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“Kos” is Norwegian for having a good time

Cosiness might be a Norwegian invention
The Norwegian cult of “kos” (cosiness) goes way beyond the Danes’ “hygge”, the Americans’ “perfect moment”, or the stressed society’s “quality time”. Norway's mighty nature and distinct changes of seasons make people gather together to create intimate moments of cosiness.
People cooking a meal outdoors over open fire during sunset People cooking a meal outdoors over open fire during sunset
Steigen, Nordland.
Photo: Christian Roth Christensen / Visitnorway.com

The most important word in the Norwegian language consists of only three letters, but in return it’s glowing with warmth, kindness, caring, togetherness, and laughter.

Say “kos”, and Norwegians expect everything from a cosy gathering around a candle light on a wooden kitchen table to holding hands whilst standing in the middle of nature at night, watching the northern lights.

“Kos” is also simple things as enjoying a cup of coffee and a freshly baked cinnamon bun – and Norwegians drink more coffee than most people to keep themselves warm and happy, at home, in their cabins, or in the numerous coffee bars that keep popping up with award winning baristas behind the counters.

Tranen, Oslo Tranen, Oslo
Tranen, Oslo.
Photo: Tranen

“The classic Norwegian perception of ‘kos’ with a hot fireplace and good food and drink can definitely be related to the long winter”, says Arve Uglum, a celebrated host of one of Norway’s most popular TV-documentaries, about people who live in remote, scenic places.

“That kind of ‘kos’ once meant safety and survival in an existence when our ancestors couldn’t take peace of mind for granted during long, cold and dark winters”, he adds.

Arve Uglum Arve Uglum
Arve Uglum.
Photo: Christian Blom

My own perception of ‘kos’ extends in all directions”, he continues. “The nicest thing I can imagine is reading to my youngest daughter before she goes to sleep. Then I know that she is warm, safe, and happy, and so I am. But ‘kos’ for me can also be a poker night with friends, a television series on the couch with my girlfriend, or skiing in the mountains.”

Anja Stang, the Oslo-based founder of the eco-oriented website Green House, titles herself greenfluencer and thinks “kos” is a primarily Scandinavian phenomenon. “It’s the Norwegian version of ‘cosiness’, a state of mind that the Danes calls ‘hygge’, a lifestyle that has already been explained in several books and talk shows. It even has an interior trend that goes with it called ‘cosy living’, a liberating, unpretentious and more colourful, eclectic style than traditional strict Nordic minimalism”, she explains.

Anja Stang Anja Stang
Anja Stang.
Photo: Anja Stang

According to Anja, “kos” is about simple eco-friendly pleasures, well-being, socialising, and pure food, usually made from scratch. In other words: pure feelgood, or to have a good time. It could also be knitting or buying a sweater of Norwegian wool.

“The cult of ‘kos’ connects experiences in nature with local food, and it reminds us that we need to take care of the nature and each other. Typical cosy effects like fireplaces and candles become extra important in the darkness of winter”, she says.

“The cult of ‘kos’ connects experiences in nature with local food, and it reminds us that we need to take care of the nature and each other. Typical cosy effects like fireplaces and candles become extra important in the darkness of winter”, she says.

“In the summertime, this ‘kos’ culture is converted into the typical Norwegian bright summer nights with island hopping, friends and cool music, or a trip to the mountains and a cabin with a grassy roof and a grazing goat to trim it. I could go on forever”, Anja laughs.

Helene Olafsen, a Norwegian snowboarder and former participant in the World Cup, the Olympic games, and the X Games, has a slightly different view: “My favourite pastime for ‘kos’ is to hotlap (editor’s note: to perform snowboarding without too much pausing) in the slopes with friends.”

This even applies to her native ski resort Sogndal Skisenter, “where people are friendly, the slopes are varied and fun, and where you never have to queue”.

Helene Olafsen Helene Olafsen
Helene Olafsen.
Photo: Berre Media

Helene also perceive hiking, in both winter and summer, as relaxing “kos”.

“I really think of hiking in the mountains as ‘kos’, but also in the forests around Sogndal where I grew up. It reminds me of my childhood when my family often spent weekends here.”

Some six hours east of Fjord Norway, she finds loads of inner peace, quiet and “kos” whilst strolling down the pedestrian paths along the river Akerselva in the very middle of the capital of Oslo. Her riverside hiking is a relaxed way to move effortlessly between meetings and assignments like hosting shows and galas for Norwegian television.

As a break from snowboarding, she likes to go skating on a lake or in a skating rink. “Skating is definitely ‘kos’, because it’s literally easy-going.”

The importance of “kos” in the Norwegian way of living is elevated to an unseen level with the country’s special fondness for music and food festivals.

Over Oslo Over Oslo
Over Oslo.
Photo: Gunnar Kopperud

“Norway’s ever-increasing organisers of festivals have become very aware that large parts of the audience experience music festivals as a cosy framework around socialisation”, says Katrine Sviland, a music critic in the major Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

“Typically, the audience buys tickets long before the festival program is announced. It’s thus first and foremost the ‘kos’, and not the artists who draw the audience.”

“Kos” goes hand in hand with sustainability, also when it comes to open air concerts.

“The festivals now work hard to appeal to an environmentally conscious audience. The same festivals also offer good and varied food, often with locally produced ingredients prepared on site. And with culinary experiences under the open sky, it is understandable that many people choose to spend their holiday at such festivals”, Katrine Sviland says.

Amongst her favourite music festivals is the Ice Music Festival, which is one of several such events taking place in the winter season. The festival features an ice stage, and musicians play on instruments that are also created of ice.

Ice Music Festival, Geilo Ice Music Festival, Geilo
Ice Music Festival, Geilo.
Photo: Emile Holba

In the summertime, Katrine will not miss out on the Pstereo music festival in Trondheim’s Marinen park, Bergensfest in Bergen city centre, the Øya Festival in the eastern part of Oslo, or Piknik i Parken in the Vigeland Sculpture Park on Oslo’s west side. Trænafestivalen on the islands of Sanna and Husøya in the county of Nordland is her absolute favourite because of the exoticism of its location in the middle of the ocean.

So how on earth do both festival organisers, hosts at small or large scale wooden hotels, eateries with local food, and other providers of “kos” manage to attract more and more people to their sometimes remote locations?

“Because we Norwegians already flock to the mountains to go hiking or skiing, and each year we set a new record for how many nights we spend in the many self-service cabins of The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT)”, Camilla Bjørn explains. She is editor-in-chief at NRK P3, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s youth-oriented radio channel).

“We are increasingly many who look for the simple and scenic. ‘Kos’ is about fellowship, gathering together, and sharing experiences”, she adds.

No surprise, then, that one of Norway’s most popular TV-series is still the one that can be translated into ‘Where no one would believe that someone could live’. All over Norway, the whole year round, from the bigger cities to the inner parts of the fjords and valleys, “kos” remains king.

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