Güero n. sp. A white male. Female: Güera.
If they both mean the same thing, what’s the difference? If someone calls you one or the other, it’s all the same, no? No.
Let’s briefly check out the difference between the two expressions, their usage, and how to go from gringo to güero. We will discuss its usage as used in Mexico, but generally rules apply elsewhere.
Estoy un Gringo Perdido
First, I will say, gringo and güero are both used in slang speech, so its usage can vary, but this is generally the rule:
If you are called a gringo by a Latin American person, it is not polite of them. It’s not a racial slur necessarily, but it is a bit derogatory. It highlights the color of your skin, and a bit of a reminder that you don’t belong. “Hey, gringo. Where you come from?”
Güero is a little different. It highlights not the color of your skin, but the color of your hair. It basically means blondie. But, blonde for a Latin American is a very loose term. It basically means your hair is not jet black like the vast majority of those with a Latin American background. “Oye, güero. I missed you the other day.”
Now although the expression still highlights physical dissimilarities, in Latin American culture this is done often without being offensive. For instance, a wife can lovingly call her overweight husband “gordito,” which means little fatty, and she says it with all the love in her heart. Aww, so sweet.
In regular conversation in Spanish, if a Latino is describing a friend of his that is Caucasian, he’ll use “güero” as a description word. No malice whatsoever intended.
Another note on gringo. For a Caucasian person to refer to themselves as “gringos” is acceptable if you want to say it. It is light-hearted in this connotation. “Estoy un gringo perdido. ¿Me ayudas?” (“I’m a lost gringo. Can you help me?”) It is kind of along the same principle that we can say of ourselves “That was stupid of me,” but we would prefer that others did not say, “That was really stupid of you.”
It is a bit ironic that, as I write this, the “politically correct” Microsoft Word spell-check feature doesn’t recognize “güero” but does recognize “gringo.”
¿Qué Onda, Güero?
It would be nice not to be called either of them. It would also be nice if people didn’t act like they don’t notice you as standing out, but that’s the way it is. Either than the factor mentioned before regarding expressions highlighting physical appearance as commonplace in Latin America, there is something else that it can be attributed to. Generally, Mexican cities(as an example) are non-diverse. Having lived in Mexico City, which is one of the biggest cities in the world, with a population rivaling all of Canada, I saw very few Caucasian people actually living there. There were foreigners, but few Caucasian. Mexicanos are used to seeing Caucasian people coming only to Mexico as a tourist. Sadly, many turistas can be a bit derogatory in their treatment of the native population, so for a native to respond in like is not surprising.
If you are staying in an area for a while, you’ll lose the look of a deer-in-the-headlights tourist wearing funny clothes. They’ll be used to seeing you, and think of you as different. If you make efforts to say simple words and phrases to the locals in their mother tongue, you will quickly endear yourself to them. The chasm between you and the people narrows and you become a güero. Hip-hip-hooray.
Their outlook changes as yours does and that’s something special. I wish you well on your quest from being looked at as “that gringo tourist,” to the “nice güero that asks about my family.”