You might be familiar with the Danish word “hygge”, which roughly means something like “cozy”. Well, the Dutch have a word for it too— gezelligheid. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful. Maybe that’s why the Danish one caught on more.
But the Dutch really love for things to be “gezellig” (cozy). If you go to a cafe, you need to go to one that’s gezellig. Hanging out with friends? Gezellig! Parties? Gezellig! They really are a people who love to do nice and cozy things, otherwise, why bother doing them?
This is SUCH a huge part of Dutch culture that you see it everywhere. As a tourist or outsiders, you may not catch on to it. You may see little lights and pillow cushions at tables in cafes and may not think much of it. But you see, this is what I’m talking about. The Dutch wouldn’t want it any other way.
Expats catch on to this quick. Many of them may not speak Dutch, but they do know the word “gezellig”. You can’t live in the Netherlands and not find out about it within a week of being here! It’s everywhere!
So when I think about how the Dutch live everyday life, the one word that comes to mind is—you guessed it—gezelligheid! For me, I see this in how things work here in the Netherlands. In the US, things tend to be very practical, which ia also a good thing in many respects. But here, I want to talk about some things that I think make the Netherlands so damn cozy.
#1 Drinking in public
Okay, the first image that comes to your mind may or may not be of drunk tourists celebrating their bachelor party on the streets. Yes, that’s a thing, I’ll admit, but I want to highlight that being able to drink outside is actually a really lovely thing.
On warm summer days, it is a wonderfully blissful feeling to be able to sit in a park and have a picnic. And of course, you have to have beer, or in my case, white wine when you’re having a picnic! It just creates a completely different atmosphere, especially in the evenings. You may even say it’s very gezellig to drink in a park.
Besides that, it can also be really practical sometimes. If you buy a drink at a bar, and you need to leave, guess what? In the Netherlands, you can just take your drink with you to wherever you’re going until you’re finished with it! Back in the US, there have been times where I’ve had to really chug my drink (bottoms up!) just because it was time to head out. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve even had to let some drinks go unfinished.
Also, can I just say that being able to drink on the street is also a completely different kind of feeling? When I first started doing it, it really felt like I was doing something illegal, which made it all the more fun. Now, I just think it’s nice to not have to stick to a place to be able to have a drink and a nice time with friends.
#2 Tons of outdoor seating
I’m not saying that there’s no outdoor seating in the US, but I am saying that there is very little outdoor seating in comparison to the Netherlands. SO LITTLE OUTDOOR SEATING BACK IN THE STATES! There’s also a completely different problem of it always being too hot or too cold where I’m from on the East Coast, but like I said, different story.
In the Netherlands, everyone is sitting outdoors when it’s warm. And not just at the cafes. Basically all bars also have outdoor seats as well. Imagine all the beer you can drink outside in the sun. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here…
But really, especially when the weather is nice, I just love sitting outside at a cafe with some coffee. I took this picture on my first trip to Amsterdam when I realized exactly HOW MUCH I loved doing that.
Now, you may be wondering how the Dutch deal with the fact that it is cold and rainy in their little country for most of the year. Well, let me tell you, they’ve figured out a way around that.
The Dutch folk are resilient. For the rain, they’ve got tarps or tents to make the outdoor area more sheltered. For when it’s cold, they’ve got heaters!
So imagine this, on a cool fall evening, you could be sitting huddled up with a blanket and heater outside, drinking a glass of sweet red wine. There are fairy lights all around you of course, because that’s what the Dutch consider a necessity on dark evenings. And you’re there, with your friends, watching people pass you by on the street. Gezellig, eh?
#3 Designated areas for laptop use
And finally… my number three. I know what you’re thinking, what could she possibly mean by this? And I’m not going to lie, this is probably something that people will disagree on, but hey, I’m saying this as someone who basically LIVES on their laptop.
So hear me out.
Most cafes in the Netherlands will have signs on tables letting you know which tables are meant for laptop use, and which tables are not. Not all cafes are like that. Some of them definitely allow you to use your laptop basically anywhere. I always go to the Coffee Company, the Dutch Starbucks equivalent, when I’m looking to work at a place like that.
I bet that if you’re American, this makes no sense to you and sounds nothing but hugely inconvenient. I feel you. I had the same exact thoughts when I first realized that I couldn’t just get my damn coffee and get to work anywhere I wanted.
Most cafes reserve the WORST seats for laptop use. So how can that EVER be gezellig?
Turns out the Dutch can be really old-fashioned that way. Many people, even those like me in their 20s, still go to cafes to talk to people. SHOCKING. What the fuck are they thinking? Did they not get the 21st century memo?
I started viewing the whole designated area for laptop use thing differently though, when I actually went to cafes with people to hang out too. It was only then that I realized how much of a difference it makes when others around you are chatting and being social. It really changes your mood.
And the best part of it all is that because people aren’t glued to their table for HOURS AND HOURS because they’re working, you are actually likely to find a seat. Because not all seats are taken up all day by, you know, some hipster in a beanie like me on their laptops, tables free up all the time.
Imagine this, you go to a cafe with a friend, the two of you order coffee, and sit down to drink it. You didn’t have to race to a free table before someone else got to it. And you sure as hell don’t have to awkwardly wait around for a table to free up. That’s not how the Dutch do it. Trust me, they hate waiting.