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(NB – my spelling of Spanish words in this node is probably going to suck, despite Spanish being a completely phonetic language. I have, however, deliberately dropped all accents, because they can render strangely in certain browsers).

Guiri is a Spanish colloquialism which you won’t find in your Berlitz handbook, despite its common usage. It has no English equivalent, but probably translates as “non-Spanish scum”. In Japanese, it would be gaijin. If you had to pick an analogous word in English, it would be nigger.

I live in a town on the Southern Spanish coast which is at most 40% Spanish. Of the other 60%, a large chunk are English. The rest are made up of people from every other country on earth, and when they roll into my bar at 2am, the only common language between us is our imperfect Spanish. This is a language I call Guiri Spanish, a broken, stuttering attempt at Spanish through which we can communicate. It mostly involves words, but hand gestures and diagrams are occasionally required.

We’re looked down here by everyone. We’re hated by the Spanish, who want the country for themselves. We’re hated by the English, who think that this is just a huge tourist resort to which they came to escape the foreigners. We’re even hated by the Romanians, to whom Spanish comes easy.

But we speak the same language.

*

Some of my best friends here are people who speak Guiri Spanish. One of my favourites is Lechek, who is Polish. It’s pronounced Lek, but leche is Spanish for milk, so that’s what we call him. The milkman.

His Guiri Spanish involves an awful lot of English. Sometimes it’s just a band name, like, “jefe, pones me un poco de Pink Floyd”. One time he was trying to get lucky with a drunk woman who burst into tears at around 3am. Lechek turned to me and said, “por que los mujeres siempre crying?” (“Why the women always crying”). My all-time favourite is the thing he says when I offer him one last drink when I know full well that he’s had enough. He waves his hand and says “no, me voy ahora, o manana, problemas de standing up.” (“No, I go now, or tomorrow problems of standing up”)

He was always a little bitter, and pissed off that he could never really be accepted by the Spanish around here. He told me stories of the bad old days in Lodz: queuing for bread for a day, queuing for fuel for a week, waiting three years for a car, and trying to make some money by driving to Italy with a Rolex stuffed up his ass. One night we drank a few vodkas together, and I used my Guiri Spanish to translate some Winston Churchill speeches for him. The dream of freedom moved him to tears.

He found a way of getting inside the Spanish system, literally, by shacking up with a woman from Granada. They live there together. I’m happy for him, but I miss my friend.

*

Tenses are difficult in any language. I get around them in Spanish with two tricks: anything before today is past participle, anything after today is future indicative. So “I used to live in Ireland” is “estaba viviendo en Irlanda” (I used to live in Ireland). “I would like to move back to Ireland” is “Me boy vivir en Irlanda” (I am going to live in Ireland).

I try to teach these tricks to other Guiris, but sometimes usually rely on the simpler technique of saying something in the present tense and adding a timescale, like “Yo vivo en Polonia antes” (I live in Poland, before)

*

The Romanians don’t need Guiri Spanish. One Spanish person told me that she can understand spoken Romanian, so deeply connected are their Latin roots.

Nobody likes the Romanians around here, including me. That hurts, because I have deep left-wing bleeding-heart tendencies. I hate to write people off because of their nationalities, but it’s hard to ignore that about 90% of the Romanians that wash up here are utter scum. Some are absolutely magic, like Danny and Irinel, wonderful people that I trust my life to. But there’s no getting around the fact that the majority are useless filth. Like Doru.

Doru rolled into my bar about a year ago, with two mates called, I swear, Homer and Elvis. I spoke more Spanish than the three of them combined. We mainly talked about women (they think cunnilingus is “gay” for some reason). They asked me a lot of probing questions, mainly about the amount of money in my till. They left a small tab, which they decline to pay till to this day.

Three months later, and some very young English girls come to the bar (maybe a little to young to serve, but I know their mother quite well, so it’s okay). They’re worried about one of their friends who has been picked up by a Spanish guy. From the description, I know he’s Romanian, and sure enough it’s Doru. I went outside to have a word.

He’s smiling and smoking a cigarette while sitting next to this confused young girl. He smiles at me and says, “ mira, que gorda es!” (Look how fat this girl is)

I ask him what his game is, noting that he has surpassed Guiri Spanish. He now knows a lot more than me. “Que piensas, tio? Quiero fullar ella.” (What do you think, pal? I want to fuck her).

I tell him I know this girl’s family, and that if he isn’t careful, he’s going to be in trouble.

He says, I don’t care. I’ve got a big family. I’m pretty sure that’s what he says.

I say, her family’s bigger in my imperfect, broken Guiri Spanish.

He grudgingly let her go, but kept hassling me for a while.

