Dutch words expats need to know: Gezellig

Dutch words expats need to know: Gezellig

Regardless of the fact that it's pretty easy to get around in the Netherlands without learning Dutch, there are a couple of words all expats will likely come across and should probably know about. One of the most important words in the Dutch language? That has to be gezellig

Gezellig meaning

The concept of gezelligheid is not a foreign one; the Danish have hygge and the Germans have Gemütlichkeit, so it’s unsurprising that the Dutch - a stereotypically laid-back group of people - would have their own variation on this common theme. But what exactly do all these words mean? 

Simply put, in order for something to be gezellig, or for the feeling of gezelligheid to exist, a situation has to be comfortable and must elicit joy in whoever is present. It can be pretty much anything: having a beer on a terrace with a friend when the weather is nice can be gezellig, as can curling up with your family to drink tea and play board games. It really is open to interpretation, making it an extremely versatile (and so an extremely popular) word.

Where does the word gezellig come from?

The word gezellig comes from the word Middle Dutch word gezel. Traditionally, a gezel is a worker who has successfully completed an apprenticeship, and so is skilled in a specific craft or trade but is not yet considered a master. 

Known as a journeyman in English, someone at this point in their training would live in a house with other journeymen who were working in the same trade, and so in time the word developed and also eventually came to mean “companion”, “partner” or “friend”. It was also associated with the feeling of belonging with your peers.

Gezellig in English - more than cozy in Dutch! 

Probably the closest English translation for gezellig is the word “cozy”, although anyone who speaks Dutch would likely agree that this translation isn’t quite right. You could probably also translate it as “fun” or “conviviality”, although these words aren’t as versatile and so don’t encompass all that gezellig entails. 

Gezellig pronunciation

With two of those G sounds expats find especially hard to pronounce, gezellig is definitely a word you need to practise saying out loud. Here's how it should sound:

Gezelligheid: A key aspect of Dutch culture

Regardless of how you choose to use or translate the word, it's undeniable that the concept of gezellig is a core aspect of both the Dutch language and culture. If you really want to sound like a local, feel free to use this word whenever you feel it's appropriate - it’s got to be one of the most frequently used Dutch words ever! 

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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