Posted on 19 August 2008 by joost
Ah, the dreaded birthday. After age 12 they don’t seem so special any more, and after 30 they’re basically an excuse to load up on booze. Well, and having friends over of course. Birthdays in .nl have their own set of rules, but if you bring a gift, any faux pas will quickly be excused.
Meeting and greeting Nederlanders is covered on a different page, but should you be invited to a Nederlandse birhday: fear not. They can be quite, shall we say, gezellig.
Today I am covering birthdays for grown-ups; children’s parties have an entirely different set of typicalities. All adult birthday celebrations start with an invitation, usually in person or over the phone. To accept, say “ja, gezellig”. Note the date in your calendar and show up reasonably on time.
What to give?
A gift is mandatory. What should you get? Contrary to many cultures, money does not make a bad gift in .nl. Sure it’s impersonal, but many people consider it appropriate when you don’t know the person very well. Make sure to put it in a nice little envelope though. Usually 10 or 20 euros will do fine.
Another safe gift is booze. A nice bottle of wine is most appropriate, but you can give it a personal swing and get a bottle of champagne, luxury beer or some other kind of liquor. A bottle from your home region is a very good idea, except Americans who consider giving American beer. Sorry folks, that’s just not good enough.
The more adventurous can give books or music or one of the many coupons we have: CD-bon, boekenbon, VVV-bon or any kind of store credit from national retail chains. It’s all good and most Dutch will genuinely like it.
Naturally, the best idea is to give something really personal. Dutch people love small gifts from abroad, either knicknacks or personal items. Your kids will want to draw a picture for the birthday boy or girl and even your presence alone is appreciated. Flowers are a good idea, too.
Even grown ups eat birthday cake, but for people working outside home, this is usually a perogative shared with coworkers. It is quite customary for office workers to buy a cake or hearty treats on a birthday and share these at about 11AM. It’s too bad that presents from colleagues are often extremely forgettable though. If you’re lucky, you get an envelope with money. A card is usually signed by your close colleagues. Any leftovers are either left in the fridge at the office (and thrown away next day) or brought home.
Those lucky enough to have their birthdays on the weekend (either Friday or Saturday) will usually throw a big party at home, after dinner. The most dreaded situation is this one: all chairs from the house in a circle in the living room. These events usually take place at older people’s birthdays. The younger the person celebrating, the more informal the occasion is going to be. There might be music, there might be people in various states of drunkenness, there will be small snacks and there will be drinks. Because the host is busy, you will often be left to yourself or to the other guests. It is considered good manners to introduce yourself and do the usual smalltalk.
It is not very common to celebrate a birthday with dinner, although this is starting to change. When not specified, the invitation is for a post-dinner gathering and people will expect you to have eaten. Snacks will be served though, and contrary to what you might think, often in abundance. Cheese and salami-type sausages are pretty much a given, as are potato chips. In urban environments you will find a selection of tapenades, olives, Turkish bread and other assorted multicultural snacks.
Drinks then? Yes please! There will be beer, and good beer at that. Heineken is just your every day pilsner from the supermarket. Better beers too, such as Palm are probably available. Wine then, yes, both white and red. And sodas. And water, flat or sparkling. And coffee. Yep, you will probably be fine.