Fremdscham: The unpleasant feeling of empathy when someone is making a fool of him/herself in front of your eyes

meaning: “shame for someone else” / vicarious embarrassment

Have you ever witnessed a guy desperately trying to make a move on a girl who is at least 2 levels too hot and obviously not interested? Or a spectacularly unfunny comedian on stage?

Or a guy in his 40s who is fighting his midlife crisis by wearing a baseball cap backward over his half-bald head? These are situations where you literally get a feeling of shame over someone else’s embarrassment. In German, this is called Fremdscham. It is a relatively new word that only entered the semi-official German dictionary “Duden” in 2009, and I honestly have no clue how we referred to that feeling before. 

This psychological phenomenon of Fremdscham is a key element of TV shows like “The Office,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” or “Da Ali G Show.” This is also why I cannot watch any of these shows as I am extremely susceptible to Fremdscham to the point where it physically hurts.


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