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German Word of the Day: Fremdschämen

The Local Austria
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German Word of the Day: Fremdschämen
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Your friend has just committed a terrible social faux pas, and you can feel yourself blushing on their behalf. This describes the uniquely German word Fremdschämen.


The politician has been filmed tripping over, the footage is all over social media, and all you can do is cringe. A child has just indelicately pointed out how big your boss’ nose is. You schämst dich fremd.

Composed of fremd, ‘foreign, external’, and schämen, ‘to be ashamed’, the term denotes the embarrassment you feel for someone who has embarrassed themselves. Fremdschämen is when you feel uncomfortable or awkward, because another person has created an embarrassing situation.

It can perhaps be considered the antonym for the famous German term, Schadenfreude (feeling pleasure at someone else’ pain).



Als du das gesagt hast, habe ich mich fremdgeschämt.

When you said that, I felt embarrassed for you.

Fremdschämen ist ein ganz selbstverständliches Gefühl.

To feel second-hand embarrassment is a totally natural feeling.




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