Spain Glossary

Am I a Guiri?

Eleena’s recent article (9 Famous Living Spaniards that Every Guiri Should Know) got me thinking more about the G-word.

Guiri is a word applied by Spanish people to foreigners in Spain, but not to all foreigners, mostly just those from Western European countries, the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand… you know, us palid blondies 🙂 There is a definite element of looking like a total tourist involved too (sunglasses, sunburn, camera round neck, silly sunhat, sandals), though this isn’t essential.

A question that worried me for a long time was whether or not it is actually a bad thing to be called a Guiri. I remember how Marina’s sister once called me Guiri not long after Marina and I had started going out, and I took huge offense.

Yet at a party on Saturday night old friends of Marina’s were bandying the word around all evening and it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I’ve started using the word quite a lot myself to talk about my fellow foreigners.

Being called a Guiri, I’ve discovered, is only a bad thing if it is said with spite (which is only about 20% of the time). Usually, however, it’s a friendly kind of a word, not nearly as demeaning as the way us Brits used to call the French ‘frogs’.

I think I am a bit of a guiri (despite my best efforts to Spanishify myself), especially in summer when I don much of the requisite kit (camera, shades, silly hat), but nowadays I really don’t mind in the least. Does the Guiri label bother you?

Notes: Frikipedia, something of a Spanish Urban Dictionary, has a great Guiri rundown in Spanish. Other classics include Gilipollas. As for the Urban Dicationary, see the entry on Spain, e.g.: “Spain: Builds SEAT cars, which are cheap but fun – Has gypsies who live in caves furnished with TVs, fridges, etc – Sells beer in McDonalds – Has awesome food and wine, making one realize the necessity of a siesta.” No comment.

Spain Glossary Spanish Culture and News

Chapuza – NFS Glossay


Chapuza – A Spanish word for those little DIY jobs around the house (that rarely get done in this one!), and for DIY or building type work that tends to have been done rather badly.

Take the situation in the communal hallway outside our front door, as seen in the photo above. The wires on the right are feeding electricity out of a neighbours house (who has not lived there for years), into the communal passageway lights (err, isn’t that techinically theft?) They have been like this for some time, and as you can see, the haphazard way they are hanging from the ceiling indicates a chapuza total – a hack job done quickly to save time. Still, seeing as the electricians in charge come back looking completely drunk after lunch every day, this is probably a fairly impressive piece of work – it’s a wonder they haven’t electrocuted themselves by now!

Anyway, learning to live with chapuzas on a national level is one of the joys of living in Spain, and it’s my duty as a long term resident to try to fit in. At least that’s what I tell Marina when she comes home from work and declares my latest plumbing/carpentry/painting job not quite up to industry standard. Oh but is, I tell her, just take a look outside our front door 😉

(Got a photo of a great Spanish chapuza? Send it in!)

Spain Glossary Spanish Culture and News

GRAPO: Spain’s other terrorists – NFS Spain Glossary

Grapo emblemWith ETA so much in the news as Spain’s major national terrorist threat, it is easy to forget that there is another theoretically active terrorist group operating here as well: GRAPO. The Grupos de Resistencia Antifascista Primero de Octubre formed in 1975, aiming to drive American forces out of Spain, to otherthrow the post-Franco government, and to install in its place a Marxist regime.

So rare is GRAPO activity these days, that it was only an article in yesterdays newspaper about the capture of one of the group’s members, that reminded me of their existence at all. Their last major ‘attack’ involved the hold up of a Caixa Galicia bank in Santiago de Compostela, on July 4th 2006. Two young members of the gang accosted the director of the branch on his way to work, gaining access to the bank by holding a pistol to his head. They got away with just 20,000 Euros.

More info on GRAPO can be found in the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, and Wikipedia (Spanish).

Spain Glossary

Spanish Lottery Shops and the Quiniela

Spanish lotteries shop

These places can be a minefield for the uninitiated. There are more ways to fritter away your hard-earned in here than there are days in a week. Most popular are the Primitiva and the Bonoloto (pick 6 numbers out of 49, BIG cash prizes), and the only one that ever gets me to step in once or twice a year, the Quiniela:


The idea of the Quiniela is to guess the results of the coming weekend’s first and second division football games (10 from the first, 5 from the second). You get to choose between a home win (1), a draw (x), and an away win (2). It’s 1 euro a line if you only pick one possibility per game, but things get really complicated, and expensive, when you start picking dobles (covering two choices for some games, e.g. a home win or a draw), and triples (where you cover all possible options for one or more games). Top Quiniela prizes range in the hundreds of thousands of euros, but are split amongst all those that pick all the correct results, and this often means the prize money is divided into less than life-changing amounts (though last week just two people took over 600,000 euros each, not bad!) The good news is that you start winning with just ten correct lines (though it may be just a couple of euros). The bad news is that it is surprisingly difficult – I think 9 lines is my record. Still, it certainly makes the weekend footy more entertaining!

