Annoying things in Spain, Culture Shock, Expat Issues

Do you get treated unfairly as a foreigner?

I’ve always wondered whether I do or not, but this summer I found out for sure. Straight from the bull’s mouth, as it were. It all happened in the exotic location of Benalmadena, Malaga.

It's actually got a pretty harbour! Photo by Julio Codesal
It’s actually got a pretty harbour!
Photo by Julio Codesal

It was our second day in the 4 star hotel-apartment as we came back after lunch to get out of the heat. When we turned up at the room the head maid was just going in (it helps to know we’d had a chat with her the day before in the corridor, all in Spanish, and the following conversation was also in Spanish).

“Oh,” she said, looking down at her list of rooms. “I didn’t realise you guys were in this room.”

“Yeah we are,” said my wife.

“It’s just, if I had known, I would have cleaned your room earlier. You’re down as being guiris.” I smiled. Guiri means foreigner in Spanish. Some people take it as an insult, and it can be depending on the tone, but it doesn’t bother me.

“Really?” said my wife, turning her head to me, probably hoping that I wasn’t about to kick off.

“Yeah, you see, we have a system here, the guiris rooms are left till later because they are normally out all day. We don’t tend to clean them anyway.” Oh dear, I thought, knowing full well that my wife has a bit of a thing about cleanliness.

“That’s funny because yesterday no one cleaned our room either,” said my wife.

“Yeah, well if you’re down as being guiris then we don’t normally bother until they complain.”

“So you don’t normally clean guiris rooms?” I said; just to confirm.

“Not normally, no. Funny that, I wonder why you are down as guiris,” she said, looking down at her list again. By this time my wife was smirking, she knew what was about to come.

“Maybe because I am one,” I said, grinning. The maid’s jaw dropped.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought you were Spanish.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment for my accent, but no, sorry, I’m one of those funny guiri people.”

“There I was, going on about how we don’t clean guiris rooms, and you’re a guiri,” she said, laughing. She was probably laughing because so was I at that point. I wasn’t bothered that the room hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned; the beds had been made and bins emptied, and my laptop was still hiding in the cupboard, so I didn’t really give a hoot, at the time.

“Well, are you going to clean our room then?” asked my wife.

“Of course, right away.” And she did, but no one else did while we were there. I would have kicked up a fuss, but I couldn’t be arsed to get worked up about a few specs of dust and grains of sand. I get more pleasure from writing this post and publishing their name online instead. So, if you are bothered about a spankingly clean room and are a guiri staying in Benalmadena then try to give Benalmadena Palace a miss.

Over time though, the fact that she’d mentioned that guiris were treated differently did start to annoy me. How dare they? Fiddle the people who are possibly holding their country together; the tourists. Take the guiris out of Spain, the ones spending the money anyway, and the whole country would collapse quicker than you could say “How about cleaning my room then?”

I was glad that I’d heard it directly from a Spanish person; guiris get treated differently, and unfairly. I’ve always had my suspicions. At least 50% of the times I eat out in Sevilla the waiter adds something extra to the bill, whether it’s a couple of beers, a plate of tapas, or even €10 just for the hell of it. It can’t always be a coincidence and I’m sure the locals don’t suffer from the shared memory loss of the waiters, which is always the excuse.

We did find one bar where the waiter kept forgetting to put our wine on the menu. After a couple of visits he got the sack though. That’s my theory anyway. Maybe he was a revolutionary against the poor treatment of foreigners in Spain and is working his way round the country giving free drinks to tourists. If only I’d got his number.

Big city = pickpockets and pety theft. Photo by Paco CT
Big city = pickpockets and pety theft.
Photo by Paco CT

It’s not only in the restaurants that foreigners are a target. When we were in Barcelona we almost got mugged as we were entering on a metro train. I’d spotted the group of thugs hanging around waiting to pounce (I was done four times while travelling in South America, so now have a trained eye). As we got on the metro a lad moved closer and tried to stick his hand in my pocket. I elbowed him in the arm and pushed him back, so he scarpered off. The funny thing was watching my wife’s reaction; I’d never seen her stick up her middle finger in public before.

Pick pocketing and petty theft is a huge problem in Barcelona and Madrid so you’d better watch out. Guiris, tourists, and foreigners are all targeted by local louts. The main problems are on the metro, but also on the beach in Barcelona, as I found out recently from my number one fan of A Novel Spain. He left a comment saying he was distracted by a pretty girl while drying his hair on a bench by the beach and someone nicked his bag, and all his belongings, including his passport. The worst part was how he got treated by the local police when he reported the incident. Check out his story on the comments section here.

