Thursday, 17 September 2009

I've got one word for you: GEZELLIG!

When I arrived in the Netherlands back in April 2003, I couldn't speak any Dutch at all. Learning the language before coming to the country wasn't that urgent for me; I knew that once here, I would have to follow an integration programme, which would include Dutch lessons. Therefore, I could use the first few months to settle down in my new home and learn my way around things in general.

Nevertheless, as it normally happens when you are exposed to a foreign language in your daily life, I soon began to pick up words and short phrases. The roads and the supermarket provided enough entertainment to keep me busy with things like parkeerterrein, snelweg, fietspad [parking lot, highway, cycle path] or kassa, aanbieding, rundvlees [cash-register, bargain, beef]. Television and radio were an endless source of new words and they showed me how the language sounded. My mind was like a sponge without me even noticing it most of the time. All the new words would dance in my head wherever I went, all day long.

Overhearing other people's conversations, I tell you, is not always a bad thing. Especially, when you are learning a new language and you get plenty of opportunities of catching new words and phrases from just listening to what other people around you are saying. During those first months in the Netherlands, neighbours exchanging greetings on the street, people talking at a nearby table in a café, clients and shop assistants at the winkel [shop] they all contributed to enlarge my still very reduced Dutch vocabulary.

It is during many of these "eavesdropping sessions" that, along with the classic Goedemorgen! [good morning], Dankjewel!! [thank you] and the cheerfully long Dooooooeeeeeiiiiiii![byeeeeeeeee] that Dutch people keep repeating over and over when they part, one word caught my attention because it seemed to come up in conversations all the time: "Gezellig!"
You may have noticed that I haven't immediately offered a translation in English, just as I do with every Dutch word I include in my posts. There is a very good reason for this: the word gezellig doesn't have an exact equivalent in English, or any other language for that matter. If you look it up in the dictionary, you will find that it is often translated as "enjoyable, pleasant, cozy, snug, social...." (from the "Van Dale Groot Woordenboek). The point is, gezellig means every one and all of these things at the same time.

The Dutch use the word a lot and it is mainly used to describe something that is fun doing, things that look nice and cosy or old but quaint; people who are friendly and gregarious; situations that involve people being together sharing time in a pleasant atmosphere.

So, how is the word gezellig used in Dutch? Let's take a look at some examples:

A gezellige café is a place that you want to recommend. If someone tells you that in a recent trip to the city he or she discovered this gezellige café, you might want to take note of its location and visit it yourself at the first opportunity. The general atmosphere of the place will probably be friendly, the decoration quite pleasant and the food unpretentious but good.

That night out you spent with friends, when everyone was in a congenial mood and time flew without you noticing it because you were having so much fun sharing drinks, light talk and laughs; and if at the end of the evening before going home everyone said, "we should do this again soon!", dat was gezellig! [that was fun]

You invited some friends over for coffee and, if you are like me living in Holland, that probably means they arrived at around 8 in the evening and you were expecting them with the coffee and one biscuit klaar [ready]. You had arranged the room prettily, making it comfortable, maybe you lit some scented candles and, if you have one, the fireplace as well.
If these friends were visiting you for the first time, when they arrive, they will probably look around approvingly (we hope) and exclaim: wat een gezellige zitkamer! [what a cosy or inviting room!]
And finally, since you are an excellent host/ess, your guests had a very nice time and at the door before leaving, they thanked you for your hospitality and told you that het was erg gezellig! [it was very pleasant, we enjoyed it very much]

Trust me, if you heard this compliment from your Dutch friends, your evening was a complete success!

Can you think of other gezellige situations, places, things...? Do you have in your own native language a word that compares to the Dutch word gezellig? I'd love to hear from you!


Droomvla said...

This blog was "gezellig"... lol But I don't think we have something similar or a counterpart of gezellig in my native tongue. In Indonesia however, they words like alus and rame. These words have different meanings, depending on situations and usage.

Alus means refined, beautiful, nice, fine, good, etc.. And rame could be compared to the Dutch word druk.

By the way, I'm a Filipina. I have lived (studied) in Indonesia, that's why I speak the language.

Aledys Ver said...

Thanks a lot!!
How interesting, I had no idea about these two words "rame" and "alus". Thanks for sharing this information.
What puzzles me about "gezellig" is that it can be applied to contrasting things, like - a bar that's gezellig, because it's full every night, noisy but in a pleasant (or not?) way; but it can also be used to describe a cute little room, nicely decorated, where you can just sit by yourself, near the fireplace and read a book, for example.

Anonymous said...

Delightful article! Or should I say gezellig article? ME

Aledys Ver said...

Thanks for stopping by!!
Yes, you got it: you can say it's a "gezellig" article!! ;O)

Anonymous said...

Aledys, what about the spanish word "copado/a"??? Poncia.

Aledys Ver said...


