How to make things “Koselig”?

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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.

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209 thoughts on “How to make things “Koselig”?

  1. “It is like an inner summer that Norwegians create for themselves to feel like it’s warm all year long no matter the circumstances.”.

    There. You nailed it! 🙂

  2. Great Lou, and it is not easy – my foreign friend put dinner leftovers in the wine and heated it, happily serving me Gløgg during his first Christmas here…..

  3. Lou. You are such a good writer and must be well over average perceptive, to say the least. It is so interesting to read your “outside looking in” stories about us – Norway and Norwegians.

  4. “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”

    – When I was younger I always wondered about this; why people in other countries didn’t seem to mind how their home looked like inside. It took some years before I realized what you point out here.

    It’s not just about warm weather, an interesting difference between Norway and the UK is that in Norway you have worn down apartment-blocks with nice apartments inside, while you find beautiful buildings with worn down apartments in the UK.

  5. This blog is amazing! As a Norwegian, reading this is hilarious. I’ve never even thought about most of these peculiar traits and habbits we have. Your style of writing is awesome, I hope you write a lot more!

  6. I think Norwegians just really like the word “koselig”, and everything that you call “koselig” all of a sudden becomes it (even though we’re not really sure what it is). Depending on the situation, I would say it means a mix of trivelig, hyggelig, varmende and/or pen. Ei koselig jente = ei hyggelig/trivelig jente. Ei koselig stue =trivelig/(pen) stue. Å ha det koselig = å ha det hyggelig, varmt og fint rundt seg. Does that make any sense?

  7. Thanks for sharing ! As an Norwegian expat currently living in Southeast Asia it is even more interesting to read. My days in an international atmosphere constantly make me aware of ,not only all the other cultures that surrounds me, but also of my own cultural background, and how we , the Norwegians are seen here as a group .
    During my years, in various locations, I have heard plenty of comments about my love for candles and dimmed lighting….. And my standard replay has always been… : . But, it so …..KOSELIG… 😉

  8. J’ai beaucoup aimé ta tentative d’expliquer koselig. Je vis en France depuis plus de 20 ans, et j’ai toujours pas réussi à faire comprendre le concept.
    Petite remarque : depuis l’arrivé de Valérie Damidot sur M6, une grande mode déco maison est lancée ; il y a beacoup de bougies, mais c’est rarement koselig… Koselig = chaleureux ?? ça marche pour les intérieurs et les personnes, mais moins pour une soirée ou une discussion….

    Je lance une question : Comment faire comprendre le concept “en principe” à des norvégiens ?? (comme dans “en principe, on aura une réponse dans la semaine”)

    Merci encore, et peut être à bientôt.

    1. C’est une bonne question… Je leur dirais que “en principe” c’est un peu comme un “inch Allah” laïque : si il n’y a pas de grève ni d’invasions de martiens, alors ça va se passer comme ça. Ceci dit il y a plus souvent des grèves que des invasions de martiens, mais les deux peuvent arriver, donc en te disant en principe tu es prêt à ce que tes plans soient contrariés.

      Tu peux en profiter pour leur expliquer l’expression “ouvrir le parapluie” : normalement ça va se passer comme ça, mais comme j’ai dit “en principe”, si ça ne se passe pas comme ça, tu ne peux pas m’en vouloir : c’est le destin qui a décidé, ce n’est donc pas de ma faute 😀

      D’ailleurs, c’est pour ça que quand “en principe” il ne doit pas pleuvoir, on prend quand même un parapluie : la météo l’a dit, mais on n’est pas à l’abri d’une erreur. Ou d’une grève de Météo France. Donc dans le doute… on “ouvre le parapluie” en emportant un parapluie.

      En principe, ça devrait être plus clair maintenant 😀

  9. After some observation and confusion I realised that it is very simple, hyggelig and koselig are the Norwegian words for tealamps. One tea lamp = a hyggelig, many tea lamps = a koselig.

  10. The interesting thing reading this — as it seem so accurate for todays Norwegians — is that if you just go back a generation or two, there is nothing of this. And they were probably way more Norwegian than our generation, had colder winters and so many more reasons in our eyes to make it “koselig”. But then again, they probably wouldn’t waste money at candles when not needed, redecorating if the old still worked, or take time to just “kose seg”.

