Surviving the Circle – Dutch Birthdays

© Ray Sadler (Flickr: srsphoto)

Have you been invited to your first Dutch birthday? Congratulations! It’s gonna be an experience. Here some tips for a smooth first birthday party

  1. The gifts
    The Dutch are faily easy going with bringing gifts. Anything in the range of 20 Eur will do – a bottle of wine or some sweets are always welcome and a good last minute savior.
  2. The Congratulation marathon
    In most countries, you will only congratulate the actual birthday girl or boy. Not so in the Netherlands – here you congratulate the entire family. I understand for the parents, but I never quite got what the rest of the lot has to do with it. Maybe for not killing the birthday boy or girl in question.
    Anyway, this is how you do it: Approach the family member and offer your hand, whilst shaking it, smile reassuringly and say “gefeliciteerd”. You might want to practice that in front of the mirror a couple of times before you go to the party.  If you feel brave, you can opt into the long version, something along the lines of “Gefeliciteerd met de verjaardag van …” where … is substituted with the relation to the birthday boy or girl. It is also polite to introduce you by name and explain how you are related to the birthday girl or boy if you have not met the person yet.
    If you are not quite sure who is who at the party, the safest bet is just to congratulate everybody.
  3. The Circle
    The Circle is truly one of the strangest bits of Dutch culture that I ran into.  You will find an eclectic mix of chairs in the host’s living room, grouped around a central table arrangement. The guests will be seated in this circle and either talk civilized with their neighbors or – more common – with anybody else in the circle.  This Dutch cacophony can be extremely tiring if you are not used to the language yet. Thus, the best tip you will get out of this: Find someone who is eager to practice English or your mother tongue and sit next to them. Then, be charming and don’t let them go. Ever.
  4. The food
    Depending on the time of day, you can expect to be served a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of cake or an assortment of crackers and little nibbles. Stay aware from the “American filet” but don’t hesitate to try out the cheeses and meat balls 😉
Did I forget anything? Let me know 🙂