Gorroneo (Spain and Hispanic America)

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Gorroneo 🇪🇸 🇦🇷 🇧🇴 🇨🇱 🇲🇽 🇺🇾
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Location: Spain and Hispanic America
Definition: Free-riding; eating, drinking and living at the expense of others; siphoning off resources
Keywords: Spain Argentina Bolivia Chile Mexico Uruguay Europe EU South America Latin America Rule-bending Moral ambivalence Sociability Friendship Food Trickster Archetype Euphemism
Clusters: Free-riding Normative ambivalence
Author: Ignacio Fradejas-García
Affiliation: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

By Ignacio Fradejas-García, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

In Spanish, gorroneo refers to the informal practice of eating, drinking and living at the expenses of others. The noun gorrón describes a person who ‘has the habit of eating, living, giving oneself treats or having fun at someone else's cost,’ and the related verb gorronear refers to eating or living that way (Real Academia Española 2019). While it might be possible to translate gorronear as to scrounge, mooch or sponge, this practice of free riding has its specific Spanish cultural connotations and roots.

Asking for a cigarette and never buying any is one of the most common examples of gorroneo in Spain, but similar practices are observable in every culture. Other examples include consuming food and drink that others bring to office or school; eating and drinking without invitation at a party or celebration ceremony; or at a bar, where a friend works a shift without control by the bar owner, taking for granted to be invited and helping oneself. Gorroneo can equally apply to siphoning out resources, such as removing or stealing supplies, little by little, usually at work, with the authorities turning a blind eye or being complicit in it.

Another common practice of free-riding is associated with pagar la ronda, whereby one would skip paying for a round of drinks for an entire group, normally paid in turns by volunteers. Common among family or friends, pagar la ronda has no preassigned turns or precise calculations of bills for drinking or eating. Rotation is exercised on the basis of an unarticulated tacit rule that is recognized especially when it is violated. The ritual involves someone paying for the first round and others continuing in sequence, in the spirit of friendship, sometimes enacting a fight over paying ahead of others. The turn-taking is unproblematic until it is broken, just like a long pause in a conversation or other forms of disruptions of the ʻinteractive orderʼ (Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson 1974, Goffman 1983). The gorrón violates the tacit rule by avoiding paying for the round. When people realize that the gorrón takes advantage of them by not paying while being capable of doing so, they exclude gorrón from the next meeting or apply other ways to ostracize the offender. The gorrón’s free-riding and subsequent sanctions undermine the circle of trust, sharing and reciprocity and may break pagar la ronda altogether, resulting in members paying for their own drink. In some cases, practices of free-riding are considered to be socially acceptable, particularly in dire economic circumstances, whereby a group of better-off friends allow the gorrón to be “invited”. However, the gorrón is at risk of being excluded when circumstances change, or do not change for too long a time, or if someone in the group stops tolerating the gorron’s behaviour.

Gorra means ʻhatʼ or ʻcapʼ. There are two connected interpretations of the origins of gorroneo as an expression for free-riding (Sánchez Hidalgo 2018). One emphasizes the ‘ability to get in’ due to wearing a certain hat (gorra), whereby greeting the doorman like a gentleman, taking off the hat, and blending in allows one to crash a party or sneak into a banquet with guests one does not know. The phrase entrar de gorra means ʻfree entryʼ. Related expressions are associated with the hat being turned upside down: vivir de gorra, in Spanish meaning ‘living for free’, at the expense of others; pasar la gorra, literally asking for money by holding your hat, usually begging, as well as asking for tips after a public spectacle; or gorrillas, the self-appointed parking attendants (see Stoyanshik).

The second interpretation comes from students’ practices documented at the University of Salamanca in the period of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. With little money to spare, students became known for their trickery of sneaking into banquets for free meals. They were called capigorrista or capigorrón because they dressed a black cape – capa – and a large cap – gorra – for pretense of gallantry and chivalry (Real Academia Española 1729). The character of a trickster and the commonality of the associated practices can be traced back to the Spanish picaresque literature in the sixteenth century, starting with the book ʻThe Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversitiesʼ (Rodriguez Cáceres 1991). The tradition entails diverse picaresque novels, poems and theater plays such as the anonymous ‘Entremés de los gorrones’. The term gorrón is used in the title of Francisco de Rojas’ book ‘Obligados y ofendidos, y el gorrón de Salamanca’ (Rojas Zorrilla 1640).

