Learning Danish in Spain: Hygge

Last year, I had a patchwork group of friends hailing from all corners of the globe, whom for one reason or another, found their way to this unassuming port city on Spain’s Mediterranean coast where I continue to live. We were a young, wanderlust-driven group of people exchanging our knowledge of the English language for an experience living in a foreign country, or, for the Spanish friends in the group, exchanging bad words in Spanish, for their counterparts in English. Our days were mostly spent teaching pronouns and pronunciation (or ‘real jobs’ for the above-mentioned Spaniards), and our nights were often fueled by cheap wine+coke and priceless conversation.

Photos: Candlelit dinners are hygge

During one of our weekly gatherings, amidst the smatterings of English and Spanish, my Danish friend Karoline turned to me and said:

“You know, I’m really going to miss these nights when I return to Denmark. In Danish we have a word that describes the sensation of gathering with friends, drinking, and laughing all cozily in one’s house.”

Intrigued I asked her to further explain:

“It’s an all-encompassing word. It’s hygge. It signifies a happy, cozy, familiar feeling, but is so much more than that. Think of opening Christmas presents around a fireplace, or gathering with family and friends over food and drinks—that’s hygge.

Living in a foreign country away from my family and friends, I find myself often fondly remembering the hygge in my life, and relishing in the moments I feel hygge appear. Telling Karoline I wish we had a word in English with such an open-ended and positive meaning, she mentioned that a word with this exact meaning can only be found in Danish. But you don’t have to be Danish, or speak Danish to appreciate hygge. I found it last year sitting amongst people from all corners in the globe, breaking down barriers and learning new cultures over drinks and smiles, and I find it now in my life though most of those friends moved on to new locales.

When’s the last time you felt hygge? Do you know a word in a different language with a meaning that’s open for interpretation like hygge is? Share in the comments below!

Author: Christine

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