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Ser or Estar : Embarrassing mistakes in Spanish

Updated on September 23, 2017

You are so false!

We all dread them! False friends! Can there be anything as vile and dangerous as a false friend? In fact the whole concept is quite abhorrent. Unfortunately, I have come across lots of them since I came to Spain 30 years ago!

Don’t misunderstand me. I am casting no aspersions on one of the most sincere and hospitable peoples on the planet and among whom I count most of my friends…but linguistically, that’s a different matter.

Don't be fooled

Lots of friends...but don't be fooled!
Lots of friends...but don't be fooled! | Source

The scenario

I’ll never forget the night I met my very first ‘false friend’. I was an under-graduate student of Spanish on my ‘year abroad’ with three other students on the same course in Bilbao at the University of Deusto. It was my first time in Spain and I was elated at being able to actually use some of the Spanish I had been learning from text books for so long.

My friend Eva and I were in one of the local student bars in the area and were being chatted up by two Spanish men. I was desperately trying to find a way to get us out of this uncomfortable situation. These two Spaniards just wouldn’t take the hint (or refused to accept they were being rejected by two attractive foreigners (but then that’s another story).

My mistake

That’s when I made the dreaded mistake, intended to be an excuse to get away and leave them to it.

My feeble excuse was: “¡Estoy caliente!”

The irony was that I DID feel very hot and needed to get outside… The bar was full of people dancing and chatting but the music was deafening. The reaction of these two men to what I intended to be our escape plan soon made me realize I had made a big mistake.

The effect of my comment was completely the opposite of what I had intended. And so enter my first false friend, disarmingly treacherous at such a key moment of our escape.

NOTE: If in Spanish ‘Yo estoy’ is ‘I am’ and ‘caliente’ is ‘hot’, then would it not be completely rational to conclude that I had tried to infer that the temperature in the bar was too high for my personal preference and that my friend and I were about to leave the premises, but that it had been very pleasant chatting and we hoped they would continue to have a stimulating evening; Thank you and Good Night. But oh dear!

Nothing so far from the truth!

How embarrassing!


The Outcome

I had actually met my first false friend because I had effectively told them that I had the ‘hots’ for them and, as we made for the door, they had assumed we were inviting them to come away with us outside as we wanted to get to know them better in a more appropriate venue.

First they looked at me in great surprise (it had only taken a few minutes chat in broken English and Spanish) then they hastily followed us outside almost disbelieving their apparent success in their chat-up lines.

Fortunately we were lucky and no damage was done once they clarified the meaning of what I had said. Although it was quite embarrassing we were able to laugh about the linguistic error, even with them.

Needless to say that I have never forgotten that lesson and have never spoken to that that 'false friend', that mischievous mate, that cheeky chum again.

© 2009 Marie Ryan

Have you any 'false friend' stories? Please share them below with us.

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    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Great story! I was once almost fluent in Spanish, but that was decades ago, and I've forgotten a lot of it.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 7 years ago from Andalusia, Spain's so fascinating that even within the same language there are so many variants, as your Spanish teacher discovered. I wish you could remember what it was...

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 7 years ago from Sydney

      The other thing to remember is that even if you know a language well, you can still find "false friends" when you go to another country. My Spanish teacher used to tell a funny story about a visit to South America. Of course, he's fluent in Spanish, but still nearly got himself beaten up when he used a phrase which is perfectly innocent in Spain, but in South American slang it meant something like "I'd like to **** your wife"!

      I wish I could remember what it was...

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 7 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Hey Francia, glad you liked the article! I have lovely phillipine friends here in Andalusia,Spain, so it's good to meet you!

    • franciaonline profile image

      franciaonline 7 years ago from Philippines

      Wow, this is a very interesting hub! I am familiar with the Spanish language as this was part of the secondary school and college curriculum during my student days. Now Spanish is just an optional subject in college in the Philippines. But I continue to educate myself through the internet. I can understand what I read but speaking well is another story.

      I love your hubs about the Spanish language.

      Thanks for following me!

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 7 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Maggs! What a GREAT story! Thanks for reminding me of this one : embarazada is NOT embarrased in Spanish

      I am pregnant = Estoy embarazada

      I am embarrassed= Estoy avergonzada or Me da vergüenza

      Of course some girls may feel embarrassed about being pregnant, but that's another issue!

      Thanks for your story!

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I know what you mean about false friends, my friend Sue and I were at a practice for the Praise and Worship group at church and the worship leader asked Sue to sing a particular song as a solo Sue said no, and the worship leader asked why not?

      All this is of course taking place in Spanish, and Sue replied that she was embarrassed. At this we had all the women clucking round Sue talking ten to the dozen asking about due dates etc., of course what Sue had told them when she said that she was embarazada (which we thought meant she was embarrassed) was that she was pregnant.

      Oh what a false friend that turned out to be, much to every ones merriment.