Monday, 4 June 2007

What's the Chinese for Gezelligheid?

The Dutch are a funny lot, and as contributory proof, I give you the word Gezelligheid. It's one of those complex words without a direct synonym but cosy comes close. It's best explained by example: if you arrive at a Dutch threshold and there's a warm draft of air from the fire, pot pourii in a bamboo bowl, candles flickering on the window sill and a welcoming glass of gluvein, the visitor might well exclaim gezelligheid.

Not only is there no Chinese equivalent, it's hard to think of even a similar concept. Chinese don't have the Western dinner party culture and 'house proud' tends to be measured by lot size and the number of plastic Grecian columns holding up the car porch rather than the ambiance of the interior.

Chinese/Singaporeans don't have the same habitual social niceties as most Europeans either. In Germany, especially rural Germany, strangers passing on the street say Morgens! to everyone. It's really rude not to and a necessary and expected part of public life. Such behavior would be shunned here; you just don't catch people's eye but rather walk past each other as unspeaking zombies.

Recently I was walking down to the bus stop and approaching at a distance was a lady with a big smile on her face. My mood was immediately lifted as, frankly, you don't see many smiling faces on the way to work and my response was involuntary, almost sub-conscious. It lasted about 3 seconds until she approached closer and I could see she was an older lady with permanent, deep crow's feet and a strange, mouth-open grimance as a resting countenance. My mood fell back to workday sullenness.