The Cozy Article

The cultural meaning of ‘cozy’ is an effective “weapon” when people from different social layers and value-based political convictions are positioning themselves to each other through consumption

Victor was talking about a trip to Berlin, which he planned together with his wife and their three children. Suddenly he said the following, which puzzled me: “We have found a reasonable hotel. There is no point in going after an eight star Hilton, there I have to say that I get cheap! I like it a bit cozy”. What I noticed was that the expression “cozy” was linked directly to the question of the price. Victor – one of the consumers who are a part of my research project – and his wife are a quite wealthy couple with expensive art on their walls and a nice apartment located on Østerbro in Copenhagen. They also like coziness around family. But why is he using the expression coziness in such an implicit way? As if it is obvious that if you save money on your purchase of a night at a hotel – you get more coziness.


Victor’s statement led me to initiating a more systematic (and with that not as cozy-like) research of coziness. There is only little research done on Danish coziness and usually the term is only mentioned briefly as one of many perspectives on the Danish culture and self-understanding. However, a few commentators and known authors like Georg Brandes, Jeppe Aakjær, Tove Ditlevsen, Poul Borum, and Else Gress have provided us with small analyses of the phenomenon - often with a polemical angle. I fine combed my own interviews with families in Copenhagen for references to coziness and made a line of new interviews where I asked what coziness is and what it is not.


Suddenly references to coziness appeared everywhere. For instance, I encountered yet another connection between coziness and consumption in a program on P1 where the manager of Irma, Alfred Josefsen and the manager of Netto, Claus Juel-Jensen, were in the studio. The two successful representatives from respectively luxury and discount, crossed swords entertainingly as they emphasized the advantages with exactly that experience and quality they individually deliver to the consumers. At one point, Alfred Josefsen criticized the Netto stores for being a pile of mess where you would fall over the empty cardboard boxes whereto Claus Juel-Jensen replied “Yes, it might be right that our stores are a bit more cozy”. There it was again, I though gratefully, and continued to scribble down on my note pad. Again there was this implicit (and thus a cultural loaded) connection where saving money becomes attached to having a good time and where luxury and exquisiteness implicitly appear as something that is not cozy.


What it coziness?

One way to cover the consumer-cultural meaning of ‘coziness’ is through an analysis of what the contrast similarity/dissimilarity and the relationship between a homey sphere and the public domain mean in a Danish context. When people describe what coziness is, it is often about the kind of being together where you can lower your guards. When you experience real coziness you don’t have to perform in any way. You don’t get challenged and you don’t have to pretend to be someone you are not. Therefore you typically experience coziness with people who know you from more than one aspect and appreciate all of them. Thus, repetition and recognition often mark the social intercourse, which is considered as cozy. Of course you can have a good time with new acquaintances, but old friends and the closest family populate the situations, which are the coziness’ archetype.


Additionally, there are certain physical, spatial elements, which almost always figure in connection with coziness. A demarcated, comfortable and safe room is one of them. The home is, for the physical part of coziness, what the family is for the social: It is the coziness in its prototype. If you are having a good time outside of home, it is often in places with home-likely features, which among other things are a limited view from the outside, dimmed lightning and comfortable furniture. For instance, a table you sit around as a group, so that the bodies themselves create some kind of wall against the world. One of the participants in my research said that to make coziness occur in a big, illuminated, modern room it called for small enclosures.


Coziness is often combined with something to eat or drink, usually something “unwise” like candy, snacks, soda and alcohol. This is not always looked favorably upon. The Danish’s penchant to coziness is, from time to time, criticized because of its bad influence on public health. But from a cultural perspective, it is interesting that coziness is often about sharing food and drinks. You put your hand in the same bag or bowl, you fill up from the same dish, and you pour from the same wine bottle. And this does not only count for the physical nourishment: You also share the same experience- source: for instance, you watch the same movie on the same TV instead of reading a book individually.


What is coziness not?

The “experience” which people share when they are having a good time does not have to be anything special – actually it is probably best if it is not. A good home cooked dinner and a well-known CD on the stereo, and then we are in the process of having a good time. On the contrary, if the experience is new or of a dramatic character, elements of unpredictability and commitment arise and all of a sudden you have to make up your mind and relate to it. A lot of positive words can be said about this but “coziness” is not one of them.

Coziness is in contrast to intensity, unpredictability, competition, and properties like for instance dynamic, naughtiness, and deliciousness. Take a big prearranged New Year’s gala: the guests at the party are exquisite (as best as one can be). The same is true for the food. Nothing is as it usually is in the everyday life. And when the guests leave the party in the early hours, what is it the host wants to hear from them? That “it was cozy”? Not exactly! It was amazing, it was great, it was exquisite. But not cozy, then it has gone wrong, then it has been a boring New Year’s Gala.


In the wrong settings or the wrong target group coziness can appear boring, lame, introvert, petty bourgeois, grey, claustrophobic, passive, etc. and it is hardly coincidental that the experience of the Netto store, as the manager of Irma called “messy”, was called “cozy” by Netto’s own manager. What for some is disarming, honest and intimate is for others messy and uncontrolled.


