Last year, think pieces, trend reports, and style sections overflowed with enthusiasm for what they called «the Danish concept of hygge.» The New Yorker even went so far as to christen 2016 «The year of hygge.» With winter fast approaching, and autumn already causing Scandinavians to curl up and dim the lights, I think it’s time to say: Norwegians do it better.
Missed it? The Norwegian one night stand
Raymond Johansen, Oslo’s Governing Mayor, explained in a speech to international students last week that there are two types of Norwegians: winter and summer. The latter are friendly, outgoing, and will invite you to social events. The catch, Johansen says, is they tend to show up when the weather turns as warm as their hearts.
The former are pretty much what you’d expect: winter Norwegians are cold, hard to get to know, and usually standoffish. They don’t exactly seem social.
You might wonder what they do during the long winter (and spring, summer, fall) evenings. You might even pity them. Don’t – they have kos.
To be koselig, to create kos, or to kose yourself – these are all possibilities in Norway. It’s an adjective, a noun, a verb, and a way of life. Without a literal English translation, it really must be lived to be understood, but we may come closest to explaining it with the word «cozy.» And yet, it’s so much more.
When the weather outside becomes unbearable, kos is what makes Norway still seem livable. The more unwelcoming the season, the greater the demand for getting koselig. That mood can encompass so many things: you could invite friends to a bonfire at Sognsvann, or for a nice cup of coffee and some homemade cookies at your apartment. There are cabins to visit, crisp autumn walks to take, and evenings to spend with a glass of wine and good conversation.
The Danish hygge (which, by the way, was imported from the Old-Norwegian word hyggja into Danish) is certainly comparable to kos; some might even argue they are the same.
From my experience however, there is a certain element of desperation that Denmark and Sweden lack in their coziness. Danes have longer winter days, and a better ability to socialize, both sober and under the influence. Swedes have always seemed ever so slightly more outgoing to me, and at least know how to party hard to keep up their spirits.
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Norwegians, on the other hand, are a more solitary folk. They avoid making new friends because it just takes too much effort. They would rather stay in their comfort zone. And this isn’t normally a problem, until October rolls around and suddenly the number of spontaneous social events dwindles. The days of a beer out in the park are gone, and everything is sad and grey.
Thankfully, as the leaves turn, the koselig opportunities increase. Norwegians force themselves to socialize through kos. It’s a winter survival mechanism. Even though the opportunities for human interaction are scarce when it’s -10°C, kos makes those rare events as sweet as possible. It’s a dose of medicine against the darkness. For the inhabitants of this country, any situation can be improved with indirect lighting, candles, and hand-knitted articles of clothing.
Further reading: The Norwegian art of avoidance
If you already feel the winter depression coming on, it might be time to create your own kos. When you can get a Norwegian to partake in a koselig activity with you – or even better, get them to invite you to over to their own koselig get together – you’ll be on your way to a life-long friendship.
Sometimes though, integrating is not always compatible with socializing. On a short winter day with a long winter night ahead of you, when you’re depressed as hell because you haven’t properly seen the sun in a week and you’ve got no energy, remember that kos is kind of modern-day hibernation. We might not be able to sleep through the winter, but we can snuggle up and ride it out. If you go full Norwegian, some days that means shutting out the rest of the world, except for a few close friends, and accepting the days are getting shorter.