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!