I believe that I’ve been treated unfairly as a foreigner by being short changed, served last at the greengrocers and at the bar, not allowed to join pompous swimming clubs, made to pay more rent, and laughed at for running in a vest. Someone even threw an orange through my window at school on Halloween, but I’m not sure whether that was because I was a foreigner or one of my ex-students getting their own back.

What about you? Do you find yourself getting taken advantage of because you are a poor defenceless foreigner? Do you get laughed at, picked on, ripped off, or targetted by the Orange Guiri Crew? More importantly, do you know the whereabouts of the Spanish waiter who is giving away free wine to tourists?

15 thoughts on “Do you get treated unfairly as a foreigner?”

  1. Here in Jimena the local bars and cafes know us, and want and need our business, so wouldn’t try and rip us off. Elsewhere I am sure its true as there is no way I can pass as Spanish with my poor accent. I have to say though, when we bought our house 10 years ago, we got ripped for sure as we paid all the taxes and expenses AND handed over the difference between what the property was actually worth and what the council said it was worth, which means if we sell it it will look like we have made a huge profit wear as in fact we will have made a huge loss (luckily we are not planning on selling….)

    1. That happens a lot. If you put something on the table without me asking then I guess it’s for free. I remember my Dad told me a story of when he was in the states and the waiter asked if he wanted a shot, my Dad said yes, obviously thinking it was on the house, but at the end of the night it was on the bill. I always take the bread home, even if I just feed the birds with it.

  2. I can handle being treated as a guiri at some of the bars and restaurants, but when it comes to renting apartments or opening bank accounts where there is more money involved it gets incredibly confusing. It frustrates me that every time I call a Spanish person out on something, suddenly there’s memory loss or they try and talk faster to make it sound complicated…

    1. I often wonder about setting up a language school, but I’m worried about two things: the market, and the fact I may need to employ Spanish builders to do some work…not sure how long it would take, or whether the price would continually rise. But I guess that’s the same for most builders around the world.

  3. Hi!! Unfortunately, I’ve been treated differently here in Spain, however in a different way than yours. I’m native from New York, with Latin American background, totally bilingual. When Spanish people first meet me, they automatically assume that I’m from South America, and as soon as I tell them that I’m from NY, their treatment towards me changes. Sometimes I’ve felt discriminated, and it makes me a bit sad.

  4. Hi there, I will have been in Spain 6 years this summer. I live in Madrid, and it is very multi-cultural. I am very ‘morena’ so people always assume that I am Spanish, but the moment I speak they are in total shock. YOU ARE GUIRI??? NOOOOOO. They ask me why I am not blonde hair and blue-eyed like my North American counterparts, and I have to explain that I am not from Sweden (and there are even Swedes who are not blondes). So it’s strange, I get approached like one of them, and then the attitude changes when they realise I am North American. Now, when they realise I am ‘guiri’ the reaction can go both ways- positive or negative.

  5. Clarification, we say güiris because to say “northern barbarians” is longer.
    True, for the Spanish economy they the tourists are important. But it is also true that we could dispense with some rude foreigners in Magaluf.
    By the way what would happen to the English economy if “the City” moves to, say Frankfurt?

    1. Northern Barbarian is longer, I like that, a bit more difficult to pronounce too. I was in Magaluf once, nasty place. Although the service was quiet good for a change. If ‘the City’ moved to Frankfurt then I’m guessing share prices in sausages would go up, so keep your eye out for that one. Thanks for writing.

  6. I’ve lived in Madrid and Galicia for 25 years. I’m blonde, blue eyed and five foot ten. I am SO weary of being targeted by people playing accordions on the terraces of bars and restaurants. If I am with a group of Spanish friends the musician will target me and me alone. The same applies to beggars. I also object to being offered a BUCKET of beer when I only asked for a caña…

    1. Hey Lucy,

      Thanks for writing. Yeah the accordions do tend to appear out the blue whenever I sit down for a coffee, less now that I moved out the centre. Re the bucket of beer, I’m not so bothered about that one, it’s always a better deal! Thanks for writing.

  7. I’ve lived in Spain for 25 years and have never been treated badly or been overcharged on anything. When the basket of bread arrives, ask them to take it away, simple. Mind you, I speak Spanish. My Spanish friends say they get annoyed when foreigners assume they, the Spanish, speak English. Years ago, I was at the doctor’s surgery and a woman came out and said ” why don’t the doctors speak English? After all, we’re in The European Union now”. I kid you not.

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