    But to get drunk with someone is not in the “koselig” category. And I also suspect that the young generation — that now have access to the whole world — even are inspired of things like the sitcom “Friends” where they sat together with their coffees and had it “koselig” all the time. 😉

  11. Get a life. Koselig and a point system????? Give me a break. Doesn’t seem you have lived in Norway very long. You still have rose coloured glasses on.

  12. I have lived in Australia for 45 years, and had forgot all about koselig, spending most of the time outside. Winters here, is more like spring in Norway. That is not to say that we don’t spend time inside. In summer it can get so hot, that indoors is the only place to be, and that is not koselig, unless you got airconditioner.

    1. Norwegian living in Texas and know about hot summers! I also know that it is nothing koselig about air condition! If you say that, then you do not know what koselig is!

  13. Thanks for a very koselig post of your confusensness of “koselig”! 🙂 As a norwegian living in Denmark, I can tell you that also Danes talk about the norwegian way of having it “koselig”. With respect for your high level of expertise on “koselig”, I need to say that “hyggelig” in Danish is not the same – they are synonomous only when there is not time for telling a story like you just did 🙂

  14. Such a great description. And from a Dane who’s been living in norway for three years some years ago, I can tell you that koselig is equivalent to the Danish hyggelig. Which by the way can be described (even thought just as unexplainable) in just the same words as these 🙂 Well done!

  15. Another GREAT post! You’re a FANTASTIC writer! I too am from the south of the world and had a tough time understanding the Danish hyggelig! And I guess it is very close to your explantion of koselig! The more you write about Norway the more I find the similarities with DK.

    One of things I liked most about hyggelig was the fact that bumpoing into someone you know on the streets as coincidence can be very hyggelig! “Det var saa hyggelig at se dig!”

    I haven’t gotten used to lighting the candles in my home though… Yesterday I had a Nowregian paa besoeg and I totally forgot to light the candles… Guess my koselig points are down!

    I am already looking forward to your next post!

  16. OMG, words cannot describe how much I enjoyed this post. As a Norwegian that have lived abroad for many years now, I will share this blogpost on ‘koselig’ with my international friends, as it really encapsulates the meaning of it… I have made pretty poor attempts at explaining it myself. I also think it is a nice tradition that Norwegians take with them abroad, I have converted many friends in Sydney to the concept of candles and dinners at home, instead of meeting at the local pub!

  17. “Koselig” equals the word “nice” in the English language.
    “Oh this is so nice”
    “This is nice music”
    “That was a nice cup of tea”
    “You look nice”
    “You are nice”
    “We had a nice time”
    “You got a nice house”
    “We had a nice time”
    “This is going to be so nice”
    “How nice of you to invite me”
    “How nice of you to come..”

    What does the word nice really mean?

    Well, there you have it, you actually have a similar word in English, you were just to used to it to see it 🙂

    Wasn’t that koselig? 🙂

    1. Ooooh no, it’s not THAT easy 😀

      “A nice house” can be something totally different than a “koselig” hus.

      And, “nice” can also be used in more formal settings. “How nice that you could participate in this meeting.” Now, try to translate that with “koselig” and you get an absolutely weird result 🙂

    2. NO! Nice isn’t the same at all! As a Norwegian Canadian, I can tell you the two words do NOT share the same meaning… Nice isn’t even close to koselig!!!! Nice is a much more “bland” word, with much less warmth in it’s meaning.

  18. Many, many years ago I lived in Norway for a year. A few years later, I lived in France. I think you are very perceptive about the concept of koselig! In the South of France, there is a certain light to the sky which I can only call koselig, as well as the kiss of a friend after a good evening in a cafe. But in Norway, koselig is a way of life that I adopted as my own without really realizing it until I read your article! I now live in Korea and have created a koselig apartment which my friends here are always surprised by as the Korean culture is very external–people meet in public places like coffee shops and rarely in each others’ homes. The concept of koselig is nearly non-existent! But I continue to try and create it always! I really enjoy your blog! (I am American)

  19. I can totally understand your confusion about the norwegian expression “koselig”, and event though you have done a really good job trying to grasp the essence of it, you just missed by an inch. The word “koselig” comes from the verb “å kose seg”. It is an reflexive expression, it means the subject and the object are the same, it points back to you. Å “kose seg” is something you do, or a situation you create, to yourself (or that a group of people create together) to give yourself a warm and good feeling of atmosphere, a sense of safety, happiness, comfort and wellbeing.
    According to peoples preferences this can be expressed in numerous ways. So, for adults this could be candles, wine and fire place in one situation, but something totally different under different circumstances or with different people. When kids “koser seg” together it is different from when they “koser seg” with grown ups. They will create different situations. It is always about setting the right framework conditions.

