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Gezellig — a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch Culture


April 20th, 2007 | Last updated: December 8th, 2014

Gezellig is a Dutch word you will hear — and hopefully later use — a lot.

The term encompasses the heart of Dutch culture, as the Dutch tend to love all things gezellig.

You’re welcome to try and pronounce it: heh-SELL-ick. (You’ll get a chance to hear and practice it further down the page).

Coffee with a friend: gezellig!

Coffee with a friend: gezellig!

Locals and foreigners alike will tell you that the word can not be translated.

Its meaning includes everything from cozy to friendly, from comfortable to relaxing, and from enjoyable to gregarious.

According to Wikipedia, “A perfect example of untranslatability is seen in the Dutch language through the word gezellig, which does not have an English equivalent.

Literally, it means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.”

However, to the Dutch it goes way beyond ‘cozy.’

You’ll hear the word a lot when you visit Amsterdam, so here are some indications as to how to understand and use it:

Gezellig vs. not gezellig

A brown café is gezellig. A dentist’s waiting room is not — though it can be gezellig if your friends accompany you, particularly if they are gezellig.

An evening on the town with friends is gezellig, especially if you have dinner at a gezellig restaurant, see a good movie, and finish with a drink at a gezellige pub. Trying to entertain the inlaws-from-hell is definitely not gezellig.

Celebrating King's Day in Amsterdam on a boat full of friends: gezellig!

Celebrating King’s Day in Amsterdam on a boat full of friends: gezellig!

Old-fashioned shops and boutiques are gezellig; modern warehouses are not.

Watching a movie at home in a gezellige living room (read: warm colors, warm ambiance, full of books, plants, and knick-knacks, along with a dog or cat or two) is gezellig, especially if you have gezellige friends over. Eating dinner at MacDonald’s is ongezellig — though here again gezellige friends can make a difference.

Amsterdam is gezellig. Rotterdam is not.

One more example — from outside Holland’s borders:

Oprah Winfrey is gezellig. George W. Bush definitely is extremely ongezellig.

Obama? Hey, you decide. But notice that he does know the term:

How to pronounce gezellig

In this video Dutch ambassador to Canada, Wim Geerts, shares the proper pronounciation of gezellig:

Negative use

Think you’ve got the hang of it? Well, there’s more.

Gezellig can also be used to indicate the exact opposite of gezellig. Listen to the tone in which it is spoken.

• Light and upbeat: gezellig
• One or more syllables emphasized but drawn out, pretty much like saying ‘heh-SELL-ick’ slowly, sounding slightly annoyed: ongezellig

That said, now here is something typically gezellig to do in Amsterdam: Visit a brown café

arrow Another Dutch word you just have to know: gedogen

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