When you’re learning to speak Dutch, “gezellig” will be one of the first words you’ll hear. According to both locals and foreigners, gezellig encompasses the heart of Dutch culture.
DUTCH WORDS: GEZELLIG
If Dutch is not your native tongue, you’ll soon realize that gezellig is not only difficult to translate, it’s also a challenge to pronounce. Give it a shot: “he-sell-ick”, starting and ending with the typically Dutch ‘g’ sound.
According to Wikipedia, this word is considered to be an example of untranslatability: “An example of untranslatability is seen in the Dutch language through the word gezelligheid, which does not have an English equivalent.” It derives from gezel, meaning companion or friend.
Some people describe gezellig as being cozy, but that doesn’t begin to cover it. Just about anything can be gezellig. A person can be gezellig. A room or a house can be gezellig. A get together, a party, a coffee date, a picnic or a movie night with your lover can be gezellig. It stands for something or someone cozy, nice, homey, friendly, snuggly, fun, comfortable or enjoyable… but no word can really sum it all up. It’s a feeling rather than a word.
So what does “gezellig” really mean? Let’s have a look at some examples. A gezellige living room has plants on side tables, photo frames on the wall and flowers in the windowboxes. It just looks inviting. A gezellig café has a warm interior, lots of friendly people and candles flickering on the tables, or maybe even a fireplace. Having dinner at a friend’s house is gezellig. Café Brecht is gezellig. Koningsavond is gezellig.
Amsterdam is full of gezelligheid. Gezellige cafés always have a sleeping cat and flickering candles, de 9 straatjes have little gezellige boutiques, and picnicking in the Vondelpark or boating on Amsterdam’s lovely canals with friends is the epitome of gezelligheid. When you are visiting Amsterdam, and especially if you get to know the Dutch a little, you will find yourself drifting into gezellige moments without noticing.
And the best answer to a friend asking you to meet for a coffee or a biertje? “Gezellig!”
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