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I’ve been in the Netherlands just over seven months now. Seven months! Such a long and short time, all wrapped up in one. In seven months I’ve managed to wrap my head around a lot of things, like a charge to call your bank, bicyclists using an umbrella, cell phone, and coffee cup at once, Sinterklaas and his blackface companions, and the guttural noises of the unique Dutch language.

Out of everything I’ve learned here, I think my favorite thing is one word. One silly-sounding word: gezellig. Or gezelligheid. (Listen to the pronunciation here.) It’s a Dutch person’s favorite word to teach foreigners, because a) they like to see us squirm to pronounce it, b) it’s uniquely Dutch*, and has no direct English translation, and c) it’s in every inch of the culture here. In fact, it is the culture.

{*Note: Danish hyyge and German gemütlich, have similar untranslatable meanings but ever-so-slightly different feelings and culture behind them.}

Gezelligheid can’t be summed up in a phrase, but at it’s core is a sense of coziness, or conviviality. Of being comfortable, in a friendly sort of way. It can describe a cafe, a city, or a home. A person can be gezellig, as can an act, a party, or an item.

Gezellig curtains

Some examples of gezelligheid: Putting fresh flowers in your home every week.  Offering your guests tea when they visit. A birthday party with close friends. Homemade jam. A fireplace in a cafe. Coming home to hot chocolate after ice skating on a canal. Lighting candles on a dark winter’s night, or packing a checkered blanket for a summer’s picnic. All of these have a sense being companionable, social, intimate, homey. Gezellig is the feelings of all those words put together.

A dentist’s office, McDonald’s, politics, unpaid bills, a dirty kitchen, and an angry Doberman Pinscher are all decidedly ongezellig, and should be avoided at all costs.

Maybe someone who’s Dutch can describe it better, but to me, gezelligheid is putting in that little extra touch that makes something special, and then sharing it with friends and family. It’s taking the time to appreciate moments in life, and using the things around us to highlight the people we love. It’s thoughtful and intentional, like pulling out the nice china for a meal. Or bringing flowers to someone’s house.

Flowers are always gezellig

If American culture is known for flashy excess, Dutch culture can be described as a celebration of gezelligheid. It’s everywhere here, and it’s best shown in the cafes on the canal corners. From fresh-squeezed orange juice on the menu, a little cookie that comes with each coffee, friends chatting for hours, and the cat sunning himself in the window, cafes are the pinnacle of gezelligheid.

I should point out, lest I sound euro-snobbish, that this feeling is not exclusive to Amsterdam. You can find gezellig anywhere. Seven months ago, so many of my favorite places, moments, and things in Portland were gezellig, but I never had a word to describe it.

Now I do. And I’ll take it with me everywhere, slaughtering the pronunciation gleefully as I search out every single gezellig moment I can find.

“Zo gezellig!”