Celebrating Birthdays in the Netherlands

This weekend, I attended the birthday celebrations of two of my girlfriend’s friends. It was an especially nice way to round off the first week at my new job. It was also a great occasion to gain some insight into Dutch culture. I usually expect that things like celebrating birthdays should be more or less the same across the world. It’s not, and I should know this by now. Expecting things to be the same and finding out that they’re different EACH TIME has really been a recurring theme these past two months since I moved. You’d think I’d have figured this out by now…

Both of these celebrations were in cafés, but they’re really bars so I don’t know why they’re called cafés. It’s confusing, and neither of these cafés would be called anything other than a bar in the US. When we walk into these “cafés”, I’m told by my girlfriend to remember to wish the partners and family members of the person whose birthday it is. That’s right, at any birthday, you are expected to wish the people close to the person whose birthday it is a happy birthday too. But it stops there, you don’t need to get them presents or anything (I think, who can tell with these Dutchies!). Then, at each of these places, I also fully expected to buy the person whose birthday it was a drink. Wrong again! As if it isn’t bad enough that you’ve lost yet another year of your youth, if it’s your birthday, you need to buy everyone ELSE a drink. In both of these cases, all the drinks were covered. So essentially, Dutch people like to celebrate their birthdays by getting a little older and a little poorer. A true double whammy! And finally, the other cute little thing that Dutch people like to do, even in a bar, is form a circle. So instead of talking to each other in twos or undefined blobs, you will find several small or one large circle of people in conversation. I had heard of this phenomenon previously, but to witness it in the flesh was truly an experience. Oh well, I couldn’t complain because these lovely people, whose English is better than mine, allowed me to practice my bad Dutch with them all evening. Thanks, guys!

After this weekend, I think I’m not going to be celebrating any birthdays in the Netherlands in the upcoming few years (famous last words?). I don’t think I’m ready for the challenge.

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