Coziness in a cultural perspective

When you are making the contradictions clear to yourself, it is obvious that there are some cultural and political goods in the concept of coziness. The word cozy is closely connected to central values and social conventions in the Danish culture. When a consumer or producer say, “this is cozy” about a product, they are actually saying quite a lot, if you know how to contextualize their statemen.


A key concept for the understanding of the everyday life in Denmark and the other Nordic societies is equality. The Norwegian anthropologist Marianne Gullestad has identified a tendency to “equality as homogeneity” in the Nordic culture, by which she believes that we have a tendency to avoid socialization with people who are above or under ourselves in regard to financial capability, power, influence, etc. In the Nordic countries it is preferable to be equal and you show others that this is what you are by being uniform. In the daily social conventions, we therefore play down the actual differences, which exist among us and focus on the common denominators we can find.


The equality concept is institutionalized in Denmark among others through the welfare state’s redistribution of resources. In the consumption culture the belief in equality is present through a widespread distaste for ostentatious manners of consumption. There has been a development towards it being OK to enjoy your personal wealth in public (in any case until the financial crisis). However, a strong taboo against being pretentious still exists in the North: It is a sin to appear as more than you are. Both production and consumption in the Danish culture are marked by ambivalence towards the “unnecessary” that exceeds what is considered as the objects’ genuine and basic nature. Just like people, objects should not appear as more than they are and what they can do, but gladly as less. This attitude is the actual epitome of the Nordic functionalism and has resulted in designs and commercial successes as for instance, B&O’s products and the PH- lamp. The way we have learned to perceive the PH-lamp is indicative: It has an interesting and for its time groundbreaking design but as everybody knows; the purpose is to give a better light. Its appearance is not just some superficial design nonsense to make it unnecessarily pretty. Surely not, its design directly supports its function: to give a good light. It is an honest lamp without an exterior separable form the interior. And when Danish consumers know this, they can live with the fact that it is pretty. The Nordic equality culture is also home-centered. The Nordic people wish for a special intimate, protecting atmosphere in the daily home life. The modern world outside the home is experienced as marked by the competitiveness of brute market forces and a general tendency towards social fragmentation, which indicate that individuals must be able to perform several different identities in diverse contexts. The home is a sphere, which you pull back to in order to heal the wounds and divisions that are inflicted on you outside of home. In the home you expect to become a whole person again and experience the nearness and the authenticity, which are lacking “out there”.


In Denmark it is a serious thing to accuse someone of not being able to organize coziness. The word cozy engenders both the Danish equality ideology and the cultural ideals that a real “essence” exists in objects and people, and that they should not pretend to be more than they are. Coziness disappears when someone tries to give the impression of being more posh than others. That is pretentious and the punishment for this sin is that you lose the connection to your real needs and the possibility to enjoy the kind of being together where people are true and sincere, where they are not challenged, and do not have to perform. If you move yourself away from coziness through prestige-consumption and the hunt for ‘deliciousness’, you lose the real thing, which can be found in there: In the personality’s inner pit, in the objects’ inherent function, in the home’s coziness.


Thus, the word cozy is an effective weapon when people from different social layers and of different value-based political observance, are positioning themselves through consumption as a part of everyday’s cultural battle. To accuse someone’s experience or way of live for not being cozy is a sort of modern rhetorical class struggle. It has been documented sociologically that it is a widespread notion among Danish families marked by a low education and income that “the posh people” do not know how to have a good time. “The wealthy have lost the coziness in their hunt for the material happiness”, this could be a Danish companion to the Christian message about it being hard for a rich man to enter into paradise.


If you consider using the expression cozy in your marketing, you really have to be conscious about having the hold of a strong identity pointer, which permeates a lot of levels in the culture: Both the Danish’s national self-understanding where coziness is considered as something Danish. But also the Danish society where a battle on symbols on which social classes, families, and groups who experience the real coziness, is fought – and also whether you can lose the coziness if you strive too high and act pretentiously.


If your goal is to create coziness directly to your clients, this article has given directions on some of the elements that are applicable. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that the market in itself is perceived as an opposite to coziness. Thus, you should not directly imply (towards the Danes) that coziness could be bought – also if this is possible.


For some operators it will be relevant to give their marketing an edge by dissociating the idea of coziness: In this way, you can signal dynamism, sharpness, the will to win, deliciousness, courage, intensity, mobility, and visibility. The same qualities, which are often demanded in both the artistic and the political critique of the Danish coziness.


Academic works which touches coziness in a Danish/Nordic context

Boris, Stephen M. (1991): The land of the living: the Danish folk high schools and Denmark’s non-violent path to modernization. Nevada City, Blue Dolphin Publishing.

Faber, Stine Thidemann. (2008): På jagt efter klasse (PhD thesis). University of Aalborg: Department of Sociology, Social Work and Organization.

Gullestad, Marianne. (1992).The art of Social Relations. Essays on Culture, Social Action and Everyday Life in Modern Norway. Oslo, Scandinavian University Press.

Hansen, Judith Friedman. (1980). We are a little land: Cultural assumptions in Danish everyday life. New York, Arno Press.

Haastrup, Kirsten (ed.). (1992). Den Nordiske verden. Gyldendal.

Jørgsen, Anja Melby. (1996). Hvad udad tabes skal indad vindes – jagten på hygge som kulturhistorisk begreb. (Candidate special studied subject). University of Southern Denmark: Centre for Cultural Studies.