delight in another's misfortune
[German: from Schaden harm + Freude joy]
I first learned the correct meaning and proper usage of this wonderfully descriptive word through a song. I was sitting in the audience in a small theatre on Broadway several years ago, when a puppet character from the smash musical Avenue Q instructed us all on its definition. A sample of the lyrics:
D'ya ever clap when a waitress falls
And drops a tray of glasses?
And ain't it fun to watch figure skaters
Fallin' on their asses?
Don't you feel all warm and cozy
Watching people out in the rain?
People taking pleasure in your pain.
I suppose that there is a degree of Schadenfreude just in delighting in a song about Schadenfreude. We all do it and we all attempt to hide from it, but I will readily admit that there is a certain amount of guilty pleasure in watching a real asshole get his comeuppance. Allow me to explain.
This past Saturday, The Husband and I decided to dine out at a local Thai restaurant of which we are particularly fond. Twin Son and His Better Half joined us at this very small, very quaint, but always understaffed hole in the wall. We enjoy it. The food is to die for, they make allowances for our veggie lifestyle, the owner knows us well, and while it is always busy, it is well-managed and well-kept. We were amongst the early customers that evening, but it didn't take long for every table to be filled with diners. While we obliviously went about our evening, chatting about the craziness of the day, the G20 riots that were taking place at that precise moment in the downtown core and the impending thunderstorms, we noticed a small power surge, (most likely affected by the weather) had caused the lights in the restaurant to temporarily dim and flicker. What we were not aware of at the time, was that the quick hit power failure had messed with the bistro's computer system and all of their order taking capabilities were down. The meal was served painfully slowly in shifts. Dishes were coming out of the kitchen in spurts. Rice was on the table for 10 minutes before anything else was served. Even getting a glass of water was a true test of patience. It was very much out of character for this establishment, but we knew that the staff was coping the best that they could under the circumstances.
Most of the customers in the place saw that this evening was not like other evenings, and most were willing to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Everybody that is except one notable dickwad! Dickwad was loud, rude, abusive in his language and generally a miserable human being. He yelled, cursed, rode hard on the backs of the serving staff, and at one point actually picked up his bowl of rice and took it to the kitchen himself in an attempt to make the point that he wanted his food served all at once not piecemeal. The poor little waitresses could do nothing to please him. He complained about the temperature of the food and he complained about the taste. He angrily demanded a rebate on his bill and he swore up and down he would never set foot in the place again. (Thank God!! May he forever stay away!) The four of us attempted to continue on with our meal as best as we could even through our collective embarrassment, but the restaurant is small and thus his tantrums were the centre of attention until he and his wife finally got up to leave.
There was a audible sigh of relief from the remaining patrons when Dickwad and wife exited, but we were soon to extract a karmic revenge. Here's where the Schadenfreude kicks in. He was obviously still fuming as he unlocked his car door. As he yanked on the driver's side handle, he must have pulled a bit too hard and a bit too angrily, because the door jerked open heavily and smacked full-flush against Dickwad's knee. He hit the ground like he was dropped from a window. He lay on the parking lot pavement writhing in pain for a good 3-4 minutes, and when he finally did managed to pull himself up, he remained doubled over in obvious agony for a few more. The four of us witnessed this scene from our booth within the safe confines of the restaurant and as we all saw what had unfolded before us we looked at each other and just started to laugh out loud. I realize that it wasn't very nice. We probably should have made our way out into the parking lot to help Dickwad, but we took it as a sign that even his wife didn't come to his aid. I wholeheartedly admit that I loved it. There was something innately satisfying watching this rude prick get a karmic head slap from the universe. Thank goodness he wasn't seriously injured as he did get into his car and drive off, but he certainly must have had a black and blue mark for the ages as a souvenir and a reminder that every action in this life is followed by a proportional reaction.
The world doesn't always go according to our best laid plans, and sometimes we just have to go with the flow when circumstances present themselves. My guess is that Dickwad never equated his sore knee with his behaviour in the restaurant, and that he will behave just as badly toward the next poor shlub that doesn't do as he demands. I, on the other hand, felt that karma had the final say on the matter. She really can be a bitch.