For the past several years the world—or at least the U.S.—has had an obsession with Scandinavia. It started with Sweden—specifically IKEA and minimalist design and fashion. (The latter extends beyond Sweden, of course, but in my mind Sweden was always the capital of the Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic.) Next came Denmark, and specifically the concept of hygge. But what people didn’t realize is that what they were obsessing over was actually the Norwegian concept of koselig.
Although it’s generally said that koselig (like hygge) doesn’t really translate into English, most people if pressed will translate it as “cozy.” For others, “convivial” is a better option. Personally, I have a hard time accepting a word that is synonymous with “jovial” as describing a Norwegian concept, but maybe I’m being too cynical. In the end, it is perhaps a combination of the two—mostly it evokes the feeling of coziness, but with it is that inner glow that conviviality brings.
First things first: Is it a noun? Or an adjective? And how the heck do I pronounce it?
In writing this article, one of the first problems that I had was figuring out how to use koselig. And then I started to wonder if maybe I should talk about kos instead. (But, I really prefer the word koselig. It sounds so much more Scandinavian, doesn’t it?) And so I’m going to start off with a quick little grammar detour.
Koselig is an adjective, like cozy. In other words, you say that “X is koselig.” The noun (similar to the state of coziness in English) is kos. I’m going to try to use these correctly here, but since I much prefer the word koselig, you might find me slipping it in where kos would be more appropriate if it doesn’t sound funny. (Interesting aside: Hygge is a noun like kos. The adjective is hyggelig which no self-respecting English-speaker would every say because it looks and sounds so weird and foreign.)
As for pronunciation, I’m not going to try to figure out the phonetic spelling. Not only am I too lazy, I just never find them that helpful. (Perhaps because I tend to gloss over them.) Instead, I encourage you to watch this YouTube video so you can hear it over and over again while also learning a little more about it. Bonus: Does anyone else love that two men are talking about a concept that—at least in the U.S.—seems to be mostly the concern of women? (I’m pretty sure my husband has never heard of koselig or hygge.)
So how do you create kos?
Type kos or koselig into Pinterest or Google and only a handful of results come up. They mostly reflect a consensus on how you can try to create a koselig environment, although there is little guarantee that it will work. But if you are going to try, do this:
- Light candles. (Or at least turn off the overhead lights in favor of table lamps.)
- Build a fire. (Whereas the taste of Pumpkin Spice Lattes signified fall in Seattle, here it’s the scent of wood-burning stoves that fills the air from mid-September that makes you want to curl up with a good book.)
- Wear wool socks. (Even better if you knit them or have a Norwegian grandma to do it for you.)
- Drink a warm beverage. (Is it any wonder that mulled wine (or gløgg as it’s called here) makes an appearance at most European Christmas markets?)
- Play in the snow. (The nugget of truth in the stereotype that all Norwegians love winter sports is that athletic stores are even more common than home goods stores and somebody must be buying all those skis…)
- Eat waffles. (Disclosure: I haven’t seen many waffles here, so I don’t get this. But maybe that’s just another sign that I don’t spend enough time with Norwegians…)
What about all those people who say those things aren’t enough to recreate it?
One rather amusing aspect of the plethora of the writing on hygge (and thus kos) is the insistence that while you can imitate it, that doesn’t mean you can reproduce it. To the people who feel that way, I say “phooey.” Reproducing it isn’t actually that hard in my opinion, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with lounging around in fuzzy socks, talking with friends in the candlelight.
Not that those things aren’t great. They are, and you should probably do more of them. (Take a page from my two-year-old’s playbook and always insist on fuzzy socks.) But you don’t need them.
I realized this the other day standing at the kitchen counter. It was late afternoon (so the sky was grey, not blue) and it hadn’t snowed in days. But this being Norway, there was still plenty of snow everywhere and the snow-dusted trees across the street looked absolutely magical. I could feel my heart glowing in my chest and I smiled before turning around to see if there was any cocoa in the pantry.
It needn’t be winter to be koselig. But so much of the things we call koselig are also associated with winter. (Perhaps because the season lasts ten months out of the year here?) But it isn’t about surviving winter, which is what most Americans I know think our task is at this time of year. It’s about embracing and enjoying it. It’s a mindset.
It’s also, I think, about being present. A common example I come across in the hygge/kos literature is the dinner party and the near-obsession on the part of hosts of ensuring that their guests enjoy themselves. This reflects a profound attunement to others that is only possible if one is fully present—both to be able to identify others’ feelings and also make adjustments to make them more comfortable.
How I’m trying to make things more koselig this winter.
Being more present will always be at the top of my to-do list. It’s definitely easier now that I don’t have a 9-5 to go to (or, let’s be honest, an 8-7) but quieting my eternally racing mind is no small feat. But there are some more minor things that I can do over the next couple months to increase the kos:
- “Fix” the lamps. I knew when we moved that our lights and other electrical appliances from Seattle wouldn’t work here. But getting my dining room table from Seattle meant getting all those lamps too. And let’s be honest, they look good. Unfortunately, they don’t emanate any light and take up some valuable real estate that could be used for—I don’t know—working lamps. So now that L’s back at barnehage, I need to figure out a way to get them to the lamp shop so that they can be rewired. Or at least buy some new ones.
- Declutter. I didn’t mention this before, but despite all the candles, pillows, and throws, koselig environments tend to be somewhat minimal. Not bare, but intentional in what they contain. Yet another reason why I’m trying to spend a few hours a week decluttering our house in hopes that I am done once and for all by spring.
- Learn to knit. This one might not happen. I’ve said I wanted to learn to knit for a long time. (Or relearn—I guess I did learn how in 3rd grade.) And I can buy fuzzy socks. But I read an interesting passage the other day about how repetitive actions like knitting spark creativity. (Isn’t that the exact opposite of what you’d expect?) And there’s a yarn store on the way to barnehage that is overflowing with beautiful, brightly colored yarn. So maybe this will be the year that I finally find something to do with my hands so I can get out of my head more easily. And get myself some cute socks while I’m at it.
So is there any difference between hygge and kos?
This one is really just a question for all my Norwegian readers out there. (Please let me have at least one.) Indeed from an outsider’s perspective, they seem to be the same thing. But since we organize information based on what we already know—and I learned about hygge first—I can’t be sure. So please tell us in the comments about any differences between the two.
If you can’t answer that last question, don’t worry I haven’t forgotten about you.
Tell us in the comments your favorite way to get koselig.