A Guiri lost in translation in Barcelona

 …Or how to completely and utterly embarrass yourself when looking for a room to share.

Do you know what Guiri means?

Guiri is a kind of mean word used here in Spain to identify a tourist. It doesn`t mean anything, just tourist, an outsider, but it may have a negative intention to it.


Lost in translation in Barcelona - How to embarrass yourself in a new country - by Guiri Insider

That`s a very recently arrived, fresh Guiri version of me having a beer in the harbour, in Barcelona.

So why did I chose this name for my blog? Because I was a Guiri once, and even though after almost a decade living here I  now consider myself a local (I even work part-time as a tour guide and travel advisor in Barcelona),  I`m not ashamed of the time I was a tourist here. I enjoyed it so much, seeing everything with virgin eyes, marvelling over every new building and place I discovered, taking a lot of photos of the city. Being a Guiri to me was never a bad thing. Now I have a lot of knowledge, and I this is great because I can help people to see and learn more than just the beaten touristic path and to feel like an Insider even when it`s their first time in Barcelona, but I think that we should never completely lose the Guiri side of us, so we can keep the ability to be amazed by the city we live in. I love being Guiri Insider. 

But of course, when you get to a new place there are a lot of things to learn. And then sometimes there is the language barrier. I understood Spanish before I came to Spain, but I was used to the Argentinean/Uruguayan Spanish, that can be very different sometimes, not only in the way they pronounce some words (Like beach, it`s always written playa, but people from there say “Plaja” – like plat-ja –  and people here in Spain pronounce it “Plaia” – like pla-i-a).

My mother language is Brazilian Portuguese, which is not so different from Spanish, so it was actually harder for me to learn because being so similar, I would mix things and since people understood, they would not correct me – Please correct me, I want to learn! And that can be a dangerous thing – or a funny one depends on how you look at it.

Today I`m going to tell you the story about the day that I totally embarrassed myself because of a language mistake.


Lost in translation in Barcelona - How to embarrass yourself in a new country - by Guiri Insider

Oh yes, my dear readers, I was caught in the arms of a very embarrassing miscommunication fail!


I was trying to find a place to live, you know, that oh-so-not-fun task of looking for rooms ads on the websites and having to call them to set a visit so you could look at the place (a bunch of shitty pictures doesn`t help you to get a clear idea of the place you are choosing to live, plus you have to see if your future roommate is a nice person, of course).
I had already talked to a lot of people and seen a lot of places… And I wasn`t getting any closer to finding a place I even remotely liked and could imagine myself living at. Very frustrating.

In Portuguese the word “ligar” can have a lot of meanings, from “turn on” (as in turning on the tv/light), to “to call – by phone” (as in I`m going to call my mother). But here in Spain… Well, let me just say that it has a different meaning, and it had nothing to do with my intentions at that moment. Oh, my!!!

I saw this ad for a nice room to rent. The announcer was a young guy, so I picked up the phone and called him. Which led me to one of the weirdest, most completely non-sense conversations I had. I just couldn`t understand what was the problem with that guy. I mean, my Spanish was not perfect, but people usually understood me well, I could communicate without any problems…

The conversation that followed was something like this:

Me: Hola, soy Vick, estoy ligando por la habitación que estás alquilando, tengo interés en ella!
What I thought I was saying: “Hello, I`m Vick, I`m calling because of the room you are renting, I`m interested in it!”

Guy: Humm… Hola, Vick. Perdona, me dijiste que estás ligando por el anuncio? 
“Hi, Vick. I`m sorry, did you say that you are calling because of the ad?”

Me: Sí, sí, estoy ligando por la habitación anunciada, has puesto un anuncio en internet acerca de una, no?
“Yes, yes, I`m calling because of the room you listed, you did put an ad on the internet for one, right?”

Guy: Sí, estoy alquilando una. Pero tu estás ligando por esto?
“Yes, I`m renting one. But you are calling for it?”

Me: Sí…

Guy: Y no te gustaría ver la habitación primeiro?
“And wouldn`t you like to see the room first?” (Logically! Is this guy dumb or what?)

Me: Sí, claro, me gustaría verla, por esto estoy ligando. Cuando se puede visitarla?
“Yes, of course, I would like to see it, that is why I`m calling. When can I visit it?”

Guy: Vale, entonces, estás ligando por la habitación… De donde eres tu?
“Ok, so, you`re calling because of the room… Where are you from?”

By this time I could hear from the tone of his voice that he was laughing on the inside and it was starting to piss me off. I was also frustrated, why does this guy keep making me repeat the same thing? Is he stupid???

Me: Soy del sur de Brazil. Se puede ver la habitación o no?!?
“I`m from the south of Brazil. Can I see the room or not!?! (already in an angry tone)

In the end, after making me lose all this time, he, trying to swallow the laughter, tells me that the room had already been rented.

Needless to say, I was angry, frustrated but most importantly, completely lost. What the hell just happened here???

Later on that same day, I met a friend for coffee. He asked me how was my room search going and I told him my last phone interaction.
His reaction was to spit his drink in an attack of maniac laughter. What the hell!?!

After he recovered for his laugh attack, he finally explained to me that “ligar” here in Spain doesn`t mean “to call”, but a totally different thing. It means hook up/have sex with.

Oh… Oh! Oh oh. Wait. WHAT????

So I was basically offering my body as a way to pay my rent!!!

Lost in translation in Barcelona - How to embarrass yourself in a new country - by Guiri Insider

I had to turn myself into a meme for this one… And I`ll probably have to use this picture again on the blog, knowing myself…


O-M-G. I was livid. As if it wasn`t enough that in some areas, Brazilian girls still have a (totally unfair) fame of being easy, here was I, offering sex for a place to sleep!!! I wanted to die!!!

After the shock went away I started laughing too, and I understood that the guy on the phone probably knew that this was not what I meant. He just decided not to tell me and have some laugh at my excuse… Well, what can I do! At least I made someone else`s day a funnier one…!

Did you ever have a  funny “lost in translation” moment? Please share in the comments, I would love to hear it! 

And if you wanna have more laughing attacks on my excuse, read this post about my Biggest Travel Fails – When everything goes wrong!

Showing 4 comments
  • Kim

    I thought I had a few stories until I read yours. I can’t match that one!!! Here is an article I wrote about fitting in when visiting Spain. (although it is lacking the “ligar” experience) If anyone is planning on visiting they may get a few tips.

    • Vick Fichtner

      Hi Kim!

      I read your post, good insights!
      I wish I could have read it when I first got here hahaha… But anyway, at least this kind of situations make good material for the blog! 😉

  • javier

    Hola vick, yo podria decirte que he tenido el mismo problema con la palabra “cojer” jajajaja, en mi pais significa tomar o agarrar algo, aqui en españa imagino ya sabras lo que significa. tu serias una perfecta roomate, ya que tambien sufro mucho encontrando el lugar y las personas justas para vivir. un abrazo. javi.

    • Vick Fichtner

      Hola Javier!
      Hahaha es verdad, “cojer” es una palabra peligrosa…
      Espero que encuentres un buen piso para vivir! Yo por suerte ya he encontrado el mío, pero vaya, cada vez más complicado el tema en Barcelona!

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