In a small country in northern Europe, 5 million of the happiest fourth happiest people in the world tackle the cold and dark winter with a smile. With only a few hours of daylight and temperatures hovering a few degrees below zero, the population of Norway approaches life as usual, taking enjoyment in every possible aspect by striving for koselig.
After ten years of living in the U.S., I believe I have a handle on the English language. Granted, there are the occasional words or expressions that lead me straight to Google Translate, but most of the time I am a fluent and proficient speaker.
However, there is one Norwegian word that has no appropriate English translation. This is beyond frustrating as it is one of the most commonly used Norwegian words, and my personal favorite. The word is “koselig” (pronounced koosh-lee).
Google tells us koselig means “cozy” in English, yet this does not capture the full connotation. Koselig is not just an adjective, rather it is a concept that embodies a feeling; a state of mind or being. It is the quiet evening in while a storm roars outside, or wearing woolen socks knitted by your grandma. Koselig is reading a book with your children, spending time in your cabin, or a coffee break while hiking. It is a quality bestowed by anything that makes your day a bit better and your heart a bit warmer.
Everything has an opportunity to impart koselig-ness, and Norwegians work hard to achieve this not only for themselves, but for the people around them as well. They strive to have a koselig home, a koselig meeting with friends, a koselig afternoon ski trip, or even a koselig email correspondence. We Norwegians live for koselig; it’s a cultural imperative. We even say it all the time: “Koselig to meet you”, “she is so koselig”, “koselig to have you over”, “your cabin is so koselig”, “we had such a koselig time”, or “what a koselig restaurant”. What is it about this koselig business that makes it so important to an entire population? Maybe it is the dark polar nights (and days) that ignite the Norwegian passion for koselig. Being able to embrace even the simplest things that spark a little warmth inside is vital when outside is below freezing.
Koselig isn’t only an escape from the winter blues, though. It is a year-round state of being. Turning off the TV and sitting around a table with friends and family, having conversations and laughs, is definitely a koselig evening.
Light a few candles, and pass around a bowl of chocolates; super koselig. Although the concept is typically described regarding the atmosphere it creates, it is the personal touch and offering of oneself that makes something truly koselig. Adding some wall art, placing flowers in a vase, or simply giving pleasant greetings and compliments to strangers you meet in town are all actions that create a koselig aura. Making things koselig is as simple as showing up for a dinner party on time, with a bottle of wine.
While koselig seems like a straightforward concept, it doesn’t always translate across cultures. A few years ago we invited some American friends over for dinner, and in my best attempt to make it a koselig evening I lit candles; many candles. On the table, the countertops, the windowsill, and the shelves. The lights were dimmed and my husband -- American as well, but versed in the art of koselig! -- set a beautiful table and spread.
My fellow Norwegians would definitely have awarded a few koselig points, as this is pretty normal where I come from. In Florida, however, it seems candles are restricted to romantic dinners, and deodorizing your home courtesy of the Yankee Candle Company. Our visitors almost turned around at the door thinking they had interrupted a romantic evening! I am glad to say, though, that they have since embraced the “Norwegian Nice” as they call it. The last time we were at their house, you could barely fit a plate for all the candles on the table. It was så koselig!