Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
What you should know about the Dutch term gezellig
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. Naturally, you’ll find lots of gezelligheid in Amsterdam.
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).
Gezellig is untranslatable
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 1, and knick-knacks, along with a dog or cat or two) is gezellig, especially if you have gezellige friends over. Eating dinner at McDonald’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. Donald Trump definitely is extremely ongezellig.2
Obama? Hey, you decide. But notice that he does know the term:
Oh, and ofcourse anything to do with the coronavirus is really ongezellig. So is lockdown, and not being able to meet with your friends and family whenever and wherever you want to do so. But you can make your home a gezellige place to be.
How to pronounce gezellig
Learning Dutch is not easy, we’re told. The guttural g sound in particular is hard to learn. But you can have fun trying.
In this video the erstwhile Dutch ambassador to Canada, Wim Geerts, shares the proper pronunciation of gezellig:
Incidentally, the most interesting misspelling of the word we’ve seen is huselic.
Negative use of ‘gezellig’
Think you’ve got the hang of it? Well, there’s more.
Believe it or not, but gezellig can also be used to indicate the exact opposite of gezellig. Just 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-S-E-L-L-ick’ slowly, sounding slightly annoyed: ongezellig
Speaking about ongezellig: the Danish word hygge is said to be somewhat equivalent to the subject of this post. One major difference? The term hygge is now so commercialized that it has become, well… ongezellig!
That said, now here is something typically gezellig to do in Amsterdam: Visit a brown café. We’re sure you’ll love the gezelligheid there!
Greetings from DutchAmsterdam — The Gezellige Amsterdam Experts
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