How could we possibly expect to make a list of stuff Dutch people like and not include this perplexing little guttural-sounding word at the top of the list!
You will quickly learn that Dutch people
like love this word. They are fiercely proud of this word and all it represents. I would go as far to say that gezelligheid is the modern day religion of the Dutch. They love it, they need it and they respect it.
In fact, Dutch folk are going to ask you over and over again if you know what gezellig means. Once you do know it’s meaning, they are then going to ask you over and over again if you know how to pronounce it. Learn to love it too, because you won’t escape it (or its pronunciation), and you will soon seen that gezelligheid truly is all around you.
For those of you not yet knowing what gezellig means, let’s get one thing straight: this word has NO accurate English translations. Yes, it’s a sad fact my friends, but it’s true. People will try and try again to tell you that it means cozy… or quaint… or familiar…or friendly… or a nice atmosphere… or a fun time, but you get where this is going; no one word can really sum it up. Gezellig and gezelligheid are less about a word and more about a feeling. Yes, this is starting to sound all chakras-and-healing-crystals to you, but truthfully, gezellig(heid) can only really be felt.
Things do get even trickier to comprehend, because Dutch people tend to evaluate everything on its particular level of gezelligheid. A place can be gezellig, a room can be gezellig, a person can be gezellig, an evening can be gezellig. Christ, even childbirth can be rated by its gezellig-ness (my doctor once told me she preferred home births, simply because they were, “well… just more gezellig”)!
But as we all know, there are two sides to every coin. True to its form, meet ongezellig, gezellig‘s nasty twin brother. Again, ongezellig is a precise astute word like no other. “Let’s get out of this place, its just so ongezellig” can sum it up like nobody else can.
I’ll never forget taking an impromptu boat ride with a friend of mine and her family. After an hour spin and a stop by a canal-side restaurants for a nibble, we docked the boat as her 3 year old Dutch son turned to me, clasped his hands together and sighed while saying “ge-zel-lig”! Truth be told, it was the only word that accurately summed up our day. And even a 3 year-old knew it.