Being Dutch – Part 11: Birthday Parties

To start, I need to put this into context for people who have not attended an English birthday party: You go to the birthday person’s house (laden with booze) or to a bar. You get drunk, dance, tell bad jokes and possibly pass out on the floor somewhere. There might be a few nibbles, namely cheese & pineapple on sticks and possibly a few sausage rolls. But mainly… it’s about the drinking… or as we say “partying”.

Dutch birthday parties on the other hand are a whole other kettle of fish…

A typical scene at a Dutch Birthday Party

A typical scene at a Dutch Birthday Party

1. Arrival and greetings

Upon arrival (probably by bike, if you live in the neighbourhood) you need to greet the birthday boy or girl. You don’t say “Happy Birthday”, but “Gefeliciteerd” (meaning “congratulations”) and give them 3 kisses.  It’s a hard word to pronounce for English speakers, but don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of practice as you’re also expected to congratulate the family of the birthday boy/girl as well! Yep – really! So for example “Gefeliciteerd met je zoon” (“Congratulations with your son”) and don’t forget the 3 kisses! (I should probably do a post about the 3 kiss thing as well, but in short, if you know the person well – 3 kisses, if not – shake their hand.)

You also have to greet everyone at the party individually. For this, a simple “Hallo, ik ben Hayley” (Hello, I’m Hayley) will do – with a handshake for strangers and 3 kisses for people you know. (Obviously don’t tell people you already know your name – or they might think you’re a bit mental.) Dutch people love introducing themselves and children above a certain age (don’t ask me the age – what do I know about kids!?) are also expected to introduce themselves. Personally, I think this is a wonderful thing – encouraging kids to be sociable – but once they’ve shaken your hand they’ll go back to playing their video game or watching TV. Ah well, at least they tried…

2. Coffee and Cake

Greetings done, you’ll now be offered coffee/tea and some cake. Yes, you read that right – CAKE!!! At the beginning of a party – surely that’s a dessert!?

3. The Circle of Doom

Chairs are arranged into a circle formation and people chat politely about the weather and so on for several hours or until the cake is gone.

4. Alcohol – woo hoo! 

Then it’s time for an alcoholic drink. Woo hoo! Party time!!!!!!!!! Right!? Wrong. There’s no music and you continue to sit in a circle and chat with your circle party neighbours.

At this point there might be some food. If it’s winter you’ll most likely get… wait for it… SOUP! How on earth do you eat soup whilst holding a drink and a conversation at the same time?? Commenter Imelda adds: “you know why we serve soup at parties, right? Because its cheap 😉” Her words, not mine.

Kids will probably be served broodje knakworst (a hotdog in a bun) and chippies (a cute word for crisps). In summer there will probably be bread and leverworst (liver sausage) and hopefully some oude kaas (literally: old cheese) Yum!

5. Go home

Then, come 6pm it’s time to leave. Yup, the Dutch have start and finish times for their parties!

Could it have something to do with the fact that it’s the birthday boy or girl’s job to buy all of the food & drinks for the occasion? And while we’re on the subject… Work in an office? You’ll also need to buy cake for the whole workforce. Happy bloody Birthday!

Have you been to a Dutch birthday party? What did you think?

Hayley x

Ps – If you want to read more about Dutch birthday parties… here is Invader Stu’s Guide to Dutch Circle Parties.

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55 comments

  1. I haven’t been to one but my BF lives in Holland and has told me all about the families Birthday parties. I am Canadian so these are a far cry from how we celebrate as well. It is considered kind of rude here (uppity) to host your own Birthday party. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, that’s a typical old fashion Bday party. But usually our friends invite us at about 4pm and you stay for dinner (eaten sitting in a circle..). In winters it varies a lot, but in the summer it’s always a BBQ.
    And at our house we start with cake and after dinner we end it with… leftovers from the cake. Never enough chocoletcake right?!
    Thanks for your entertaining comments on our (sooo normal) traditions!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Listen to this, and me, as being a Dutch guy, I think it is most ridiculous. On the birthday party it is nowadays common not only to give your congratulations to the family, but to EVERYBODY at the party. `Gefeliciteerd met de buurman` and as an answer you get `Ja jij ook gefeliciteerd met de buurman`, or with Greet or whoelse

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right Thomas, I hate the “gefeliciteerd met ….” I’ve never done that stupid thing, I always say hello and my name. Could be a room full of strangers you have to congratulate with …

