A few weeks ago, when strict confinement was still in place, a foreign friend of mine who has a bed and breakfast place in the heart of Valencia sent me a picture of what could be considered a xenophobic graffito on a wall near his business: “Guiris go home”!
“Guiri” is a widely used pejorative term for a certain type of foreigner in Spain, usually a tourist or someone else that stands out as being obviously not a local. It only refers to fairer-skinned people from Germany, Great Britain, Scandinavia, the US and Australia, but probably less to the many Russians that visit the western beaches of the country.
No Spaniard would call a North or a Sub-Saharan African like that, there will always be “moros” or “negros”. Of course, it also doesn’t apply to all those Romanians that have settled down here since their country of origin joined the European Union in January 2007.
It’s applied even less to the armada of poor Latin Americans, notably Ecuadorians that came during the economic boom that abruptly ended in 2008: they are “panchitos” or “sudacas”, both not very flattering names.
According to the dictionary of the Real Academia Española (RAE), it originated during the 19th century and was used for supporters of Queen María Cristina, liberals and government soldiers. For Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017) it was derived from the Turkish “guiur”, meaning “infidel” or “stranger”.
As a German I grew up in Valencia completely bilingual and don’t have an accent while speaking Spanish. I left the city in 1985 to study in Berlin and later spent almost 20 years in Formosa, where I became one of the founding members of the Spanish Society in Taiwan.
Since I returned temporarily in February 2018, I have often received a treatment different from the “real Valencianos” because the way I act, talk or dress. In consequence, I have also been called a “guiri” straight into my face.
Last year I went to have dinner with a German-speaking Dutch friend in a supposedly hip neighborhood near my apartment in the harbor area. The waitress treated me like an average customer until I explained in German to my buddy that we had a table for “only” two hours.
She looked very surprised to hear strange sounds coming out my mouth and spontaneously used the infamous g-word. Such rudeness irritated me. Especially, as without me switching into my second mother tongue she wouldn’t have noticed at all that ultimately I’m a foreigner-that had lived in the same district for 17 years.
Anyway, except the bland mayonnaise the food was nice and the service surprisingly good for local standards. Alas, the same lady had to spoil the relaxed atmosphere again by suddenly adding another totally unnecessary sentence: “Actually here we speak Valenciano (the regional language in constant dispute with Catalan)”. So what? What did that have to do with her first comment? For her, that was likely a justification for her previous impoliteness…
The two Danes that were supposed to come in March, though made it to Spain just this week, got their fair share of hospitality as well. At a little restaurant which used to be my favorite, out of the blue we were asked to leave in ten minutes.
As some other guests were waiting for our table, we weren’t able to finish a bottle of wine for seventeen euros. I had called twice for the reservation and nobody mentioned a time-limit. When we arrived early or ordered the drinks, the waiter didn’t hint at it either. If I would have been in a bad mood, I would have made a fuss. But I left quietly, never to return.
The two very typical museums I wanted to show them were closed, and I got the confirmation by coincidence next door at a site that had reopened, because it’s managed by another government agency. One website wasn’t updated and even at the city hall they couldn’t give me a concrete answer.
We were refused a drink at a café terrace as it started to rain and the parasols couldn’t get wet! Well, just keep treating all “guiris” that try to spend their money where it’s so desperately needed like this, and in the future such paroles will become redundant!