Being “guiri” in a city that feels like home

It’s not hard to spot a guiri in a crowd. Probably taller and blonder than the rest, wandering around with a backpack and maybe looking slightly lost or overly interested in a building that most people walk by several times a day.

You will typically find them wearing sandals when everyone else still thinks it’s boots weather and short sleeves when coats and scarves still dominate the high street. They tend to struggle with the language or have a heavy accent, making it difficult to communicate at times. Some have a hard time adjusting to the timetable and customs, especially where meals and bedtime are concerned.

The dictionary defines a guiri as a tourist, a foreigner. More specifically it is usually used to refer to those from Western countries, mainly England, US or Germany. It can have a negative connotation or it can be worn like a badge with pride.

There are several types of guiri:

  • Those who are just visiting for a few days. They wander the city, enjoy its sights and local cuisine. While spending money on souvenirs they attempt to get a tan yet end up, more often than not, with a bad sunburn. They are here to travel, have fun and explore. They will soon be gone, taking with them a suitcase of memories and a bunch of photographs to show the relatives. Their stay is short and visiting monuments and museums takes up all their time and energy. The term guiri will barely brush them, they may not even be aware of its existence nor would they be too bothered if they did.
  • Those who come for study abroad programmes. Some come for a semester, others for a year, to explore the culture, learn the language and create some fun memories while increasing their knowledge in their field of choice. The typical exchange student  will soon become familiar with the term guiri. They will wear it like a badge, with pride. They know they don’t fit in but they don’t really mind. They are fully aware that their stay is temporary yet make the most of their time by cramming in as many new experiences as possible.
  • Finally, there are those who are here to stay. Foreigners who have moved here mainly for work or retirement reasons. This last group can be extremely diverse. You have those who have lived in the country for 20 years and still can’t speak the language and those who having only been here for a short time fit right in with the locals. Among them you will also find the second generation guiri, those whose parents are foreign yet, after spending a lifetime here, feel local.

And it is in this very last group that you will find me. Though I wasn’t born here I’ve lived  in Spain longer than anywhere else. Though I’ll never fully fit in, some of my best memories took place here. My appearance shouts guiri even if my actions or lack of accent might say otherwise.

It used to bother me. But I’ve learnt to love the differences. I may be guiri, but this is definitely home.

How about you? Do you ever feel like an outsider? What do you love about being different?

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