“Guiri” is a colloquial term used in Spain to describe what is considered to be the stereotypical tourist or foreigner, and it is associated primarily with people from Northern Europe, the U.K. or the U.S. While I’ve heard it used in an endearing or light-hearted manner — “Of course you two finished your drinks before me, you’re both guiris!” — I’ve found that it is more often than not accompanied by derision or condescension — “Of course you went to Kapital and Joy this weekend, only guiris go to those clubs.”
While being referred to as a guiri doesn’t particularly bother me, I do find it a bit odd that almost all of my classes and social encounters seem to revolve around this common theme: how NOT to look like, act like or sound like a guiri. In my obligatory seminar on Spanish culture, we were told on the first day that the purpose of the class is to “accept cultural differences,” “adopt Spanish behavior” and “use appropriate gestures and body language,” so that by the end of the semester we would all be bona fide madrileños. Since then, it seems as though what is more important than learning “how to be” a Spaniard is learning “how not to be” a guiri. Our professor will caution us with warnings such as, “Only guiris take the metro, real madrileños use the bus” or “Only guiris would eat paella on the western coast of Spain.”
I have also encountered these informal lessons in social interactions with Spaniards: “I can spot that North Face-wearing guiri from a mile away.” “You WOULD know all of the lyrics to Pitbull’s verse in ‘International Love,’ you guiri.” “Ordering water at a restaurant? What a guiri.” As I can recognize the truth underneath the assumptions, I am able to laugh along. It is only when guiri is used in a negative way that “lacks merit” that I am resentful toward the label.
Before my program in Madrid started, I went to a Real Madrid game with my mom at the famous Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The score was tied 2-2 in the second half, and an offensive play was building up for the home side. As Cristiano Ronaldo was winding up for the shot, everyone in the stadium lifted themselves from their seats in anticipation. When the shot did go past the keeper to give Real Madrid the lead, the crowd roared and everyone jumped out of their chairs, including my mom and me. As we sat back down, two elderly men grabbed our shoulders and yelled at us for standing up before the goal was scored, and that our thoughtlessness prevented them from seeing the shot go in. Assuming that we couldn’t understand them, they continued whispering nasty things to one another in Spanish about “those stupid guiris,” and ultimately concluded that we “must be Americans.”
Had we been the only people to stand up in the stadium perhaps I would understand their frustration; however, as this was obviously not the case, I was offended by the accusatory use of the word guiri. Not only was Ronaldo one-on-one with the keeper (of course a goal was about to be scored), but we were also not acting alone in this apparently guiri behavior. “Those damn Americans, always standing up right before the goal is scored” just doesn’t seem like a justified insult.
It was never my intention or expectation to completely assimilate to Spanish culture, or totally “fit in” in Madrid. I’m taller than a great deal of the men, kind of Asian-looking, and I wear athletic shorts outside in the winter — I don’t think I’m fooling anyone, nor am I trying to. Yet, I still feel this internal tug-of-war between embracing the fact that I’m a foreigner and rejecting it, between embracing the word guiri and rejecting it. Even though I take the bus to school instead of the metro, sometimes when I go to a store or restaurant and order in Spanish people will still respond to me in English. It seems as though regardless of what I say, what I do or how I do it, I can never be a true madrileña, so I may as well just continue wearing sweatpants outside of my apartment and receiving dirty looks. Why bother?
Written by EMILY DUH ’14 from Madrid, Spain