*

Adjectives are really important in Guiri Spanish. Alto, bajo, pequeno, grande, bonito, feo, that kind of thing. They can be combined with other words to make new ones, so that a “caballo pequeno” is a pony, and a “gato grande con dientes grandes” is a tiger. It’s all about using the 500-odd words you know to maximum effect.

*

It’s the Muslims that make me saddest. They not only have to learn a new language, but a new culture.

They take a drink. They take several, and when they’re on their arses shouting about how evil George Bush is, there’s always some helpful English person on hand to remind that their culture forbids drinking. The Spanish will just sneer at them and snarl something like, “estas bien, Osama ?”

I felt most sorry for Achour. At first, he was a good Muslim, obeying two basic tenets of his faith: to renounce alcohol, and to convert me to Islam. I respected his first opinion, but responded to the second with some intricate theological arguments, which probably lost a little in their translation into Guiri Spanish. Whether it was the brilliance of my arguments or the uselessness of my Spanish, he was left scratching his head.

He started drinking eventually, as they all do over here. First beer, then whiskey, and he took to whiskey like a duck to hard liquor. He developed that common problem drunks have of sharing too much. One night, he was sitting at the bar with Lechek and Pete, shouting in Guiri Spanish and drawing things on a napkin. As he went on, Pete and Lechek seemed to get more terrified.

He went to the bathroom and Pete, who was now completely pale, showed me the napkin. On it were several childish drawings of animals. “You see all them,” said Pete.

“Yeah.”

“Those are all of the animals he has had sex with.” I laughed, but I really felt very sorry for Achour. He had grown up in a mountain region, and must have assumed that all of us must have once been lonely goatherds like him. He had no idea how much he had just embarrassed himself. For him, there was a bigger sea than the Mediterrarnean to cross.

*

A lot of Spanish is just about conviction. In English, “please” is a very wussy, whiney word. In Spanish it becomes something of great power: “POR FAVOR!” Something you can shout while slamming your fist into a bar. So too with other common Spanish phrases, such as “da me” and “dime”. They would be incredibly rude in English.

But in Spanish, both Guiri and native, they must be declared loudly and confidently. Spanish is all about the cojones .

*

I have an Algerian friend, Mohammed, who is amazing. He speaks Arabic and French, obviously, as well as Spanish, Italian and, bizarrely, Norwegian. But given a choice he prefers to speak in English. He says that he feels most comfortable in English. I think he just likes saying “fuck” a lot.

He’s prone to massive bouts of temper. I had to bar him for two months after he punched my waitress. The witnesses to that event kept saying that he was a typical Muslim, always disrespecting women. I kept pointing out that he didn’t punch my waitress because he was a Muslim, but because he was an asshole.

Later on, he was really grateful that I made that clarification.

Back in the time when Doru and his mates were bothering me, Mohammed kept giving out to me for entertaining them. One night I had to pull him off the Romanians, because he was offering to kill them individually.

He talked about this a few nights later, and he apologised for appointing himself head of security in my bar, but we agreed that Romanians had to go. They had a habit of sitting in a corner and staring at the handbags of lone women, and several people had told me that they wouldn’t come into my bar when these guys were there.

Mohammed told me not to worry. He would take care of it.

A week later, Mohammed came into the bar, with his arm wrapped around Doru. “Give this guy a beer,” he said.

I served them, and waited for a chance to ask Mohammed what the fuck was going on. “Don’t worry,” he replied, “just trust me.” Homer and Elvis came into the bar and sat with Doru. Mohammed smiled and ordered them a round of drinks. They laughed, enjoying the sight of the guy, a Guiri in their eyes, kowtowing to their wishes. I scowled, but gave Mohammed the benefit of the doubt.

Achour walked in and shook hands with Mohammed. He ignored the Romanians, and ordered a beer.

A couple of other Moroccan guys walked in, and ordered beers. The Romanians began to shift uncomfortably, realising they were outnumbered 4-3.

5 more Moroccans walked in, ordered beers, and eyeballed Doru and his friends, who were beginning to sweat.

Then another 3 entered, and another 6, and another 2. Within half an hour, I had 30 North African Muslims in the bar, all staring at my Romanian customers. The cake was iced when Lechek walked in, took one look at them and said “que pasa con los cunyos Romanos?” (What’s up with the Romanian cunts?)

At that point, Mohammed strolled over to Doru. His Spanish was above Guiri level. He whispered to him, “finish your drink, leave and never come back to this bar again”.

They never did.

*

These days, Mohammed likes to talk about how much he hates the Spanish and respects the Romanians. But essentially it’s the same sentiment. There are people here who come to work hard and make a life for themselves. And there are people here who try to fuck that up.

But they should beware of us. We’re not Spanish, English or Romanian. We’re not like you. We are the gaijin. We are the guiris.

We are the niggers. But we speak the same language, and we stick together.

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