Being a 'Guiri'
Even though you probably will have not even heard this word before coming to Spain, once you arrive, in all probability you will be called a guiri. Like the Mexican word ‘gringo’, guiri is a word that Spanish people use for foreigners, specifically those white, blond, German-looking people who wear socks with their sandals. Don’t worry though, they will probably include you into this group too if you don’t look Spanish and speak with an accent. You will most likely be asked “where are you from” because they know you are not from around here (although African and Asian Americans will probably also get “but where are you really from” because Spanish people don’t recognize someone as Spanish until the family has been living in Spain for three or four generations so they might not accept you are American right off the bat, but that is another conversation).
Being called a guiri can settle anywhere on the scale from a really offensive term: “these stupid guiris don’t know anything/what they are doing/why are they here,” to very affectionate term used by Spanish people to refer to their non-Spanish friends. Studying full-time in Spain means that I have received my fair share of guiri references along this spectrum. Perhaps the most paradoxically offensive-yet-flattering one was a teacher who insisted on asking me if I understood, and if I said yes would tell the rest of the class that they should understand too because “the guiri gets it.”
I now refer to myself as a guiri. My light skin (thank you British mom), not quite brown hair, and hazely eyes give me away even if I can manage to confuse people on some occasions with my accent. My brother's girlfriend considers three levels of guiri-ness: guiri guiri guiri (which is probably what you are), guiri guiri (which could be anyone from Dani to me), and just guiri (you cannot even tell my brother is not Spanish). In fact, I have been out with my brother on various occasions and, even though we look bizarrely alike in a lot of ways (he is ‘browner’ than me and speaks better Spanish), when he introduces me as his sister people get thrown off and say, “but she looks guiri.” The obvious reply is “duh, we both are.”
I am not oblivious to the fact that we are constantly judging others based on their external appearances and what these characteristics mean to us. In fact, I am one of those people who tends to agree with those social scientists who believe that without this skill of generalizing we would be so overwhelmed with stimulation that our brains wouldn’t be able to function. At the same time, being a guiri has allowed me to understand what it means to be labeled, and it is not always nice. I personally try to treat this label as a positive one, many of my Spanish friends use it to refer to me, and it would be a waste of energy to be offended. However, hearing people say things when they think I cannot understand can sometimes may make me feel sad or hurt.
I have learned a lot about this label since arriving, and if I were to sit down with you and hash out what it means, I would advise you to take it positively. At the same time, allow yourself to feel what it is like to be labeled. Understand what it means when you talk about other people in a general way, and try to comprehend what it might make them feel. I like to think of myself as an open, caring person, but living in a situation where I feel like an outside has allowed me to become more empathetic and compassionate with those people who are in similar situations. It has given me perspective into a world that I had never experienced before.