    When I was a kid we “koste oss” every saturday eventing at the family gathering. There was no alcohol or fireplace, but it was being together, having a nice meal together, listen to the radio (we had no TV then) and just feeling good and happy together..
    When we “koser oss” (plural), it is a mutual (everyone is responsible) and shared situation with more people, but not too many, it must be a certain intimacy in the situation. and when “jeg koser meg” it could be alone or with others, it says something about how I feel in the situation.

    So all the things you list in your observations, they are just different preferences or expressions for peoples different ways of “kose seg”, if you ask norwegians about how they “koser seg” (or have it “koselig”) you would probably get a million different situations listed up.
    Some of them are cultural and “universal” to norwegians due to our weather and climate conditions, but a lot of them would probably be individual or “subcultural”: MC-people or women knitting together will probably “kose seg ” in very different ways!

    Thanks for a great blog! Keep it up!

    1. Heidi, I do agree with your answer.And I did like the post very much. Being a foreigner in Norway I realized another point worth to mention: While the verb is reflexive, you actually can use the imperative. Kos deg! I like the implication that happiness and koselighet is more than just experiencing a situation but actively seek to have it koselig.

  20. Interesting take on Norwegian culture! From what I’ve seen from Southern Europe, “koselig” does indeed seem to be quite an alien concept down there. To me, the homes of the warmer countries look cold, uninviting and soulless. Where do you snuggle up with your teacup, blanket, book and cookies when you want to relax and be alone? D:

    I think some of it is about, as you suggest, the climate. And it’s also partly due to the Norwegian tendency to be rather introvert, and the need to sometimes relax in ones own company, in your own home. When you spend a lot of time at home (going out to eat in Norway is expensive, cafés are expensive, pubs are few and far between, etc), a lot of people will want that time to be spent in a pleasant environment.

    However, the concept of “koselig” you speak of, is in my experience generally used by (mostly) females aged 25’ish and upwards, and is definitely something that gets the most attention during the colder months. It’s about feeling calm, secure, warm, snug, and at home.
    When you hear other people use the word, it usually means some other type of nice/pleasant. Like any other word, it’s often thrown around rather recklessly, and doesn’t necessarily mean an awful lot.
    If you hear someone speak of a koselig day at the beach, they most likely just mean “nice”. 😉

    And as you can see from the commenter “Håvard”, some Norwegians don’t even have any sense of “koselig” at all. Personally I know more people that belong to this type, than I know people that gets a warm fuzzy feeling from wool socks and fireplaces and waffles and all that jazz.

  21. “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!” Følte den setningen traff litt ekstra 😀

  22. As a Norwegian I am embarrased, but I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I think you have forgotten one tiny, but still very important detail about being koselig though: The word koselig has to be said outloud, before, during and after the koselig event.
    “Oh! You have such a koselig hytte/house/neighbourhood.”
    “This is very koselig!”
    “It has been a very koselig evening.”

    It is like it hasn’t happened if you don’t say it outloud.

    Weird, but true!

    Yaiks!

  23. As a Norwegian American who has lived in both countries, I cannot agree with Håvard about the word “koselig” meaning the same as “nice”. It is so very much more than that. This is a conversation I have had many times over the years, both in the States and in Norway, and you are so right, Lou. It makes for an evening-long discussion. We are at a loss for a translation every time. There just isn’t an English word that describes it for it’s value. It is a word but much more than that, it’s a feeling.

  24. You are a brilliant observer, except for the point-system-part. ‘Cause in no way is there room for trying to create something koselig for any other reason than the kos itself (obviously at the same time as the kos involves a whole set of social codes, feelings and acknowledgements). It stains the kos. And the kos is pure. Right?

  25. The consept of “koselig” is more a state of mind than a experience or a visual effect alone. Like we also have a statement to recognise anything as vakkert, nydelig, flott. These three words states a persons recognition of someones efforts, without actually that you would have done it in the same way yourself. But if you state anything as koselig, you also are in a good emotional state as well.

    And in this way koselig has nothing actually anything with how much money you can put into anything just to show off, but how much heart and mind is put into it.

