Gezelligheid – We all Want it!

Knowing that I had become an avid RVer, he confessed to me his greatest disappointment of the trip. He had thought that by traveling in an RV and camping, they would surely find “gezelligheid”; but they discovered it was sadly lacking. He asked me if I thought what they experienced was typical. Do Canadians camp to get away from people? 
If you’re not Dutch, you may not know the meaning of the word, “gezellig” or its derivatives. Depending on context, it can be translated as ‘conviviality’, ‘coziness’, or ‘fun’. It’s often used to describe a social but relaxed situation, a feeling of belonging, or time spent with someone that produces a warm feeling. You may be more familiar with the German equivalent, “Gemütlichkeit “. 

It’s often said that, here in North America, we don’t have a word to match it and my cousin was quick to point that out to me. He then asked if it could be because we don’t value it the same as Europeans do?  

I agreed that we don’t have one word to describe it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience or cherish it just the same. I believe finding gezelligheid is a universal human desire. 

Of course, I had to know what had happened on this trip that made him come to such a conclusion.  In retrospect, I think I could have guessed.

His trip was slightly off season – in late September when families, tent campers, and summer vacationers had returned to school and jobs. The upscale RV parks they stayed in provided full hookups and they were parked surrounded by large, expensive motorhomes and fifth wheels. 

At that time of year, the sun sets by 7 pm and, according to Hennie, what little chance there was for gezelligheid, disappeared with the sun. Everyone in the park retreated to the comfort of their RV. If closed and locked doors weren’t enough of a “do not disturb” sign, the blue light of televisions and computer screens in every rig was. Although some common activity areas in the park remained available, no one was taking advantage of them. Mornings weren’t much better. Even on a sunny day, most of the “campers” didn’t step outside until after the breakfast dishes were done. And then only to leave in their car for the day. 

Hennie and his son drove out early every day, too; they were here to see the sights. But one of the reasons they had chosen “camping” over hotel rooms was because they wanted to meet and mingle with the natives. Hennie said he just couldn’t understand why anyone would spend $60 per night to be in a campground if, from all appearances, they were just going to do what they could be doing at home.

They traveled between a few campgrounds during their trip, and it was no great surprise to me that the only time they glimpsed anything different, was in a less-expensive park, on a weekend, in the tent-camping area. There were actually people sitting around a campfire outside their RV for several hours after dark. Imagine that! 

I often reflect back on that accounting of their trip with sadness. We had a whole conversation at the time. I reassured him that, on the whole, RVers are among the friendliest, nicest people we’ve ever met. But I had to admit that I recognized exactly what he described; it had a loud ring of truth. I explained that I suspected most of the people they were camping with were probably not on a “vacation” similar to them, but on a much longer trip, if not living full time in their RV. This was their home, no matter where it was parked. 

I admitted we’ve been guilty of acting the same on our extended trips. On nights when we don’t have a fire (that’s often enough since we don’t carry wood), we retreat to our little nest at sundown and the first thing we do is pull the curtains. I felt compelled to apologize to my cousin-in-law on behalf of all North American RVers, admitting I’d never thought of how Europeans might perceive this.  

We’ve never been in a campground anywhere in Holland or anywhere else in Europe. If you have, I’d love to know if your typical experience there was different and how. 

I don’t think this cousin will try RVing in Canada or the USA again, but should they decide to, I’d suggest the best chance of finding  “gezelligheid” in the evenings might be in July or August, in more basic campgrounds, and among tent campers. And, if all else fails, there’s always the nearest bar. But even that might prove disappointing; Europeans seem to have a different (better?) understanding of pubbing than we do, too.  

It’s not my intention to criticize or to suggest any of us need to change our habits. Not at all. But I can’t help wondering whether other Europeans might have similar expectations and disappointments when they RV in North America. Has anyone heard similar stories? 

If so, it’s no small wonder, then, that our European Boondockers Welcome members tend to be big adopters of our platform, and so appreciative of their stays with hosts. Like our members, Robert en Nelleke van Akkeren, for example, who sent this testimonial: “We could be with different people in their garden or next to their home, to tell each other travel stories, and eat or drink a glass of wine with each other. One big family. Cozy. It has enriched our lives.” 

I’m sure “cozy” was the translation they settled on to describe what they found with our hosts: “gezelligheid”. 

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  1. R and R Travellers
    26th January, 2019

    Perhaps because we have traveled in Europe when we were much younger, we often approach RVs that are obviously from abroad or are rentals. Hearing those RVers speak in a foreign tongue is the clincher.
    If the timing is right we’ll invite them to join us for a drink at Happy Hour at our rig and we have met many wonderful travelers who are anxious to hear local tips on what to see.

    A few years ago there was a young family in a RV4Rent mini motorhome camped beside us at the waterfront municipal park in Meaford ON. Turns out they were from Scotland and we visited them a few years later when traveling there ourselves. The wonders of “Gezelligheid”.

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