Jargon around such practices included colloquial words of Germanic origin, with similar meanings (see Rafael Salillas 1896). Salillas mentions godería, which means to eat and drink for free, rozavillón, a person who lives at the expense of others, and pegote who is an “(im)pertinent person who does not separate from others, particularly in the hours and occasions in which they usually eat” (RAE 2019). These words are out of use, but gorrón, gorronear and gorroneo remained widely used in colloquial contexts in Spain without an equivalent in formal Spanish (Sanmartín Sáez 2003).

Outside Spain, these terms became common in Latin America from the sixteenth century with the first colonial-indigenous language encounters. They can be found in the Spanish-Quechua vocabulary (González Holguín 1608). The term garronear in Argentina and Uruguay and gorrear in Mexico have similar meanings to gorroneo. In Chile and Bolivia, the meaning of gorrear has evolved to signify being sexually unfaithful to a spouse. In this sense, the term gorrona was also used in Spain as synonym of prostitute, but has since become disuse. Most of the associated terms carry negative connotations and are morally reprehensible.

Like other informal practices in Spain and worldwide, gorroneo can be included into a set of survival and subsistence practices in response to power constraints of unequal social structures (Pitt Rivers 1971, Scott 1985). However, the character of a gorrón can qualify as a case of an archetypal trickster, a rule-bender, border-crosser and free-rider who appears in the mythology of most cultures thus blurring ʻthe boundary between need and greedʼ (Ledeneva 2018: 3) . In literary contexts, foxy characters tend to be portrayed in an ambivalent fashion: street-smart, good-humored and entertaining, while also morally reprehensible, unsavory and parasitic. Beyond of the scope of literature and literary critique of the sociological realism of the picaresque genre (Rico 1989, Cabo Aseguinolaza 1992), more research is needed on current picaresque practices like gorroneo, that are embedded in the complex ethos of sharing and friendship specific to the Spanish social, cultural and historical context.


Cabo Aseguinolaza, F. 1992. El Concepto de Género y La Literatura Picaresca. Santiago de Compostela: Servicio de Publicaciones e Intercambio Científico de la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela

Goffman, E. 1983. “The Interaction Order.” American Sociological Review 48: 1–17

González Holguín, D. 1608. “Gorrón.” In Vocabvlario de La Lengva General de Todo El Perv Llamada Lengua Qquichua, o Del Inca. Digitalizado por Runasimipi Qespisqa, http://www.runasimipi.org

Ledeneva, A. 2018. The Global Encyclopeaedia of Informality. Understanding Social and Cultural Complexity. Volume 2. London: UCL Press

Pitt Rivers, J. A. 1971. The people of the Sierra. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Real Academia Española. 2019. “Gorronear; Gorrón; Pegote; Godería; Rozavillón.” In Diccionario de La Lengua Española, https://dle.rae.es/?id=JMrUqze

Real Academia Española. 1729. “Capigorrista.” In Diccionario de Autoridades. http://web.frl.es/DA.html

Rico, F. 1989. La Novela Picaresca y El Punto de Vista. Barcelona: Seix Barrl

Rodriguez Cáceres, M. 1991. [1554, Anonymous.] Lazarillo de Tormes. Madrid: Bruño

Rojas Zorrilla, F. 1640. Obligados y Ofendidos, y El Gorrón de Salamanca. Ciudad de Buenos Aires: Editorial del Cardo, https://www.biblioteca.org.ar/libro.php?texto=71293

Sacks, Harvey, Schegloff, E.A. and Jefferson, G. 1974. “A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation.” Language 50: 696–735

Salillas, R. 1896. El Delincuente Español. El Lenguaje (Estudio Filológico, Psicológico y Sociológico) Con Dos Vocabularios Jergales. Madrid: Librería de Victoriano Suárez

Sánchez Hidalgo, E. 2018. “‘Ser Un Gorrón’ y Otras Frases Hechas Que Nacieron En La Universidad de Salamanca.” El País, 2018. https://verne.elpais.com/verne/2018/10/03/articulo/1538559769_204176.html

Sanmartín Sáez, J. 2003. “Lingüística Aplicada y Argot: Los Útiles Lexicográficos Del Traductor.” In Lexicografía y Lexicogía En Europa y América: Homenaje a Günter Haensch, 603–14. Madrid: Gredos

Scott, J.C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven and London: Yale University Press