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. I utterly dislike the word koselig. It very often means “let’s light a candle and pretend we like each other”, but apart from that it can mean anything and nothing. It is probably the most overused word in Norwegian. I never use it! Hyggelig (having a homely atmoesphere), trivelig (convivial), and sjarmerende (charming) are good substitutes.

  2. One of the most ‘koselig’ things to do is to deliberately not reciprocate in the same way, that way you filter out all the people who demand the kos (and expense) until you’re left with friends who don’t give a toss and accept you as you are! Now that’s koselig, because you can then start being creative together. Oh, and by the way, koselig in Norway no longer means warm colors and plush furnishings, it now means white walls in your flat so that an estate agent would think the place was a dream to sell, and the minimum of plush furnishing, preferably brown leather and chrome, and completely new from IKEA. Is that ‘koselig’ or what?

    1. I thought that was ten years ago! Often while getting lucky in town, I’d stumble into someone’s home and think I was in some kind of microprocessor assembly plant!

  3. Loved this post, so well written 🙂
    I try to write – publish pictures of what makes my life Koselig. What gives me that good feeling of Koselig. And yes, my blogs name is Koselig koselig 😉

  4. So true 🙂 I’ve tried to explain what I mean with “koselig” to several of my foreign friends, but this one explains it just perfect 🙂

  5. In Austria we have a similar word – “Gemütlichkeit” (noun) or “gemütlich” (adj.).
    A “gemütliches Beisammensein” – cozy get-together is highly valued. The atmosphere, the food, the mood, the location, the music, the attitude of the people present – everything adds to the level of “Gemütlichkeit”.
    You feel relaxed, at home, you cherish the moment, … you have a content, blissful smile on your face when you think about it.
    When you have to leave but don’t want to you often say “es ist so gemütlich, ich mag gar nicht gehen” – it is so cozy, I just don’t want to leave.

  6. haha spot on! My son of 2years already know the concept of koselig. During december i would turn off the lights in the kitchen for breakfast, leaving only the “adventsstake” (the eletrical one with 7 lights is ok for breakfast, but i guess candles would be even better;). And that was our way to make an extra koselig breakfast. So in january when we cleared out all the christmas stuff, he digged the adventsstake out of the bottom of the box, and demanded that we lit it. toooseliiii!!! 😉

  7. Truth is, you only need to replace KOSELIG with NICE and there you go, you get the essence of the meaning they put in it! ;))

    Emanuela

  8. Come to think of it, you might have a point – it is not as koselig in summertime, as in autumn and winter :p When I think of a koselig time in summer, I think of the evenings, when we have to wear blankets, and drink tea, but insist on staying outside, and maybe light the out doors fireplace! :p

  9. Now, let us coze ourselves. No! How.would you translate: la oss kose oss, without using a couple of dozen words and a few sentences. It means all the definitions that koselig mean except that kose is a verb and you do it with your good friends, family or lover in a convival atmosphere with food and drink.

  10. I love this!! I’ve lived in Norway for 22years and still have trouble translating koselig for english visitors. Cosy just doesn’t cover it! You’ve completely hit the nail on the head and I just had to smile whilst reading this entire article. Loved the bit about loosing koselig points for icetea and an electric heater! haha Bullseye!! I believe the danish equivalent is ‘deilig’ 🙂

  11. This was very interesting! My Norwegian wife sent it to me. She also sent me the link to your blog before this, so you certainly have her nod of approval! Thank you for your work.

  12. This is a very good and accurate observation! I would say that hyggelig is a bit more general and less personal than koselig, but the words are still used interchangeably.

  13. As a Norwegian who once was called “din koslighet” of a Swedish boyfriend, I recognise this. I live in VA, USA, which has hot summers and sometimes cold winters. I have a cat, and don’t want accidents, so I use electrical candles everywhere. Inside and outside. I even have a fake (electrical) fireplace, so I can curl up with my Donald Duck paper back book and a hot chocolate and kose with my kitty cat. It’s especially koslig here during Christmas, when everything is just… koslig 🙂 I love that feeling. It’s me. Thanks for taking me back home and connect with my fellow Norwegians, abroad and home. It was koslig!

  14. You don’t need other people to make it koselig, you can enjoy kos all on your own as well:)
    Right now ‘koser jeg meg’ with a nice cup of cappuccino while reading your blog:)
    It’s raining outside so it’s very koselig!
    I also use the word kos instead of hug (klem).
    Well, a kos means more than just a hug, to kose someone you need to embrace and do a little squeeze, mess up their hair and bury your nose into their neck or something similar:)
    I often say ‘kom og kose’ to my kids while they try to hide:)
    By the way, I always make a smileyface after every sentence, that’s because I am such a koselig person:)
    A person can also be koselig, remember Jens Petrus? (skomakergata)
    🙂 🙂 🙂

  15. I’m also a froggy, but I live in Denmark. 😉 Here we say “hyggeligt”. As far as I unterstood, “hygge” is not only about cosyness, but also about “the absence of conflict”.
    I really love wintertime in Denmark. In France, winter is just winter : it’s colder than the other seasons, and you just wait for spring to come. In Denmark (and probably Norway as well), winter gives you fantastic opportunities to feel very good, it gives you the right to pamper yourself in the nicest ways possible. Warm blankets, fireplace, gløgg, chocolate, candles… Every dark and cold day is a celebration of comfort and it really warm your heart.

  16. This is the greatest explanation of “koselig” I’ve ever read! Absolutely hilarious yet also so very true. You have a great insight for Norwegian culture and I love the sense of humor as well. Can’t wait to read some more from you 🙂

  17. As a Norwegian i would translate the word “Koselig” too “Having a great time together” or “that you make the moment your own” Don’t think of it as a scale you need to please, rather look at is as i described over… And btw i loved this blogpost.

  18. Great post and has cleared many things up. My Norwegian husband lights candles for breakfast… now I get it. Looking forward to reading more of your articles!

  19. Somebody here mentioned that koselig is the most overused word in Norway, but I consider Spennende! to be it, especially here in Bergen ! No matter what you tell, when people want to show some emotion they say Spennende !. Hihihi !

  20. While my understanding of english is far from perfect, I think I’d translate koslig with “enoyable”. Perhaps “enjoyable” turned up to eleven, but still relaxing.

  21. I can see why Norwegians immigrated to Seattle on the west coast of the US. Here we have to strive to make things koselig here, otherwise sometimes it’s too depressing to live here. Long gray days and cold nights – and that’s the summer!
    It’s an important concept, because to make things koselig means crawling out of your own head and trying to make things nice for other people. Koselig means feeling welcome, cozy, comfortable, with something interesting to look at (decor, fireplace), to eat (rømmegrøt or steak dinner), and good conversation, music, whatever to occupy your mind.

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