The most important day of the year is approaching and you’re getting a little bit nervous. Will all your friends and family come over and, more important, will they bring you something nice? We all know this feeling whenever our birthday comes round the block.
Especially young kids experience their birthday as the most important day of the year.
Of course this is no different in the Netherlands but can become quite a hassle when you’re old enough to host your party.
Why? Let me explain.
In the Netherlands, a typical birthday party is slightly different from anywhere else in the world. In order to clarify myself, I will use two perspectives to try to visualise this.
1. From a birthday boy/girl perspective:
Hurray, my birthday is this weekend and I will have a house full of guests. Time to get cracking. Dutch custom states that it’s my responsibility to entertain the guests. This needs planning, so let’s break this party into three sections:
- Clean the house. Well, at least the part where the guests will be accommodated (don’t forget the toilet to avoid gossip afterwards)
- Remove all excess furniture. After all we’re not used to host this many people
- Ask neighbours/relatives for extra seats and arrange them in a circle so everyone can talk to each other
- Go shopping. Buy enough coffee and cake, get alcohol and soda and don’t forget the snacks (lot’s of it)
- Make the house look ‘gezellig’. By that I mean to make sure you decorate the house nicely
- Make lots and lots of coffee, so better dust off those vacuum flasks
- Let your guests in and accompany them to their seats
- Serve coffee and offer them some cake. If you feel you have sufficient coffee, offer them another cup (but no cake)
- Serve Beer, Wine or soda once the coffee round is completed (keep score on who had a maximum of two cups of coffee)
- Keep repeating step one thru four until every guest has arrived
- At the perfect moment (this takes years of practice), serve the assorted snacks.
- If you find the time it is recommended to mingle with your guests but don’t forget you’re the host so act like it. Best to walk around with a paper and pencil to take orders.
The Day after:
- Clean up the livingroom (and remind yourself to skip the peanuts next birthday party. God knows how they got into your underpants)
- Do the dishes. We Dutch maybe cheap sometimes but we will never serve our drinks in paper cups
- For the rest of the week you have to finish the leftovers (after all you paid for it)
- Return the seats and replace your furniture
Sounds stressful? I agree but you’ll get over it in a week or so.
Remember: you can always enjoy the sweet taste of payback once you go to other birthday parties. Or can you?
Let’s review the birthday from the next point of view.
2. From a visitor perspective:
All dressed up and loaded with gifts (?) you head over to the party. Once arrived, you might be welcomed by the birthday person herself but that’s not always necessary. Perhaps she is busy entertaining other guests.
It might be interesting to know that in the Netherlands it is custom to congratulate women by exchanging three kisses (on the cheek!) and for men to shake hands. On itself it’s not that bad, just a little getting used to. But in our country it is also custom to congratulate everybody else in the room.
Strange? I agree. It makes no sense whatsoever and I can totally relate to those people who almost freak out over the thought of having to congratulate strange people. Thinking of skipping a few? Don’t bother for they will find and congratulate you including the complimentary kisses. We’re mushy and we know it.
Once in and having dealt with the ‘congratulation round’ you take a seat and become part of the (so I’ve heard) Circle of Hell. Apparently foreign folks cannot comprehend the meaning of this round setup as described ‘The Preparation’. For us Dutch folk it’s part of our ‘gezellige’ atmosphere and by ‘gezellig’ I mean… gezellig (hmm, how to explain? No can’t, so I won’t).
Mark, what does your birthday party look like?
The answer to this multiple choice question is:
D (none of the above).
I don’t like to celebrate my birthday as described. In fact I don’t celebrate my birthday at all. Don’t feel sorry, it’s my choice and I’m happy with it.
The same goes for visiting birthday parties. I don’t go there. But if, for some reason, I happen to be at such a party I will only congratulate the person whose birthday it is. Apparently I’m not Dutch enough to participate this tradition.
If you freak out every time you are supposed to show up at a birthday party; here’s a top tip. Skip the parties all together and start using Facebook. That way you can congratulate everyone at their birthday yet don’t have the discomfort of being forced into our blurry Dutch traditions.
Come to think about it, it’s also very hip.