The Norwegian Obsession with “Koselig”

There is an important concept one needs to understand and embrace when living in Norway: being “koselig”. Most English speakers translate it by “cosy” but that term doesn’t even begin to cover everything that “koselig” can express. This concept is difficult to translate to those who do not live here, but basically anything can (and should) be koselig: a house, a conversation, a dinner, a person. It defines something/someone /an atmosphere that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting. And just for the fun ask a Norwegian what is his/her definition of koselig and you will realise it is not only hard to translate but also hard to explain for them. Then ask what is the difference between “hyggelig” and “koselig” and you might have lit an evening-long discussion. (By the way it seems to me that the Danish “hyggelig” is the equivalent to the Norwegian “koselig”, I’m sure the locals will correct me if I am wrong.)

If a person leaves your house and says “det var kjempe koselig” (it was very cosy/nice), and gives you a klem (a Norwegian hug), then you are probably on your way to making a new friend here. Although this might be just the beginning: making friends in Norway can take several steps that includes among other things getting drunk together and being invited to the family hytte. See How to Make Norwegian Friends for further explanation.

So how to make things koselig? According to my experience in Norway, a koselig evening involves candles, good music and as least awkward silences as possible (Norwegians are very sensitive to awkward silences, more than any people I’ve lived with). Warm colors around you, a fire in the chimney, good food on the table, wine and people you like and feel comfortable with. Chatting away the evening and the night with a little drunkness and inner warmth.
Said like that it sounds very easy to figure out what is a koselig evening, especially in the winter. But then it gets tricky because in Norway virtually everything needs to be koselig. And there is no manual for us to know how to be and make things koselig in all circumstances. So for example what is a koselig decoration in a house? What does a koselig kitchen look like? A koselig cup? What is a koselig thing to do on a week end?
And to make it even harder, I realised that one needs to be koselig also in the summer. I thought it was all about finding comfort and warmth when there isn’t any sun outside during the long and dark Scandinavian winters, but then if everything also needs to be koselig when it is light outside and summery…What is a koselig day at the beach when there is no chimney, no candles and no woolen socks? I give up.

Norwegians do it very naturally, and it is very obvious to them what is koselig and what isn’t. Who is and who isn’t. But for us foreigners, it’s a different story. Could it mean, maybe, that doing things in koselig way is cultural and not (at all) universal? (Please, someone out there help me on that one).
To be honest before living here I had have never felt the need to do these things in a way that Norwegians would see as koselig. In any Southern European country such as Spain, Italy or France where I come from, we don’t feel the urge to have nice things inside our houses because the whole point of social life is to be outside: at the beach, in a garden, in the street, at the terrasse of a cafe. The months where it’s too cold to be outside are quite few, and therefore it would not come to our mind to put a lot of money into refurbishing our interior every second year, or to make extra efforts to make it look extra welcoming and warm. It is already warm outside, the windows are wide open and we are eating fresh tomatoes and mozarella salad with basil from the garden. No need to make a cosiness concept out of that, it is just called living.

But in Norway it is completely different. The winters can be long, the nights too (especially in the North of Norway) and then you never know what spring and summer will be like. In summer in Marseille, we know for sure that tomorrow will be just as sunny and warm as it was today. That I can wake up and hop in my bathing suits without looking out the window or checking the weather forecast. That the winter clothes are deep in my closet and will not come out until next November. But in Norway one can never be sure, even in mid-July or August, that it will equally warm and sunny every day.
So Norwegians have learned to seize the moment. The moment, in the summer, when the sun is warm enough to go lie in a park or on an island and bathe, or the one you can wear a light dress or shorts. The moment, in the winter, where there is enough snow to go skiing with your friends or your kid or your dog and enjoy some waffles in a hytte on the way.
Seize it because tomorrow it might be rainy and grått and you might have to get your autumn jacket out of your cupboard and say good bye to the summer for this year (and it’s July!!). So for the all these uncertain times Norwegians need other forms of warmth to hold on to: tequila (or gin and tonic, or aquavit) and koselighet. It is like an inner summer that Norwegians create for themselves to feel like it’s warm all year long no matter the circumstances.

Another option is to think that Norwegians, not being culturally raised to express their feelings too much, made up a single word to express all at once love, friendship, comfort, trust, and most of all happiness. So practical!

So now let’s count your points on the koselig scale: you invited people over for dinner and you didn’t light candles? You definetely lost at least 2 points on the koselig scale.
But then the next sunday you made waffles (not from a box please, you made the dough yourself), that you served with a homemade jam with berries that you picked yourself in the forest next to your hytte. (I know, it’s getting tough to live up to this standard for foreigners who could start picking unripe multer thinking this pink fruit looks kind of like a rasberry or a kind of blackberry – yes it happened to me – and who don’t have a hytte). But congratulations, you’ve just won 3 points on the koselig scale.

You came back from a day of skiing and sweating in Nordmarka with your partner and offered him or her an ice tea and a doughnut? Minus 3 points on the koselig scale. Then turned on the heater and left the fire-place empty because it’s much easy to just switch a button on than to actually make a fire. Minus 2 again points on the koselig scale: you were supposed to offer him/her a warm chocolate with pepperkaker left from your Christmas baking session, put wood in the fire place and crash on the sofa with him/her watching the fire light up in silence, still wearing your sweaty ullundertøy.

You scored very low on the koselig scale? Do not worry, this concept is one of the easiest things to learn about Norwegian culture and after living here a while you will willingly light candles to see some warm light and offer warm socks to your guests for all of you to cuddle around the fire on a snowy december evening. Ah, så koselig.

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

214 thoughts on “The Norwegian Obsession with “Koselig”

  1. Haha, you nailed it. Us norwegians can be pretty weird. I would say koselig is everything “extra” you do to either set the mood or to make someone happy/comfortable. It’s something that is not always expected from you, but is always very much appreciated by the other person.

  2. I would not say you could lose points on the “koselig” scale, but only gain points, unless someone suggests doing something koselig and you deny, refrain or just simply says it would be boring or a chore.

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