Saturday, April 7, 2012
A to Z: Gezellig, the untranslatable word
Gezellig is the essence of Dutch culture--and it's untranslatable.
The difficulty starts with the pronunciation. Dutch has a few sounds that are a mystery to us English speakers--the funky ui sound, for example, that's made by shaping your mouth as if you were going to say oo but then saying ee (as in eerie). If you speak French, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't... Give it a shot. Funky, ain't it?
The other famous Dutch sound is the G.
Imagine you're a dog--maybe a grizzly. Now growl. Yep, that's it--the G sound in Dutch. Way back in your throat, so harsh it makes it hurt. Yeah--now you got it.
So--gezellig. Pronunciation: growl+eh+ZEH+leh+growl.
Takes practice. If you want to hear this word and others you can go to this site and get an earful.
You've got it down pat now? Gezellig!
Gezellig literally means nice, cozy. But it's also used for something that's fun, or for good times. It implies belonging, togetherness, in ways that are much more than just fun. It also conveys a certain quaintness--sometimes.
A person can be gezellig--friendly, likable, or maybe just fun. An evening can be gezellig, but so can a job. A living room is gezellig if it looks like the picture on the left.
But if it looks like the image on the right, then it's ongezellig (un-gezellig).
An evening out with your favorite people is gezellig, but not if you get mugged, or run out of gas in a lonely stretch of highway. Then again, if you're stranded on a lonely highway with gezellig friends, a couple of memory-lane CDs you all know by heart, and a cooler of beer to make you sing at the top of your voice (and it's not pouring rain), the evening might turn out gezellig after all.
As if it wasn't complicated enough already, and in keeping with the true Dutch spirit of irony, sometimes gezellig is just a synonym for "slow, old, and resistant to change" (source: Boom! Boom Chicago's guide to Amsterdam, available in gezellige stores throughout the city).
Gezellige weekend, everyone!