Hoera! Ik Ben Jarig! Posted by heather on Jan 14, 2011 in Culture
Wednesday was my birthday. Birthday’s in the Netherlands have always been an interesting phenomenon because of the cultural differences associated with them.
Congratulations on the Birthday of Your Mother’s Cousin’s Hairdresser’s Dog
When it is your birthday, not only do you get congratulated but everyone associated to you does too. The whole day, whenever someone Dutch called to wish me a happy birthday, I had to pass the phone to my boyfriend once they were done talking to me so that they could also congratulate him. This starts to get even more intense when a Dutch Birthday Circle is involved (see below).
Most people have already learned about the three kiss rule for greeting and saying goodbye in the Netherlands. Well a birthday earns you those three kisses as well. Thankfully they are usually just rolled into the traditional hello kisses or else it would start to get a bit much.
Where’s Your Cake?
Gone are the days when you showed up to your birthday party to be greeted with a cake lovingly prepared (or bought) by the party organizer. In the Netherlands, it is the responsibility of the birthday person to bring along his or her own cake. This includes to the party and also when you go to work.
The Dreaded Birthday Circle
The Dutch seem to love to party. Birthday’s are typically a big deal, resulting in an open house approach of going round to visit the birthday person at his or her home. When you arrive it is of course crucial to congratulate the birthday girl or guy, give them the traditional three kisses and hand them your gift. Then you need to go around the room congratulating everyone in the room and giving them three kisses as well (if you are lucky you might be able to get away with a firm handshake). “Gefeliciteerd met jouw dochter” *kiss, kiss, kiss* “Gefeliciteerd met jouw zus” *kiss, kiss, kiss* “Gefeliciteerd met jouw….” *kiss, kiss, kiss*
If that wasn’t unusual enough, the next thing you will notice is that everyone is sitting in a circle. It doesn’t matter if when everyone arrived the chairs were strategically scattered throughout the room. The Dutch seem to have an internal homing device which means they automatically gather the chairs and form a circle. The circle will be expanded to include new guests as they arrive but the shape itself will alter very little. Finally, the birthday person will look after all of his or her guests by offering them a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Sausage and cheese (worst en kaas) are also often provided on plates in the middle of the circle.
This year, I am not having a Dutch Birthday Circle nor providing my own birthday cake. Instead I am having a dim sum evening with some friends. Hey, old habits die hard!
N.B. Not all Dutch birthdays are created equal. Your practise or experience may be different.
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