25 Mar, 2024 @ 07:29
1 min read

What does ‘guiri’ mean in Spanish and is it offensive?

IF you’ve spent any significant chunk of time in Spain, particularly in Andalucia or large cities like Madrid and Barcelona, chances are you’ve heard the word “guiri.”

The word — which, to English-speaking ears sounds a bit like “geedy,” — is used in Spain to describe a certain type of pasty, sunburn-prone, sometimes socks-and-sandal-wearing, typically Northern European or North American visitor to Spain.

But like all words that seek to generalise diverse groups into uncomplicated stereotypes, the margins are blurry.

According to the Royal Spanish Academy definition, a guiri can be as simple as a “foreign tourist.”

However, the institution also notes that, although the term is often deployed lightheartedly, free of negative connotations, it can also be used “with derogatory intent.”

socks and sandals
The trademark “guiri” footwear: socks and sandals.

A brief look into the word’s history may explain how it arrived at its current meaning. 

The RAE includes a handful of other definitions in its entry for the word, one of which is related to the Basque word “guiristino.” 

During Spain’s Carlist Wars of succession during the 19th century, the Basque armies used “guiri” or “guiristino” to refer to their enemies, the supporters of Queen Maria Christina. 

It thus became a negative way to describe an “other” — in this case enemy forces.

The word has also been used to describe members of the Civil Guard during Francoist Spain, and may have been connected to the adjacent Spanish word “guirigay,” which, according to the RAE, describes a language that is “dark and difficult to understand.”

Whether “guiri” is offensive is a matter of perspective. 

Spain’s immigrant population has been growing and diversifying for decades now, a consequence of which is an ethnically and culturally diverse myriad of people living together, often in close quarters. 

Words describing foreigners exist in every language, and in Spain, immigrant communities have received their own Peninsular Castilian names, implying varying degrees of maliciousness.

While some people view the word ‘guiri’ as offensive, many Brits have begun reclaiming the word.


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