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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Don’t call me guiri …

In my never-ending quest to find out what guiri really means, a local unintentionally gave me hope when he told me I wasn’t a guiri. For a Catalan to say that to an American – a yankee – is a big deal.

"What exactly is a guiri?" I asked him.

I’ve been asking everyone lately. I want young and old, Spanish, non-Spanish … I guess you could say I’m an empirical kind of guy.

Even though guiri isn’t always used with negative connotations, it’s still not pleasant to be called one. Think, for example, of an exclusive word like ausländer. The closest we can come to that in English is stranger, but really to me this "us and them" mentality is strictly European. Sure we have words like wetback, spic, flip … but those have very obvious negative connotations and are said among likeminded racists behind closed doors. People here use words like guiri in everyday conversations.

So, he answered:

"A guiri is someone that just doesn’t get it."

I didn’t get it either, so he continued:

"A guiri is someone that walks around in a daze."

The words stranger, ausländer and guiri imply someone who is different from you on a fundamental level. Someone who can’t comprehend you. It has a condescending vibe to it.

"Does it refer to foreigners?" I asked.

"Not all foreigners. Moros and sudacas [somewhat derogatory terms for Moroccans and South Americans, also used in quotidian conversation] aren’t guiris. A guiri is from the north … like England or Sweden. It is a tourist with spending power that stays for a week or so."

So, the image of this mysterious species, Guirus extranjerus, is starting to gel. I see white, I see €, I see someone who doesn’t have a clue or doesn’t want to have a clue. They just want beer and latin-loving. That doesn’t really encompass my raison d'être , so I asked him:

"Am I a guiri?"


Never have I liked that one syllable word more.

"You speak Spanish, understand and make an effort with Catalan. You’re integrated."


The border between guiri and not guiri is still hazy, but I’m beginning to understand it.

I do know this: a bad guiri, basically, is someone who comes here and doesn’t make an effort. If a Spaniard went to New York and automatically presumed everyone around them spoke Spanish, got angry if they couldn’t order a menu * or smoke in a bar they would be a guiri.

A bad guiri is arrogant, presumptuous and judgmental. They are like children who think the world revolves around them.

Your intrepid reporter needs to continue his research into this phenomena; but rest assured he will be back from Guirilandia to clarify this pressing issue …


* Menu noun - standardized lunch menus consisting of a three course meal accompanied with wine or soda. They run from 7 – 9 Euros on average. Arguably, this is one of the very few legacies of Franco people look fondly upon.