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Only in German: Schmerzensgeld

Schmerzensgeld Only in German

In German there are a few words that express something so specific, so perfect, that we really need them in English. Like Gemütlichkeit! We don't have a word or a specific concept just like that to describe feeling "comfortable, happy, and content" in English, and we also don't have the slang use of Schmerzensgeld that the Germans have--and sometimes we really need it.

The dictionary definition of Schmerzensgeld is "money for pain and suffering." As in the legal term, if you are wrongfully injured and receive a settlement, you may receive money not only to pay your medical bills, but also for your pain & suffering. This is an official, legal term, that you will find in newspapers and in legal paperwork.

The slang definition, however, is perfect to describe situations when you:

  • feel taken advantage of by a customer
  • worked too hard for a customer last time and now they're coming back for more
  • actually charge someone more for being a pain in the you-know-what

Let's say you have a particular customer, Herr Schmidt, who is really demanding. You set up the project, everyone approves everything, and then Herr Schmidt decides to nit-pick everything you do. Herr Schmidt sends more emails. Herr Schmidt reschedules meetings. Herr Schmidt calls frequently to confirm details you've already confirmed five times--in writing. When the project is finally over and the check arrives, and Accounting calls to confirm, you hang up the phone and mutter to yourself, "Echt Schmerzensgeld."

The next time Herr Schmidt wants your company to work with him, you remember that last time, he micro-managed everything, didn't respond to your phone calls but demanded you speak with him immediately, he rescheduled meetings and asked the same questions 16 times. And right now, you really need a project to keep money coming into your company. So you decide to work with him anyway. The money you make from working with him now is Schmerzensgeld. You need the money. And it's going to hurt a little.

Of course, the process repeats itself with project #2 and you remember just how bad it was the first time. Herr Schmidt presses you for an early deadline, and you realize that for your time & energy, you really should be making more money on this project. The project ends, and you make a decision.

Herr Schmidt calls with project #3 and you find yourself saying "Herr Schmidt, wissen Sie, das kostet etwas mehr." You explain to Herr Schmidt that what he wants requires a few more hours than projects 1 and 2, and well, you need to have a different Mitarbeiter working on it for what he wants this time, and those specifications he wants? Also cost more time. Und das kostet einfach mehr.

Suddenly the time that you know you're going to spend with him on the phone and all the extra phone calls he will make to your Mitarbeiter are paid for. Normally the project would be 10% less, but because you know he will suck up time and energy from you and your staff, you're including that time in the contract.

That is Schmerzensgeld.

And as you've surely guessed, this is a concept that you think about or discuss with your colleagues, but definitely not something you write on the invoice... ;-)

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Lesen Sie mehr über Schmerzensgeld:

"Wie viel Gehalt macht wirklich glücklich? Hohes Gehalt ist nur ein maues Schmerzensgeld" (2 page article) Level A2+/B1.

"Verpfuschte Haare: So viel Schmerzensgeld zahlt der Friseur" Level B1-B2


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