How to get out of awkward situations in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
December 11, 2020
spanish friends looking up awkward situations on their phone

In the process of learning Spanish, you are sure to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. If you learn Spanish at home or take online Spanish lessons, the real world of unpredictable conversation is going to throw a spanner in the works. When a conversation goes all pear-shaped, how do you fix it? Nobody likes to feel incómoda/o or uncomfortable and awkward. Saving face for yourself and the people around you takes special vocabulary. For those delicate situations, Alison is here to go through how to get out of four common awkward moments in Spanish. 

The 4 most common awkward moments in Spanish

1. Getting names right

Listening skills are important when you learn Spanish. Native speakers have different Spanish accents depending on their home country. Some speak extremely fast. Others don’t fully pronounce words. Imagine you are meeting somebody for the first time. They introduce themselves. “Soy Maaldskjflakjdf. Mucho gusto.” You didn’t catch their name. If you don’t get it now, it will be too late. How can you ask for clarification or a repeat?

  • Perdóname. No le escuché bien. ¿Usted se llama Marlena o Manuela? – Excuse me. I didn’t hear you well. Is your name Marlena or Manuela? (formal)
  • Disculpa.¿Puedes repetir lo que dijiste? – Sorry. Can you repeat what you said? (informal)
  • Lo siento que no te entendí. ¿Qué dijiste? – Sorry that I didn’t understand you. What did you say? (informal)

2. Getting out politely 

You’re sitting around the table at your Chilean girlfriend’s house. It’s sobremesa or as I call it, post-meal gossip time. The aunties have been talking endlessly about relatives you’ve never met for hours. You want to excuse yourself to go scroll social media in peace but you don’t want to appear rude. What should you say?

  • Discúlpenme. Necesito ir al baño. – Excuse me (y’all). I need to go to the bathroom. 
  • Lo siento pero estoy cansada. Me voy a acostar. – Sorry but I am tired. I’m going to bed.
  • Perdóname. Estoy esperando un email importante. Voy a revisar mis correos. – Excuse me. I am waiting on an important email. I’m going to check my messages. 

3. Getting familiar with new things

You just arrived in Mexico City. It’s your first walk around the Roma Norte neighbourhood and you see a line of people waiting at a food vendor. The smell of bubbling meat and fresh tortillas is intoxicating. You have no idea what food it is and aren’t sure how to eat it, but you want some. Should you walk by without trying? Absolutely not! Admitting that you don’t know what something is will get you out of so many awkward silences. Get yourself a plate. Live your best life. P.S. This is a true story about my first encounter with birria.

  • Disculpe.¿Qué es esto? – Excuse me. What is this?
  • ¿Qué tipo de carne es? – What type of meat is it?
  • Tengo alergia a los mariscos. ¿Puedo comerlo? – I have a seafood allergy. Can I eat it?

4. Getting your order right

You just sat down and ordered in Spanish at a restaurant. The server brings you the wrong food. Or at least you think it’s wrong. Who can be sure? Again, don’t be afraid to point out the obvious. Blame your own lack of knowledge even. This way, at least your server has to take a second look. If there is a mistake, these questions will help them to notice and fix it. 

  • Disculpe. Pedí un bistec y este plato tiene mariscos. ¿Es mío? – Excuse me. I ordered a steak and this dish has seafood. Is it mine?
  • No conozco bien la comida española. ¿Cuál es mío? – I’m not very familiar with Spanish cuisine. Which is mine?
  • ¿Pedimos un pastel de chocolate o de vainilla? – Did we order a chocolate or a vanilla cake?

Whether there’s been a mistake or not, there is no need to feel guilty in these moments. As a language learner, you have the added insecurity of imagining these situations are your fault for not understanding correctly. Remember that even fluent Spanish speakers find these situations uncomfortable. At the end of the day, most awkward Spanish situations can be solved by a simple sorry (disculpa, perdón, lo siento) and a question.

What is the most awkward language situation that you have found yourself in?

Practise your awkward exit strategies live on video chat! Enroll in a 7-day free trial with Lingoda’s native speaking Spanish teachers today. 

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