Gabacho, Guiri, Gringo, or Güero: Spanish Slang for Tourists
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As a traveler, there are few things more rewarding than immersing yourself in a new culture and experiencing it firsthand. One of the best ways to do this is by learning the local language and becoming familiar with the local slang.
In Spanish-speaking countries, there are a number of slang terms that are commonly used to refer to foreigners or tourists, each with its own unique connotations and nuances. In this article, we will explore four of these terms – Gabacho, Guiri, Gringo, and Güero – and provide some context for when and how they are used. By understanding these terms, you can better navigate the local culture and engage with the people you encounter during your travels.
You might already know this one. After all, gringo is a term that’s settled in the lexicon of many other languages besides Spanish. In Spanish-speaking countries, particularly in Latin America, gringo is typically used to refer to a foreigner, especially someone from the United States or another native English speaker.
It’s not entirely clear how the word gringo originated. Some suggest it may have originated from the Spanish word “griego,” meaning Greek, which was used to refer to someone who spoke an unintelligible language. Others believe it may have evolved from the English phrase “green go,” which was used to urge American soldiers to leave Mexico during the Mexican-American War in the mid-19th century.
Now, being called a gringo is not necessarily offensive, but its use can depend on the context and tone in which it is used. In some situations, it can be used in a friendly and playful manner; however, the term can also be used negatively to stereotype or belittle people from the United States or other English-speaking countries. As with any slang term, it’s best to be aware of the context and tone in which it is being used to avoid misunderstandings.
Gringo can be used as both a noun and an adjective, and its form changes to match the gender and number of the subject: to make it feminine, change the -o for an -a (gringa), and to make it plural, add an -s at the end (gringos, gringas). When used as a noun, it’s typically preceded by an article (el gringo, la gringa), while as an adjective, it follows the noun it modifies.
Gabacho is a slang term commonly used in Spain to refer to someone who is French or of French descent. According to the Spanish Royal Academy, the term comes from the Occitan word “gavach,” meaning “someone who doesn’t speak properly.” This isn’t exactly a friendly origin, is it?
Gabacho is often used in a derogatory or offensive way, so keep that in mind when learning this word.
Switching continents, gabacho is also used in Latin America, especially in Mexico, to refer to tourists from the US. In Latin America, gabacho is also not used in a kind way.
Just like gringo above, gabacho can be used as both a noun and an adjective, matching the gender and number (gabacho, gabacha, gabachos, gabachas) of the subject and being preceded by an article when used as a noun (el gabacho) or following a noun when working as an adjective.
Guiri is another popular slang word to refer to foreigners. In Spain, guiri is commonly used to describe fair-skinned tourists, particularly British or German. Guiri is often used in a pejorative manner, typically to describe an “annoying” tourist who appears to be unfamiliar with local customs and culture, or who behaves in a foolish or disrespectful way, like getting drunk in public, lacking awareness of local etiquette, or simply dressing in a manner that distinguishes them as a foreigner. However, for many other Spaniards, guiri is just a neutral term to describe the tourist and their origin. So, like we’ve said before, keep an eye out for context and intention.
The consensus seems to be that the term guiri originated in the 19th century during the Carlist Wars in Spain, as the Basque Carlists used the term to refer to their Liberal adversaries. Then, the meaning changed and evolved to “foreigner” when a Canadian diplomat named Gary Bedell who lived in Spain for more than 20 years popularized it and used the nickname himself.
As for the grammar aspect, guiri is a neutral-gendered word, meaning that it can be used for both the feminine and masculine; the term can also be plural by adding an -s: guiris. Plus, unlike the previous terms, guiri is exclusively used as a noun, meaning that it is usually preceded by an article.
Now that we’re talking about it, why not check our post on nationalities in Spanish? Surely, it’ll come in handy if you enjoy traveling! Although that post includes lots of Spanish slang terms for different nationalities, guiri isn’t in there since it’s just a general term for a foreigner. It is in our post on how to speak like a Spaniard though, since it’s a common slang word in Spain!
Güero is a term commonly used in Mexico to refer to a light-skinned or blond person, though it’s sometimes used on anyone with lightish-colored hair. Although it is often used to refer to tourists who fit that description, it is not a term exclusively for tourists since it’s more of a physical description than a cultural one.
This expression can be used as a noun or as an adjective, just like the other words we’ve mentioned. Güero is the masculine form, while güera is the feminine. The plural forms are güeros and güeras. You can also use diminutives to convey more affection: güerito, güerita, güeritos, güeritas.
The Mexican slang term güero has its roots in the Spanish word “huero,” meaning “empty.” This word was originally used to describe an egg that did not hatch. Over time, the term was associated with sickness and the color white, resulting in its actual meaning.
Note that in other Latin American countries there are also particular expressions to describe people with fair skin or hair, such as mono in Colombia, or catire in Venezuela. Check out our post on words that change in Spain and Latin America for more regional vocabulary like this.
So, there you have it. Let’s do a quick review of the things we learned today, shall we?
As we know, the Hispanic world is rather vast, and full of unique slang words and expressions, including those used to describe tourists. Today we explored four of these terms: gringo, gabacho, guiri, and güero.
Each expression has its own origin and connotations. Some are used pejoratively in some contexts, while in others they are used in a neutral or affectionate way.
We also saw that gringo, gabacho, and güero can be used as adjectives or nouns and that they follow the rules of gender and number agreement, while guiri is neutral and only used as a noun.
Ultimately, understanding these terms and their nuances can help travelers to be better equipped to engage with locals and enjoy the culture better. As a plus, we recommend that you check our post on Spanish travel phrases to be even more prepared.
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