Spain Glossary

Portero – NFS Spain Glossary

Our porter is a fat, 60-something man that spends all his time in a big blue boiler suit, sitting in our building lobby, behind a small desk, reading books and polishing coins (he’s a collector of some sort). He is also an electrician by trade and picks up extra pocket money when he can by fixing up the wiring in flats belonging to the building’s residents. He is rather nice to us these days, mainly because we are nice to him. It pays to be nice to your portero, and woe betide anyone that gets on the wrong side of him. Your heating may take unusually long to get fixed when it suddenly breaks down in the dead of winter. Post may go missing on its way to your letterbox. All pure conjecture of course, but no one risks getting on the wrong side of their portero, especially as they are also famous gossips.

Apartment building porters are extremely common in Spain. Every building in the smarter areas of town will have one, though there will be very few in slightly less well-off barrios like Madrid’s Lavapies. The porter is paid by the comunidad, the collective body of flat owners who pay a monthly fee, also known as the comunidad, for the upkeep of the building, cleaning of communal stairwells etc. A porter will be given a free flat within the building they look after, meanwhile paying off or renting out another property somewhere else, often in a village outside town, to move into when they retire.

One of my ambitions is to have lunch with our porter, whose wife drives the entire comunidad wild with the aromas of thick meat stews that pour from their ground floor flat into the lobby, hitting me just as I get back from buying something far less satisfactory from the local Ahora Mas supermarket. Perhaps I can bribe my way in with a couple of old British coins for his collection.

notes Spain Glossary

Enchufe: NFS Spain Glossary

The other day I was telling my sister-in-law about a relation of mine who has just landed an important job at Reuters UK, a job gained entirely through hard work and personal merit. “In Spain”, she replied, “that job would only be for the son of someone important”, (‘solo para el hijo de.‘ were her exact words, and no, she wasn’t swearing.)

The point is that nepotism is rife in Spain. From getting a decent job, to finding your way onto an oversubscribed course, to having your internet connection up and running faster than anyone else – if you have a friend or relation in the right place, known as an Enchufe, you’re sorted.

The interesting thing is though, that no one in Spain really seems to mind. There is very little resentment of the enchufe system (until it’s your turn to loose out). This is probably because everyone is enchufado (plugged in) to some extent, and as long as their pizza is arriving hotter because their mate rides the delivery bike, or their son gets a better promotion because daddy knows someone who knows someone in HR, then everyone seems quite happy to let this little bit of sociological corruption run and run.

And if you are worried that as a foreigner in Spain you’ll never get Enchufado, just how many good reasons do I have to give you for getting an intercambio?! 😉

Spain Glossary

Intercambio (Spain Glossary) – Learn Spanish the fun way!

It’s time to start setting up a glossary of useful terms on this website, so I don’t drive the regular readers mad by repeating 10 times a week what, for example, an intercambio is. So here is entry number 1, the intercambio, which I’ll cite for the first time in the next post.

Intercambio (m.) – Language exchange

The intercambio system is designed to help people improve their spoken language fluency, and is widely used in Spain. The idea is to meet up with a real Spanish speaking person, in a bar or cafe for example, and chat for half the time in Spanish, and and half the time in English. That way both of you get great, natural practice in the language you want to learn (of course this works with any combination of languages).

Plus you get to make a new friend, and probably meet their friends too… and then you’ll be speaking Spanish all the time! I cannot recommend the intercambio strongly enough as a way to improve your Spanish, and to feel a whole lot happier about life if you have just arrived in Spain (again, there is no reason why this shouldn’t work outside Spain too – see the intercambio section in the forum to find a long-distance intercambio!).

Intercambios can be found via: notice boards in language schools, bookshops and universities; in classified ads in the local English press, and on-line small ads services such as; asking around (if you teach English, your students will know lots of people). Demand for English speakers is high, so it shouldn’t be hard to have several intercambios on the go at once!

One more thing: a lot of people use the intercambio game in a ‘you never know who I might meet’ dating fashion. Nothing wrong with that – I actually married my favourite intercambio 😉

What Spanish terms would you like to see in the NFS Spain Glossary? Suggestions below please!