is one of those German words that has no precise English equivalent.
It is tricky to spell and only a German can pronounce it properly.
It has nothing to do with sneezing.
Google says gemütlichkeit is a noun meaning "comfort, coziness or
friendliness," but that's like saying Lyndon Johnson was a politician
or Chester Nimitz a sailor.
Gemütlichkeit is a complex component of German social life. It goes
to the heart of what it means to be German.
I have heard gemütlichkeit defined as "that warm, friendly feeling
that comes as a natural effect of a sociable evening spent in the
company of family and good friends. It's about beer, food, music,
laughter and conversation. It is a love of celebrations and the German
way of life."
Another way of putting it is that gemütlichkeit is a state of mind
in which the gemüt, the inner person, is satisfied. Whatever contributes
to that state is gemütlichkeit.
Long ago in Germany, after hard-working farmers harvested their crops,
they set aside a time in the fall to have fun. They raised tents and
brought in oom-pah bands, beer and bratwurst. They danced, sang and
partied hard. Gemütlichkeit came from those celebrations.
German immigrants brought the concept to Milwaukee, St. Louis and
the Texas Hill Country.
After working hard all week, German-Americans spent Saturday nights
and Sunday afternoons at beer gardens, ice houses and baseball games,
soaking up a little gemütlichkeit.
| But there was
another side to the story. A growing number of Americans believed
the German fondness for beer, dancing and frivolity, especially when
practiced on Sunday, was scandalous - even sinful.
The New York Times, that 19th century voice of the Eastern
Protestant establishment, with its affection for Prohibition and blue
laws, expressed hope that German immigrants and their descendants
would outgrow their Old World habits and learn to behave themselves
like proper Americans. "In the old countries, where freedom is smothered,
drinking may be necessary to drown the depressing influence of despotism;
but here, where freedom woos the mind to culture, no such beastly
compensation is called for, and we believe we have said sufficient
to prove that our German fellow-citizens are born for higher and nobler
uses than for schnapps and bier."
New England Puritans snobbishly agreed. "It cannot be claimed," the
Times article continued, "that its (St. Louis') inhabitants
are pious, in the sense of the word as understood in Boston."
Meanwhile the Germans continued to enjoy themselves, without guilt
or reservations. An April 1883 article in Lippincott's Magazine
explained "Beer and wine the German looks on as gifts of God, to be
enjoyed in moderation for lightening the cares of life and adding
to its pleasures, and Sunday afternoon is devoted, by all who do not
belong to the stricter Protestant sects, to recreation."
The Germans "burst from their homes on the Lord's Day, filling the
streets with laughter and chatter, as they make their way to such
umbrageous enclosures as beer gardens."
"Music, dancing, ball games and other amusements are indulged in with
a zest which shows the intensity of pleasure realized from them by
the participants. For them such pleasures are 'soul-feasts.'"
The Cincinnati Inquirer went so far as to suggest that gemütlichkeit,
especially the consumption of German beer, helped civilize America.
"Formerly Americans drank scarcely anything else than whiskey, frequently
very bad whiskey, and the consequence was quarreling, strife and fights.
Now Americans drink almost as much beer as the Germans do, and whereas
Americans used to pour everything down their throats standing, they
now sit down good naturedly and chat over a good glass of beer without
flying into one another's hair."
Gemütlichkeit means different things to different people. To me it
means life is short, so enjoy it. Lighten up. Have some fun. Savor
the special moments and resolve to have more.
Our country is a little short on gemütlichkeit these days. Both political
parties could use some gemütlichkeit. Maybe add a little to the drinking
water at city council meetings. In fact we all need a little gemütlichkeit
after the year we've had.