The Norwegian Obsession with “Koselig”

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book
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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.

Liked reading this? This text in part of my book! Bestseller in Norway and recommended by Forbes

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

213 thoughts on “The Norwegian Obsession with “Koselig”

  1. Thanks for giving me a laugh! Koslig is so annoying, amd I hate it as a Norwegian. This made me laugh!

  2. For me, definitely no word in Portuguese for Koselig. “Our” (except for mine apparently) definition of Koslig is a good dish of grilled meat with mashed corn and beans, 30 celcius degrees at 20:00 and a few crates of beer! (I really don’t see the fun in it Haha :p)

  3. Hey! I understand this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask.

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  4. Hi! Love your blog btw, there is something like the koselig here too, im in Québec and for most parts of it winter is long ( last year we still had snow storm in the end of april….) and quite cold , january and febuary being the coldest months with an average of minus 35 without the winds. And people tend to have, and feel better, more welcome in a “chaleureuse” maison. Smell of a cinnamon candle burning , warm colors, tea or cofee almost always ready, fireplaces, and a lot of small details that make you feel “enveloppé” by your house are really important. Right now for exemple im thinking of hot apple crisp and hot chocolate for the kids and their dad to eat when they get back in after the work that need to be done in the yard, snow is already forecasted for this week! 😉

  5. I’d suggest “comfy” as the closest equivalent I know — in English, at least, it isn’t the same as “comfortable” — it is as much philosophical as sensory. It also carries the meaning of ‘comforting’ that koselig has, at least as I’m coming to understanding it (as someone who has married a Norwegian and lived here for a bit over 3 years now).

    1. It’s not a bad suggestion, but comfy lacks a lot of the qualities of koselig. Koselig just goes far beyond that! It can go all the way from pleasant to blissfull and euphoric! 🙂 I love koselig.

  6. I think “koselig” is all about creating warmth. If not actual warmth (candles, socks, hot chocolate, fires), then personal warmth. Open windows and salad from the backyard garden in a little French town would definitely be koselig in my book. I think all cultures have it, but each have it a little differently – therefore, understanding the Norwegian concept of koselig is difficult just because it implies understanding Norwegian culture.
    I’m sure we’d be struggling to understand French, Peruvian or Japanese “koselig”, but I’m also sure it exists, only in slightly different forms.

    (Love this post btw. Still makes me laugh. And I love “koselig”.)

    1. I completely agree! I spent most of my childhood between France and Norway (I am Norwegian, but have lived and vacated in France since I was four). I don’t ever remember us lighting candles or making the atmosphere “koselig” when we were watching a movie among friends, for example. We simply didn’t make it “koselig”, in the Norwegian sense of the word, and it didn’t have that “koselig” feeling to it.

      The childhood memory from France that evokes that “kolselig” feeling in me is, how ever, the memory of day long dinner parties amongst close family friends. Out side of course… With aperitif, gossipy and turbulent conversation, children and adults together around the dinner table or playing in the pool. Now that is koselig!

  7. It’s “kjempekoselig” not “kjempe koselig”. It kind of means something completely different. Otherwise I really enjoyed reading this!

  8. As the danish store concept “søstrene grene” expresses it on some of their merchandise: hygge is a feeling you can not translate.

  9. Well captured. Although I am not really sure a cup can be “koselig”. But maybe, if it has a particular pattern from the “hytte”.

  10. In my dictionary I find the word “snug” when I look for english words for “koselig” and it seems better than “cosy”. But you have given the best translation yourself: “Inner summer”, which is needed in this cold and unreliable climate.

  11. You can`t really explain koselig, you just feel it =)
    I love my candles and light them every evening.
    Sitting in my apartment when it´s dark outside (from 3- 4 o`clock during winter) with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and all my candles, feeling relaxed, thats koselig.
    And its even better when you have friends over.

  12. Koselig is actually more the result when you put effort and personality into something. Then it becomes koselig. So it’s up to each person and their personality what will be koselig for them, and then it’ll also become koselig for the guests and participants. It can be anything, as long as you do it with good intentions and like you want it. It just shines trough then 🙂

  13. This is such a lovely text (and a concept i have tried to explain so many times living abroad for the last few years). Skikkelig koselig å lese 😀

  14. Hi “Frog”…
    I’m coming from Venezuela. ..where things are already pretty warm, and in Spanish there are at least 20 ways to define “koselig” meaning .. In my opinion, a good one equivalent in English is the word “Lovely”…that British people uses for expressing when they feel that a dinner, a person . ..or an environment is “koselig”.

