Hygge is not the same as ‘gezellig’!

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When I was in Sweden recently, I sat in the hot tub with an interesting stranger, but more about that later. I have visited Denmark, Sweden and Norway several times and there is something there that makes me feel comfy. But I could never really put my finger on it until now.

When I read the book ’the little book of hygge’ this week, I suddenly realized that all components of the concept of hygge, a kind of ‘comfiness’ in Danish, are second nature to me. I am very sensitive to atmosphere, love soft warm light – which is often difficult to buy in the Netherlands – love candles and especially fireplaces. I enjoy warm thick woolen socks, blankets, pillows, comfiness. Being warm inside when it storms outside. Drinking from large mugs of tea, coffee or hot chocolate accompanied by a cardamom or saffran bun. But also in the summer having my feet in the sand, or lying down reading a book in the park feeling the sun rays on my skin. Apparently all very hygge. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the book makes a false comparison with the Dutch ‘gezellig’. I was already afraid it would come at some point. Hygge is much more than gezellig. It can be gezellig, but if you are nice and warm curled up on the couch under a blanket with a book and the fireplace is on, it is very hygge, but not necessarily gezellig. For me it is only really gezellig when more people are together and there is a good atmosphere and nice interaction. And that can also be hygge. Do you still get it?

Energy zone 1

Anyway, because of the book some puzzle pieces fell into place explaining why I always feel so comfy in Denmark, Sweden and Norway: the countries with all those ‘hygge ingredients’ always abundantly present. Thinking back to my time in a cottage in northern Sweden, I felt warm again. Not only because of the atmosphere, but also because of the 25 degrees it was inside. Apparently they were not bothered by high energy prices. I wasn’t the only one who had noticed that sauna temperature. My Swedish neighbors had posted a photo on their social media: ‘greetings from Energy Zone 1’. Apparently Sweden is divided into energy zones where you pay less if there is more energy available in a region and there is relatively low demand.

The great (almost) naked stranger

I met these people in the local ‘spa’. You should not imagine a resort like in the Netherlands, but a small location next to the houses with a sauna, Turkish bath, relaxation room, sitting bath and an outdoor hot tub. That last one was worth the entry already. There was half a meter of snow, it was freezing and you can sit in a hot tub and watch the northern lights. What else do you want? So I reserved for the evening and slithered towards the ‘aurora spa’. Dressed in a warm soft bathrobe (super hygge) I walked towards a dark corridor with gently clattering water (check; also hygge) towards the lounge with candles (yup, also hygge. Okay, I’ll stop here, you get it by now). I received a basket with some delicious scrubs and wraps and a nice tea was prepared. After a first round of sauna I was ready to move through the snow to the outdoor hot tub.

There was already a couple in the hot tub: Peter and Annette. We started talking and Peter turned out to have the most hygge job I could think of: manager at Sweden’s largest cinnamon roll manufacturer (Gifflar)! He was visibly surprised that I am a huge fan of the cardamom and saffron buns, also produced by his company. It turned out to be a quick ice-breaker – literally and figuratively. “When I am normally on a business trip and I let people taste those versions outside of Sweden, it’s rare for them to be enjoyed.” While I’m normally not that keen on chatting with strangers in a spa, it did add something to the experience here. And so afterwards the three of us sat next to each other to pamper our feet in little tubs with volcanic balls and an algae scrub (if I remember the ingredients correctly). And so came the story about the extremely hot cabins on the park and the energy zones. It was warm, cozy, hyggelig. And even though hygge is a Danish term, the Swedes copied well from their neighbors. Plus here they have cardamom buns. So we have a hygge winner for me: Sweden. Anyone knows if there’s a Swedish word for it? Of course, a bit of a journalist does some online research: ‘lagom’ seems to be the term, but maybe my Swedish readers can confirm/deny this….



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