Language and culture are undeniably intertwined. I find it incredibly interesting to see how cultural aspects, like the way people interact or how society is arranged, influence languages. Some words can be hard to translate, simply because they describe something that only exists is that particular culture.
The word hygge is often used as an example to explain this phenomenon. It’s a Danish concept, sometimes described as ‘the art of creating intimacy’. Real hygge involves candlelight and a good glass of wine or – in summer – sitting around the fire and making snobrød. But hygge is more than that. It’s about togetherness. Drinking wine on your own is not considered to be very hyggelig.
There are other cultures that know a concept similar to hygge and therefore have a similar word in their language. The Dutch gezellig describes the same type of cozy state of togetherness. It’s probably no coincidence that all these hygge words occur in areas with long, cold and/or wet winters. Sitting around the table with the entire family playing board games is very hyggelig. But the exact same situation becomes even more hyggelig when it is pouring rain outside.
Climate influences language as well. We’ve all heard that Eskimo’s have many words for snow. In my home country we have something similar: we have at least thirty expressions that revolve around the word ‘wind’. Given the Danish weather, I can imagine that the Danes have just as many.
Danish culture is not that different from Dutch culture and both languages share many concepts. But recently I have learned a new Danish word that I find hard to translate. Someone called me an overskudsmor (and this was meant as a compliment, I think). Despite a crazy busy agenda, I had ‘found’ the time to bake a cake with my two little girls.
Dutch doesn’t have a word for this (and I believe English doesn’t either) and that’s actually pretty weird. The concept of the modern, busy woman trying to live up to the image of the perfect mother, making æblegrød and syltetøj and baking boller while juggling a job and other activities, certainly does exist in the Netherlands!
Just for your information, the opposite word exists as well: underskudsmor. And that’s a good thing, because we moms all know that it’s impossible to live up to this perfect ‘supermom’ image all the time. You really need to allow yourself to have an underskuds-day once in a while!