The essence of gezellig

How to explain a word that has no translation outside of Dutch and yet is the essence of Dutch culture?  When you come to Holland, gezellig is likely to be one of the first Dutch words you’ll learn, and one of the last Dutch words you’ll learn how to pronounce properly.  It sounds something like heh-SELL-ick, with lots of throat action on the two g’s at the start and the end.

This all-encompassing word is often translated as “cozy,” but it describes an atmosphere which is a whole bunch of warm fuzzy feelings all wrapped up in eight letters – cozy, pleasant, friendly, convivial, quaint, fun, sociable, delightful, togetherness, belonging… it’s just, well, gezellig

Think about a neighborhood café with a resident cat licking its paws in the corner; think about a canal house with a window box full of blooming tulips; think about time spent curled up on the sofa with your best friend watching a movie; think about a visit to your grandparents house for a home-cooked dinner… if all of these thoughts giving you a warm, positive vibe, that’s gezellig.

In keeping with the multi-purpose nature of the word, it can also be used to denote enthusiasm, so if your friends ask if you’d like to join them for drinks tonight, you can say, “Ja, gezellig!” (pretty much like “Ja, lekker!”).  And there is even an expression that goes, “Gezelligheid kent geen grenzen,” meaning “Gezellig-ness knows no limits.”

Apparently the only other language that has a close equivalent is German, with the word Gemütlichkeit (which appears equally un-pronounceable).


About Home Strange Home

I first left the US in 1999, when I was 18 years old. Since then, I’ve spent 13 years living abroad - 3 in Canada, 7 in Europe, and 3 in Africa. Now I've finally returned to the US on a one-way plane ticket. I arrived home in late January 2014 and set foot in the US for the first time in nearly 2.5 years. In Home Strange Home, I blog about the ups and downs of my re-acculturation experience.
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5 Responses to Gezellig

  1. Niels says:

    The expression is: Gezelligheid kent geen tijd.
    It means: when it’s gezellig, time doesn’t matter and it can and may take forever…

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  3. Jack Daniel says:

    Not only ze Germans have a similar word. The Danish word for ‘gezellig’ is most definitely ‘hygge’. It encompasses the same wide use of ‘gezellig’.

  4. Pingback: Foreign words have their uses… – Dawn Robinson-Walsh, author/writer

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