Long before I bought any furniture for my Amsterdam apartment, I painted my dining room a warm brick-red. The name of the color? Gezellig!
Having researched Dutch culture for an as-yet unpublished book, I was familiar with this guttural-sounding benchmark for all things cozy, quaint and quintessentially comfortable. In sum, defined by a cool vibe. While Dutchies love to claim the word is untranslatable, don’t believe them. If you know what you’re looking for, gezellig is easy to spot.
Learning to say it is more difficult for Americans than actually identifying it at parties, homes and cafés. To practice, push your tongue way back in your mouth to form the first guttural g. Emphasize the first syllable and pronounce, as enthusiastically as possible, heh-SELL-ick! Tuck in a final guttural g to be really authentic. The guttural sounds may feel strange in your mouth—more like an exercise in bringing up something slimy than an attempt to pronounce a word that will flatter any person, place or occasion.
Despite its mucous-like sound, gezellig is the single ingredient that makes things inviting, friendly and sure to inspire a second round in Holland. At any gathering of Amsterdammers, you’ll hear this word uttered ad nauseum; whenever the conversation stalls, someone will recharge it with an animated gezellig he. It’s music to any eethuis or bruin café owner, where the ambiance can be more important than the food—especially if the place is patronized by the frugal Dutch, who will be more forgiving of overpriced fare if gezellig permeates the milieu.
Be cautious when you say it; if not delivered in a light, upbeat tone but with several syllables emphasized or drawn out, gezellig can denote ongezellig—something cheerless, unpleasant, uncomfortable and possibly annoying. Some Amsterdammers who claim they’re more tolerant and open-minded than their more serious brethren in Den Hague or Rotterdam may tell you they’re gezellig while the rest of the Dutch populace are ongezellig farmers. You be the judge.
Gezellig is reflected in such typical Amsterdam scenes as canal boats filled with orange-clad revelers on Koninginnedag, tulips blooming in window boxes and locals chilling in Vondelpark on rare sunny days. Even a hooker might strive to create an intangible, come-hither gezellig vibe in her window with doilies or flowers on a bedside table.
So what’s most gezellig about A’dam? Here are my 5 top pics:
Supperclub: Tucked in an alley near Dam Square with no identifying sign, supperclub is part cabaret, part nightclub and all unexpected. Come for a sultan-like dining/music/performance art experience in La Salle Neige, imbibe in Bar Rouge and join DJ mafia in the downstairs smoking room that doubles as a toilet. Above all, open your senses for an evening that will titillate them all.
Stones Café: Around-the-clock, the time is 21:25 at Stones, one of the few bruin cafés in A’dam where you can smoke or drink anything you want. Set on lively Warmoesstraat, this British-style pub can get raucous with weekend hen + bachelor parties and whenever there’s a UK football game. On quiet nights, it’s a great place to enjoy a pint, chat up the friendly, attractive bar maids and challenge a mate in a game of pool.
Greenhouse Effect: Five minutes’ walk from Central Station, this relaxed bar and hotel is patronized by locals as well as tourists. Come for a smoke, drink or affordable themed room near A’dam’s bustling Red Light District. Sassy bartenders and an ever-changing roster of international guests add to the gezelligheid.
Abraxas Coffeeshop: Celebrating 20 years in 2012, Abraxas is legendary for high quality cannabis seeds and a gezellig vibe. Set on Jonge Roelensteeg (across from supperclub), one of A’dam’s prettiest coffeeshops provides a transcendental backdrop for a smoke washed down with mint tea or a refreshing looza. A stunning mosaic by German artist Katrin Brockmuller depicts TheTree of Life in the Abraxas card game.
The English Bookshop: As much a literary gathering spot as a place to buy books and DVDs made from them, this small independent bookshop in A’dam’s lively Jordaan is run by charming, South African-born Leisl Oliver. Beyond her warm service and hand-picked selection of quality English literature, she offers an eclectic roster of events including writers groups, author talks, book clubs, playgroups and ALL NEW Literary and Cultural Walking Tours offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays.