Forget Hygge, What is Gezelligheid?

© pixabay
© pixabay
Photo of Tom Coggins
21 December 2017

As the hype surrounding hygge slowly dissipates, it is high time for fans of Northern-European-style cosiness to seek out another sweeping, yet accommodating foreign word to symbolise communal well-being.

Fortunately, the Dutch have their very own untranslatable placeholder for conviviality, togetherness and contentment, called gezelligheid. Like hygge, this concept is notoriously difficult to summarise, but nevertheless captures a wordless sense of comfort that bypasses cultural boundaries. In order to contextualise this linguistic peculiarity, Culture Trip interviewed four Dutch people about their personal understanding of gezelligheid and its place within their lives.

Willemijn Pfeifer

© Willemijn Pheifer

It’s difficult to translate gezelligheid. For me, it usually involves lots of talking and laughter and people having fun together. But a situation is only truly gezellig if everyone feels relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings. Forced gezelligheid is very ‘ongezellig’ (un-gezellig).

The kitchen at a house party is usually very gezellig, so are brown cafés, dinner parties, board game nights, music festivals, road trips, and campfires. Basically any time spent having fun with people whose company you enjoy. With the right company it can even be gezellig to paint your house or fix a flat tire on your bike.

To produce a gezellig environment, people should try to create an open, fun and relaxed atmosphere. Food and drinks are always good (think cooking together, sharing a meal, having drinks) and music is good as well. But most importantly, invite someone or several people that you enjoy spending time with.

For example, a few weeks ago I watched the Eurovision Song Contest with a group of friends. We played the Eurovision drinking game andlaughed at all the crazy outfits, off-key singing, pyrotechnics and dancers appearing out of nowhere. Good times!

Wouter Mulders

Anything that involves a group of people spending time together and having fun is gezellig. For example family dinners, nights out or sports tournaments. I’ve even been to funeral receptions that turned out quite gezellig.

When I watched Run the Jewels in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, it was super gezellig. Although extremely crowded hiphop concerts aren’t the first place you’d expect gezelligheid, the whole evening was very gezellig, as I had dinner with a group of friends beforehand and stuck around Leidseplein for drinks after the gig.

From what I’ve read, hygge is sort of seasonal and often associated with winter, whereas gezelligheid knows no seasons. Also, hygge seems to correspond to a certain aspect of gezelligheid, which is related to being comfortable at home. Whereas for me, gezellig is more about personal interactions.

Willeke Boumans

When I am with English speaking friends I usually say ‘I am having fun’ or ‘this is cosy’ instead of ‘wat gezellig’. So I’d say gezelligheid is somewhere between enjoyment and cosiness.

Any space that allows me to feel comfortable with other people that I like is gezellig. Places that come to mind include living rooms, cafés, parks or even zoos. I’d describe some of my friends as gezellig, especially when we enjoy doing similar things, like watching TV together or just hanging out.

Although a lot of things that fall under hygge are also gezellig, like warm socks or log fires, Dutch people tend to apply the word to almost anything. For instance, walking in the rain with a friend could be gezellig, or sitting in silence with a cat.

The whole concept is very subjective and many things that other people find gezellig, don’t work for me. I know people that associate beer and football with gezelligheid, while others think that well coordinated interior design is super-gezellig.

Bart van Enis

I think you could translate ‘gezelligheid’ to ‘cosy conviviality’ or ‘convivial cosiness’.

Honestly, gezelligheid is generally quite vague, since it applies to almost everything and doesn’t necessarily mean ‘cozy’ or ‘convivial’. It is often used in conversation as a catchall term for positive situations.Any situation that involves more than one person can potentially be ‘gezellig’. For example, waiting at a bus stop could be gezellig (if another person was present). Christmas is gezellig. A room can be gezellig. A well-organized dinner table could be gezellig.

A few days ago I got drunk with my boyfriend and we went to get pizza. Along the way we kept running into his family members, which was quite gezellig due to the situation’s spontaneity, and our intoxication.

People themselves can be gezellig. For me, a sassy receptionist with a hoarse voice is gezellig, as is a friendly hairdresser or anyone who just looks jovial.

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