Mmmmm.... "copado" could be close to it, though not a 100% the same...
I'm not sure how "copado" is used though, in Córdoba it's not so frequently heard.
I think that the word "copado" would be equivalent to the word "cool" in English, don't you think?
Besides, I believe that in the case of "copado", there's the issue of the register limitations - it is a word mainly used by young people in very informal contexts, isn't it? "Gezellig" hasn't got this characteristic at all.

"Gezellig" implies "fun" and "nice" but it also has the idea of "intimate" and "snug" that I'm not sure that "copado" would cover in the same context. So, yes, "copado" could be ONE meaning of this word but it's not exactly the same.

The idea of "gezellig" is a very Dutch concept!! :o)

Good point - thanks for sharing it and for making me think! Lol!

A Touch of Dutch said...

Gezellig is one of the funnest Dutch words & even more fun to pronounce ;-) Great post & I love your graphics! Fantastisch!

Aledys Ver said...

Indeed - gezellig is fun even to say!!!
Thanks for your comments!

Alejandra Aruj said...

Hola!! Gracias por tu visita, no sé si serás de mi generación, pero igualmente te dejo mi nuevo blog:
Un poquito más de nostalgia!!!

karthik said...

Aledys, great post. I've an equivalent word for gezellig, in tamil, my native tongue. Its "Semma"(pronouned as say-ma). It evolved from the word "Semmai"(pronounced as say-mai) which literally means Well or Good. Nowadays as gezellig is used to describe a great cafe to a hospitable host, the tamil word Semma is used to describe the same here in TamilNadu, India. btw, I'd suggest you include pronounciation tips for words you introduce so that people like me can appreciate it better. :-)

Aledys Ver said...

Gracias por la visita y por el link. Seguro que me va a encantar, luego le doy una mirada.

Thanks for your visit!!
So this word "semma" has all the connotations that the Dutch word "gezellig" has? Can you say that a person is "semma" or that a day trip with a friend has been "semma"? Great!
I've been looking for recordings of the pronunciation but I haven't yet found one I like :) I'm a bit picky!

~Lopa said...

Thats becoming one of my favourite word, Tough I am not sure i pronounced it right or not !! lol

And also i always wondered about contrast that you mentioned that it can be used for a nice cozy room and even noisy happening bar...
I loved the way you have explained the word with examples, I understand this word better than before now :)
het was erg gezellig!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Oh wonderful post! I was going to do one on gezellig as well, but I think I will refer to yours instead :-)

I so love the idea of gezellig. I light candles in our home every evening and my husband says: "I'm glad you haven't forgotten the coziness!" I hope this is one Dutch habit I will carry with us wherever we live. Life should always be gezellig. Ja!

Aledys Ver said...

That's the whole thing about gezellig indeed... it can be applied to things that are quite opposite, like a noisy, crowded bar (as long as the atmosphere is good, of course) and time you spend on your own, reading a nice book, sipping some wine or coffee... :)
Thanks for your comments, Lopa!

I also like this habit of making the room gezellig with candles, pillows and a spread even, especially during the winter when nights are so long - a new thing to me, since in Córdoba, the climate is quite different!
Thank you for stopping by!

buday said...

Since I'm from the Philippines and there are lots of Spanish words still in our vocabulary, I can certainly appreciate the effort YOU must have put into learning Dutch.

Gezellig reminds me of the word DIANIS or DE ANIS in our dialect (one of many in my country). I think it comes from "de anis" or something that has been spiced up. It means anything, anyone, anyplace, any whatever that pleases. Delicious food is dianis, a welcoming home is dianis, when you are dressed well, you are dianis. Learning a new word like gezellig is dianis. :)

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, learning Dutch is difficult, and every little thing, like blogging :)helps!
How interesting how you have this word DIANIS or DE ANIS in the Filippines that means almost the same as GEZELLIG. From what you say, it can be used in the same contexts as the Dutch word.
Having you here visiting my blog is then, dianis ;)
Thanks a lot!

Vagamundos said...

We are experiencing exactly the same situation but regarding the danish language. We are catching some words (very few words :) from the air. But since we started our classes this week it all got so much more scary :)

Aledys Ver said...

I was going to ask you about Danish - wow, that sounds challenging!!
Thanks for stopping by!

Diego Ezequiel Bianchi said...

Muy buena observación amiga!

Pienso que hay ciertas palabras que sólo expresan el sentimiento único e irrepetible de una determinada comunidad. Como si en ellas se estuviera expresando y dejando entrever su verdadera alma grupal.

Y aunque uno, como extranjero, logre vislumbrar el significado aproximado del vocablo, recién puede alcanzar a desvelar su verdadero sentido, cuando consigue ser parte del corazón de esa gente.

Para explicarlo mejor, se me viene a la cabeza una palabra tan argentina como "boludo".