  15. I loove your writing! Haha, koselig is a hard concept to explain, but you sure (should) know when it’s there 😉 I’m Norwegian and my boyfriend is French, we laugh together while reading your blog (with a cup of steaming coffee in pretty cups, mommy made woolen socks, feet pulled up on the couch, candles in different hights around the livingroom, the heat is at 25 degrees (we don’t have a fire place, unfortunately), the fårikål is on the stove and soft jazz is streaming through the room). Thank you for this blog!:)

  16. He he 🙂 I absolutely loved this entry! As a Barcelonian living in Norway for the past ten years I do really understand some of the “peculiarities” of life up here. However I am very glad to read your blog and to know that you also love it. Too many times I have heard complaining about Norway and Norwegians both by other foreigners and even by other Norwegians. I cannot understand how some individuals don’t love it here! Norway is gorgeous and absolutely “koselig” in every way 🙂

  17. Reblogged this on Christy Heyob and commented:
    Love this…. “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.”

  18. Great article, I got homesick from reading it! :-/

    I have lived in the US for 14 years now, and I think a big part of why our house does not feel like my home, is that the ceiling fans are always running so I can’t light candles, because they just flicker and splatter. And it’s never quiet, the AC or the forced air heating runs most of the time and makes noise. It’s really very different when you’re used to quiet, electrical heat and the crackling from a wood stove. I think silence is a big part of koselig for me. It’s not the same to curl up on the couch with a book and a blanket when there’s machinery running all around you.

  19. I read this loud for my boyfriend(we’re both from Norway) and when I had read half the text above, I asked him if I should continue. He answers me: “yeah yeah! This was koselig!” So there you got another defenition of the word xD

  20. På stranden er det koselig når du har med noe koselig mat, kan bare være noen boller og kjeks… Når barnet ditt sitter der tørr og god under håndduken og vi tar fram saft og bolle… Da sier vi nå koser vi oss og smiler varmt til hverandre:)
    Og hjemme er det som du sier, når vi tenner mange stearinlys og skal kose oss:) ekstra kos er det når vi fredagen ikke har på tv men setter oss på kjøkkenet med et vinglass og litt fingermat…. Og selvfølgelig masse stearinlys, da storkoser vi oss og smiler fra øre til øre:) og selvsagt må man ha noen hjemmestrikka sokker til gjestene også når de kommer:)

  21. I didn’t know how koselig I am before reading this post 😀 I make waffle dough myself and have jam made of blueberries I picked myself. Actually I make all kinds of food myself, +100 to koselig. Also, I have a question. Is WHAM’s “Last Christmas” music video koselig enough? 😀

  22. Actually, in Dutch we have a good translation: “gezellig”. It really covers the whole range of meanings of koselig. And by the way, this word is one of most misused words in the language.

  23. I love it when people get me to look at something in a new perspective, make me wonder. And you do.

    Thinking about it, I wonder if what we mean when we say ‘koselig‘ is that we feel comfortabel and.. maybe welcome. A sense of belonging in the situation. As you point out, most Norwegians aren‘t naturally social comfortable and we do hate akward silence. When somebody goes to a lenght to make you feel comfortable and welcome, i.e candlelight and/or waffles, that is ‘koselig‘. It might just as well be that they‘re putting on some music they know you like…. At least, this is what I think it might be all about.

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  25. I was told, according to famous Norwegian author Sigrid Undset “kos” smell of fart and old couch cushions

  26. “Koselig ” rolls off the tongue far too easily over here . Everything is koselig .
    It just leads you to wonder when it is actually meant , and not just the accepted norm .
    A burnt meal served with flat beer and boring conversation would also be koselig because people are afraid to speak their minds .

  27. Koselig has elements of snuggness and being tucked in, it should remind you of childhood and home-made, as well as back-to-nature and some sort of open fire. Thus hot cocoa from the last cup of the china your grandma got for her wedding, the one you were only allowed to drink from as a child if you had really, really hurt yourself on brennenesle picking red currants for your grandma’s special currant cordial, is so much more koselig than drinking coffee from an IKEA-mug. The woolen socks your great grandma knit for your dad the first time he went to sea when he was only fifteen beats crocs by several miles. Resting on a dead animal of some sort in front of an open fire versus high chairs and TV? Candles or downlights? Home cooked vs. findus? The smell of fresh baked cinnamon-buns vs. chanel #5? Looking each other deep in the eyes vs. conversation about the current situation in Egypt? Koselig needs to be romantic, but more in the historical sense than the sexual sense, and it needs to be well deserved, like a good meal you made yourself, or an open fire after you chopped the wood, and it is always a plus if it makes you feel like a child snugling with the adults, doing something that you are not allowed to do seven nights a week, thus the strong connection to the hytte, where you only go after a hard working week – or year.

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