Since the upcoming of talk- and music-casting shows in Ger & US TV in the last two decades, Germans created the compound verb fremdschämen, e.g., when somebody is embarrassing in his actions or says utterly stupid things in front of a large audience, having a little empathy, you often feel urged to zap to another channel or turn off volume. The english expression next to this is probably cringe-worthy or something like "surrogate shame". It's not really the same as "feeling ashamed for one of your friends or your husband/wife" doing embarrasing things, as this causes often a red face on your own while fremdschämen means more somebody is so embarrasing that you stop yourself from laughing. The line between malicious joy and fremdschämen is pretty thin and variates form person to person (diff. empathy level). How would you express this feeling in with a verb/adjective in Spanish or are there already common expression

PS: I'm still looking for something like urbandictionary.com for Spanish

  • I agree with the two answers. Here are some ways to say it in conversation: Ay, me da pena [escucharlo]. Ay, da vergüenza. Salió un desastre de cantante y dio pena lo mal que cantó. No sabía si reír or llorar. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 2:32

2 Answers 2


One expression used in Spanish for this type of situations is

Sentir vergüenza ajena.

  • Wow, umlaute are not really common in spanish vocabulary, is vergÜenza a foreign word adaption?
    – Hauser
    Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 19:40
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    @Hauser: the diéresis or crema is a pretty common sign in Spanish: it is mandatory over a u to indicate that this vowel must be pronounced in the combinations gue y gui, as in vergüenza, pingüino. Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 19:43
  • 3
    Or lingüística. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Dec 3, 2011 at 20:30

Another common expression, although more colloquial is:

Tener/Sentir pena ajena.

Pena is a synonym of Vergüenza.

  • 1
    No, it isn't. "Vergüenza" is shame; "pena" is sadness.
    – raven
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 14:13
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    Pena is sadness I agree, but in colloquial context it is widely used as vergüenza. If you see for pena in the RAE you will notice, at least it is mentioned about Colombia, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean. Probably 2/3++ of Latin America in terms of population.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 14:18
  • 1
    Sorry, you're right, I tend to just think of spanish from Spain, and here we don't use Pena in such way :-)
    – raven
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 14:24

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