¿Cuántas acepciones tiene según sea dicha con una sutilísima diferencia en su pronunciación, acompañada de leves cambios en lo gestual dirigidos hacia el interlocutor de turno?

Puede significar desde un insulto suave, hasta una descalificación mas o menos fuerte, llegando también a ser una entrañable declaración o código de amistad.

¿cuantos años de residencia en nuestro país le llevaría a un inmigrante usar correctamente este "boludo" en todas sus acepciones y matices? y a la vez, una vez alcanzada la revelación ... ¿cuán difícil sería para él transmitirle al neófito de otras latitudes esas sutiles distinciones en otros idiomas?

Hay sensaciones y sentimientos que no se traducen. Y son las que en definitiva, nos marcan las diferencias que aún existen entre los pueblos, a pesar del extraordinario avance comunicacional e interactivo, que ha generado la globalización mundial.

Creo que tocaste un punto importantísimo...

Yo creo que estamos más cerca que nunca del fin del mundo.

Ese mundo que conocimos desde que el humano dejó de ser un antropoide arcaico y se reunió en diferentes tribus, fragmentandose en muchísimos pedazos.

Cada una de esas tribus pensaban que ellos eran los mejores, que su Dios y su cultura eran las únicas y verdaderas. Como contrapartida, las del del vecino jamás eran entendidas, por lo que eran tildadas de equivocadas y constituian una amenaza que había que exterminar.

Ese paradigma que nos gobernó hasta ahora y que hace que la historia sea contada y medida como una sucesivo relato de conflictos, guerras y dominaciones, se está cayendo a pedazos.

Estoy seguro que ese mundo conocido acabará pronto.

Que dentro de algunos años, nosotros,- o más probablemente nuestros hijos y nietos, - podremos incorporar de primera mano estos infinitos significados de culturas fragmentarias extrañas a la nuestra, sin tener que pasar por la penosa traducción, que como un hábil ladrón, sólo nos deja vislumbrar la cáscara exterior del alma del vecino, robándose el significado intrínseco de las cosas que quiere expresar.

Cuando logremos eso, cuando no necesitemos más traducir a nuestro código, cuando dejemos de pagarle el costoso tributo al "ladron de significados" y podamos tocar "de primera mano" el verdadero corazón de los pueblos, seguramente se acabarán las guerras, porque ya no nos comprenderemos sólamente desde lo mental, sino desde un lugar mucho más profundo y abarcador.

thamarai said...

A wonderful post! It is such co-incidence, only yesterday one of my Dutch colleagues was trying to explain the meaning Gezellig to a Chinese guy who is new here and we were trying to guess the English words equivalent to it....and these were some of the words we used as well...aah, I should have read your post earlier, I would have done better..;)

Presépio no Canal said...

Hi Aledys :)

Gezellig post :) What I love the most is this dutch spirit, of enjoying life and make every single moment a good and warm one :) the dutch make us feel confortable, at home and cherished...when we go to their nice...

In Portugal, we have also a word with not direct translation in any language. The word is SAUDADE. Is a mix of feelings...missing someone, be happy with the memories that come to your head, be a little sad or nostalgic because you missed it or her/him...hoping that the future will bring the person or the situation....

Beijinhos. :)

AggieLap said...

I am currently catching up on your latest post in my 'gezellige' bed. That was 'lekker'! That's another word I keep hearing around me all the time. Everything is always 'lekker' here (regardless of the circumstances, it seems). In my mother tongue, French, there is a bit more vocabulary to use in specific circumstances. I can't think of a specific term such as 'gezellig' that you would hear all the time in a French surrounding. 'Gezellig' would mean 'agréable, confortable' but you may hear more "c'est sympa"....

Aledys Ver said...

Muy buen aporte el tuyo! Es verdad, esta palabrita que comentás, es un arma de doble filo para un hispanohablante que no sea nativo, porque todo depende del registro que se use! Un peligro!
Y también muy acertado lo que remarcás, sobre la dificultad de traducir aspectos culturales que van más allá de las palabras!
Muchas gracias por tu aporte!

Thanks! I'm sure you managed somehow to convey the whole meaning of the word gezellig to your new colleague! It won't take him long, among such nice friends, to figure it out for himself, too!

Sorry that your comment didn't get posted!
Great contribution about the word saudades! I had forgotten about it, but of course I am familiar with the concept since I've heard it so often!! As you very well say, it is more associated to nostalgia, isn't it?
It also reminded me of the galego word morriña which basically means the same.
Thanks a lot for your comments!

Great that you stopped by from your "gezellige" bed!! Lol!!
True, "lekker" and I'll add "leuk" are words that are also very frequently used in Dutch.
Thanks for stopping by!

Mu.- said...

Indeed. Everything is gezellige, and what's not it's "lekker", unless they are talking about the weather. Yo tambien vine a Holanda por amor, y con 8 meses acá y un holandés muy básico, no me arrepiento ni un poquito.