive any minor guiri feature and never say anything that could make them feel awkward. I really like them.

But what about those getting impossibly drunk, being noisy, rude, obnoxious and violent when they come around because they can’t (usually) do that in their home countries? What about those into balconing? What about the brits who scammed restaurant owners and the like? What about germans starting a fight and destroying a bar? What about those moving around on public transport with suitcases as big as grand pianos (no, you can’t take that on the bus in Madrid or Barcelona, thanks god, and you are not respecting the other passengers if you do so in the underground), what about those tourists clumsy as hell anywhere, everywhere? What about those unnerving people who act as if the rest of the world had to adore them? What about those who simply look stupid, as for human standards, when partying or just hanging around?

These people are nothing but guiris, and it’s not just some people. It’s way too many people who are like that. And guiri is a term that by no means can be understood to label someone as superior but the opposite. Guiri is a situational term and can mean from ‘You are funny, both weird and ha-ha but it’s alright’ to ‘No matter how much money you have you are pig-ignorant and dumb, you may be wealthier and feel superior but there is something you do, something inside you that clearly debases you and is offensive to my culture and my reality, hence I truly feel you are less than me’.

Are enemy soldiers to be respected at war? Nah, no way. Too much political correctness, if anything, could trigger a nuclear armageddon some day, and we don’t want that to happen, do we? There is a Spanish saying, ‘el que quiera honra que la gane’ (I’m not translating it), so that’s about it!

And if one can’t make assumptions, sweeping or not, about people’s behaviours, what can be done? There is an ongoing cultural war in this planet, and those who lower their heads will lose it. Spanish students of mine have been called ‘pig’ by British people at London Heathrow simply for passing by speaking in Spanish, not to mention that guy at a New York City restaurant who made a scene because Spanish was the language the staff used the most to communicate between themselves. Sorry but I find all of that much more demeaning and agressive than calling someone a guiri, even it it’s with bad intentions. Sometimes calling them guiris is like fighting a tank with pebbles, it’s the least you can say about some guys and gurls. It is actually less offensive nowadays than it should and used to be.

As mentioned above, people of a dark skin are usually not considered guiris in Spain, but if they get on Karen or Kyle mode, they will end up falling into that cathegory, sure. Sometimes it’s got more to do with attitude than with anything else. Those who called you guiri must not be very considerate, but are you sure you are 100% non-guiri? It’s not a sin, but everyone should be totally objective.

Excuse me, but I say this because the El País ” which I felt demonstrated a disappointing lack of pre-interview research (…)” paragraph sounds pretty guiriful (lovely word) to me, somehow pedantic, stiff and peevish. You should know by now that (far too many) journalists (sweeping assumption, but I’ve met a few ones, I tell you) are malevolent, manipulative serpents, here and everywhere, polemists by nature.

And Spain is a lot like that: we Spaniards are a bit of evil serpents who don’t respect people we don’t think they deserve it just because they, or someone, say we have to, rather the opposite: they gotta prove it, because you give them an inch and they’ll take a mile just to make this world a worse place only for them to enjoy.

I’d say there is a paralellism between Spanish being a phonetic language (like most languages from India I think) and being really critical with the reality around: we say it like we write it like we hear it like we see it like we feel it, there shouldn’t be any cultural distance, detachment or breach within the Spanish mind or mentality. Not the critical mind, at least. Sawing the edges off is made for unobjective people who think they live in wonderful countries which seem to be just blatant, endurable lies, as they lose all their cool and credibility with their behaviour(s) on Spanish land (and elsewhere), and we couldn’t care less about them, really. Maybe those in the restoration sector need them, but we, the rest, definitely don’t. So not all foreigners are guiris for sure, but those who are, well, they really deserve being called so (and much more fanciful names in some cases).

So not being a guiri is somehow about getting wise too, brightening up the right way. But don’t go too far or you’ll be just flaky, and we don’t like that either. On the other hand, pontificating is anti-evolutive I’d say, according to general Spanish mentality. And I’m not referring to you, your article is overally reasonable and right, you don’t seem that kind of human, but I personally feel offended by the people who get easily offended. I dare say one day they will be scientifically proven as downright stupid.

Thus, a guiri can also be someone who just doesn’t appreciate the grace in the malevolent mind: their culture is so lame it’s tasteless, as it seems to be fitting only for them and ridiculous to the rest; still, they work hard to hide that fact, but it’s the rest who’s wrong no matter what happens, of course. Everyone has the right to be entitled to an opinion, above any due respect to others, even if that opinion feels wrong to anyone, and they have the right to express it. No one’s gonna change that.

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