Dutch "Gezelligheid"

There’s a lot going on right now. I’ve begun Ink & Feather Collective, I’m close to releasing the first episode of a podcast I’ve been working on, I’m doing some really interesting safety compliance work with an American company, and we’re travelling around the world with six kids (currently in the Netherlands). 

Some people comment that our life is interesting – and I agree – but we’re doing all this because we believe the world is changing and the opportunity to help shape the next phase of our societies will depend largely on an understanding of other cultures, not just our own. My wife and I wanted to be exposed – and to expose our children – to more than we would have been sitting comfortably back home in Western Canada. We wanted to engage culture and see how we might learn from the people we would meet throughout Europe (for now). Everything we’ve done so far has lead us to what we’re doing right now, but I want to be more intentional about sharing what we’re experiencing and learning. 

I’ll avoid writing to much about Ink & Feather on this blog, but, if you’re interested, you can follow our community’s musings here.

For those reading who might not know us personally, or be up to speed on our life, here’s the quick update in a single paragraph.

We have six kids, aged 3 - 13. We have spent most of our lives in the Okanagan Valley, on the west coast of Canada. In 2015 I accepted a role with Facebook and we relocated our family to Dublin, Ireland. Prior to moving to the Republic of Ireland, I had a spent quite a bit of time travelling the world as part of The Walt Disney Company. Travelling by myself for work was great and eye-opening, but often lonely. The opportunity to go exploring as a family was too good to pass up. So, after leaving Facebook, we decided to put all our stuff in storage and begin an open ended exploration of Europe. We first visited Portugal and then France. Now, we find ourselves in south-east Netherlands, near a city called Eindhoven.

As part of the upcoming podcast, I’ve been searching out great customer experiences and crafters of all things delicious and fantastic! Today, I’m sitting in one of my favourite cafés, Lucifer Specialty Coffee. It’s here that I first learned of the dutch word, gezelligheid. There’s not a great English translation so, the best I can do is warm or cosy. It’s more than that though, it involves the way a host welcomes you into that space. It’s hospitality within a wonderful space. It’s how I would describe many – if not most – of the dutch people we’ve had the privilege to get to know. We noticed it first in the Dutch we met while staying at a campsite down in the south of France. In fact, that’s why we decided to come to the Netherlands, we met some friends who offered us the opportunity to stay in their house while they go on vacation. 

We’ve been here for just over a week now and I’m completely taken by this country. There’s so much going on here and I can’t help but feel Eindhoven will soon be a city most other cities are watching.

But, for today, I’m mostly thinking about gezelligheid. How does this become such an important part of a national identity? 

Joshua, the first to introduce the word to me, talks about how Dutch people just want to come home and relax. He suggested it was a form of laziness, but I suspect it’s more than that. I wouldn’t describe the Dutch as “lazy” at all! Joshua is a great example of a passionate Dutchman who is insanely interested in a particular topic (coffee, in his case) and goes deep into the subtext of it. 

I met another guy this weekend at the Feel Good Market. I didn’t catch his name – I regret this greatly – but he is a character, through and through. His market stand consists of at least three BBQs; all unique and smoking of promise. He had a large moustache and reminded me of a Dutch intelligentsia. His BBQ racks were lined with fresh buns and various kinds of sizzling meat. As he worked the coals, almost in trouper fashion, he pitched his offerings, not that anyone present was going to need too much convincing. 

Or just down from him, another man sang the praises of his wife’s homemade jalapeño cheddar sausages. “You’ll never try a better sausage in all your life!” he confidently stated. 

There’s a lot of pride in this country, but not a vague, nationalistic pride in something intangible.  It’s the rich and charming pride of the designer and crafter; in the results of a job well done. Mix that with the warm hospitality – the gezelligheid – and you can begin to see how the world benefits from the Dutch.