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).
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.
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.
How to pronounce gezellig
In this video Dutch ambassador to Canada, Wim Geerts, shares the proper pronounciation of gezellig:
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 (drawn out): ongezellig
In addition, the folks at Boom Chicago — an Amsterdam-based group of American comedians — would also have you know that…
…sometimes gezellig is just a euphemism for slow, old, and resistant to change.
- Source: Boom! Boom Chicago’s free guide to Amsterdam (available at gezellige hot spots throughout the city)
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