    As we also say that a person “made a meal with their heart.” That means that the food was not only good but also made with care and the best of will for the guest and not only mixed together in a hurry. So – short said, everything is put down in the small details 😊

  26. Awesome observation!

    “Warm colors around you, a fire in the chimney, good food on the table, wine and people you like and feel comfortable with.”

    Yet I hope that when you plan a koselig evening you skip lighting a fire in the chimney because that is very dangerous. A fireplace on the other hand… 😉

  27. Hilarious… It is great also to see in the comments that natives are in good mood to analyze themselves with nice British humour 😉

    I love this comment from Marit:

    “I think you have forgotten one tiny, but still very important detail about being koselig though: The word koselig has to be said outloud, before, during and after the koselig event.”

    Keep tuned!

  28. An Egyptian friend of mine just sent me a link to this article because, as she said, “you make things koselig!” I laughed my way through this; I actually do all these things, even the bi-weekly trips to the mountains in the summer to pick wild berries for those preserves to serve on scones and waffles and thick slices of fresh-baked bread. I guess it’s a Scandi thing!

  29. Koselig was the first word I could recognize when Norwegian were talking together. It is certainly used a lot. I have a feeling for it after spending three months in Norway with family.
    I think that a lot of cultures have this type of word. In Brazilian Portuguese it is saudades which is what I feel for Brazil, a country where I lived 20 years. It goes beyond missing and is used with reference to people, food, and experiences.

  30. Really enjoyed this blog and all the comments. I’m also a Norwegian that has lived abroad both in southern USA and the northwest and can really relate to the differences due to climate etc. I can create “koselige” moments/times for myself, but it’s been harder with others as they do not have the same concept as me for what a “koselig” experience is and so it does not feel shared and it looses some of it’s quality then.

  31. I love your blog! I am married to a french and living in Nice, so not so far away from the place you left. I think you made a good understanding of koselig, and i smile to myself when thinking that i without thinking about it really give some “minus points” even to myself for not lighting candles on a dark rainy evening to make it a bit more koselig 🙂 Keep writing and i’ll keep reading!

  32. OMG i love this post. Amazing!!!! I am definetly going to share it with all my foreign friends, who really need to understand the concept of koselighet a littlebit better. Thank you for an amazing blog.

  33. A lot of “Koselig” settings is superficial, f.x when the magazines shows pictures of homy interior, blogs about the home and so on. The real koselig is something you feel deep in your gut.

  34. Haha, that is so funny! I have gotten comments from Swedes about the Norwegian “koselig”-ness, so I guess it’s a very Norwegian thing. If you asked me to describe it, I would have trouble, but I think you nailed it with your sentence: “It is like an inner summer that Norwegians create for themselves to feel like it’s warm all year long no matter the circumstances.”

    Btw, my single, 25 year old male colleague recently confessed to lighting a few candles in the evening when he was home alone – it is so koselig! I doubled over laughing! So you can have the koselig with no one else around too. And I agree with Marit – if you didn’t say it, it didn’t happen… Great blog!

  35. I loved it, thank you so much in helping me, as a Norwegian married to an American living in the Balkans for the last 20 years, explaining to my kids what Koselig is! For a while my oldest told me to stop saying koselig, because I used it en every sentence. When I first moved here and lit candles people would ask me who had died! That would be the only time people here would light candles, so I learned some good lessons, but I am still using my koselige candles and making my home koselig. It was very refreshing reading your post, so thank you so much and enjoy all the koseligness.

  36. Its interesting to see what a foreigner thinks about the norwegian culture, and specially things we don’t really consider that much ourselves, I guess .. XD It’s just too ingrained in us :p

  37. I became more curious after reading your blog after my boyfriend sent me this post.
    He is Norwegian and I am considering moving there in the near future.
    Any more advice???

  38. Loved it! I had a smile on my face throughout the whole reading. Yes, you are about to understand the concept of “koselig”. By the way.. The norwegian word “hyggelig” is a word we use when we don’t feel the need to do it again or if we were not all that comfortable, or there were akward silence. If we say: “Dette var hyggelig. Det må vi gjenta en gang”, it’s like “this was nice.. Let’s do this again sometime, I’ll call you” (and they never do) Except Norwegians are too polite not to call, so wa kinda “fade it out” after a while. Nobody wants “hyggelig”. It’s our way to be fake. Everybody knows it, but nobody says it out loud. It’s like a royal secret 😉 You always want to go for “koselig” 😉

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