Liking people (the appropriate amount) in Spanish

How to avoid confusing friends and love interests

Learning to talk about our likes and dislikes is classic fodder for early Spanish classes.

After these lessons, we can come out with such nuggets of conversational gold as me gusta nadar (“I like to swim”), me gusta ir a la playa (“I like to go the beach”) and me gusta el chocolate (“I like chocolate”).

Riveting stuff indeed.

Naturally enough, when we come to try and express that we think a particular person is an all-round good sort, we also rely on the same structure. “I like Juan”, we think, “he’s a decent guy”, we try to say.

Consulting our hard-won knowledge of how to talk about our likes and dislikes, we go on to express this sentiment by saying:

volume_muteJuan me gusta.

A flawless Spanish sentence, you might think…Or is it?

Just how much do you like Juan?

The only slight problem with the above is that it doesn’t mean so much “I think Juan’s a good guy”, as it does “I’ve got a crush on Juan”.

Perhaps you do have a soft spot for this particular gent and, in that case, you’re home and dry. But if not, you could have accidentally backed yourself into a rather awkward little corner.

Likewise, try to communicate to a friend that you think his Ma is a nice person by saying tu mamá me gusta and you’ll most likely earn yourself a solid smack in the mouth.

Learning Spanish can be a dangerous business.

He ‘falls well on me’

To avoid such misunderstandings (and minimise the risk of physical beatings), you should opt for a different turn of phrase.

You can limit yourself to communicating that somebody is a “good person”, and that you like them in a non-romantic kind of way, by going for the phrase: me cae bien – which literally means “he/she falls well on me”.

Have a look at this short example interaction to see how this popular expression would be used in everyday conversation:

volume_mute¿Qué piensas del nuevo novio de Carolina?

Me cae muy bienvolume_mute

[Translation: “What do you think of Carolina’s new boyfriend?” / “I really like him” or “He seems cool”.]

If you didn’t think Carolina’s boyfriend was such a great person, you could instead say me cae mal (“I don’t like him”) or, if he’s a real jerk, me cae fatal (“I really dislike him”).

She’s ‘good people’

An alternative way to express that someone is a good guy or gal is to say they are buena gente (lit. “good people”).

Somewhat unusually, this expression does not change whether you are speaking about just one individual, or a whole group. It’s equally valid to say Juan es muy buena gente (“Juan is a really good guy”) as it is to plump for Son buena gente sus amigas (“Her friends are a good bunch”).

Remember also that the phrases buena gente and me cae bien refer almost exclusively to affection of the purely plutonic sort.

So, if you say to a potential love interest:

volume_muteTú me gustas mucho

And she responds:

Y tú me caes muy bienvolume_mute

Then it’s time to move on my friend. That one ain’t going anywhere.