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s worst when you think you’re supposed to know the other person’s relation to the bday person, but you just don’t. Reason enough for me to just mumble something at times, nobody listens to what you’re saying anyway 😉

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  4. Love reading your blog, married to a Canadian for 33 years who lived in Holland for 22 years and I now am in Canada for 11. Alles zullen we eerlijk delen is typisch Nederlands tenslotte. Enjoy your observations thoroughly. The Dutch are certainly a quaint lot, but I do miss their rituals…..Since I cannot participate in them any more it is lovely to read about them described so accurately by you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I lived in Holland for 8 years. One Dutch friend told me that you know you have really made it into the ‘inner circle’ of friends if you are invited to a Dutchie’s bd party. He said, generally, Dutch people can only have as many good friends as they have chairs to arrange in the circle for their party! (like a life game of musical chairs! Not enough chairs, you are out!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Also! if you bring a present, they open it immediately! (like, while standing at the door to greet you!) In the US, we either put it aside and open it later or if it’s for children, gather everyone around at the end and open all of the presents together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s because it’s considered rude not to give your full, personal attention to the present & its giver, who’s gone through all that trouble of picking the exact right thing for you 🙂

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  7. This is so funny! I am Canadian, but born to Dutch-Canadian Immigrants, and we still do all of this, in Canada, as grown adults!!! I had no idea some of this was because I’m of Dutch heritage. How else would you sit, other than in a circle?? And why wouldn’t you have cake right away? (By the way, we do that after church too–have cake first, then lunch–don’t you love the Dutch?) And soup is so gezellig, even if you have to balance it on your lap. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was laughing out loud because I know exactly what you mean. I dated a Dutch girl five years ago and I had no idea I had to do this stuff. So I was the socially incapable boyfriend who didn’t care at all. I still remember the wine with was bought in a carton bought in the Aldi (like a carton of milk!). And the endless discussions (as I am a Belgian) about Chocomel, because we called it Cecemel (as the trademark for Chocomel was already taken in our country). I miss the Netherlands though. I learned how to be social over there.

    I’m a fan of your blog! Keep on writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When my sister in Rotterdam has her birthday, it is an all-day and into the evening event. Newcomers get cake with coffee or tea, then the snacks and drinks are served, which builds up to some savory items, like quiche, lasagne, a cheese plate with bread and crackers and, yes, soup. Then as the party ends, it’s back to coffee and cake, and a “borreltje” which is what the latecomers also get. Sometimes, the whole cycle gets repeated if she gets a lot of evening visitors. We do handshakes all around, with introductions as needed, and we congratulate the immediate family only. The triple kiss is for family and close friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I can avoid it I steer away from the kissing. I wave my congratulations vaguely to the circle and save my kisses for the nice people. But some of the older uncles follow you around just to get their dose of lipsticked cheeks….

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A friend of mine once had a relationship with a girl from New York who studied in The Netherlands. Through her ‘cultural’ class she got to know of this fenomenon. Sadly (or luckily, either way you look at it) me and my friends don’t do birthdays like that. So we staged a birthday complete in Dutch style. It was the most amazing and fun weird as can be (non)birthday (we just appointed a random person who supposedly had his birthday) we ever had. Everyone played along nicely with many awkward moments to boot. It was hilarious, still puts a smile on my face thinking about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Haha, I love this, so accurate!
    However, this is just family birthdays, it’s completely normal to throw a friends-birthday party as well and have booze and savory snacks and just party! At least, when you’re young that’s normal.
    In my family only the really close friends would be allowed on the family party, it would be quite strange to have friends and family mixed (unless you throw a bigger party, but then it wouldn’t be a circle of doom style party).
    At my boyfriends parents house they hate the circle of doom, so the mother always finds a place outside of the naturally forming circle, which in no time forms a new circle, then when she has the chance he chooses a different spot again (so for instance if the circle is forming in the couch area she sits at the table, then as a circle around the table is forming she stands up and goes for the kitchen etc) until there are several small groups, but you have to maintain them by switching very often, otherwise a new circle will form! Lol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha!! 🙂

      We had a BBQ in the summer and there were only 4 garden chairs outside.(Thinking that people would stand as it’s summer and it’s a BBQ…) But before we knew it, the Dutchies had raided chairs from the shed and from the dining room and turned it into a full on circle party!! There’s no stopping them! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agnes wrote the comment I was about to! The BD party you describe is normal for people with families or elderly people. For the younger folks, it’s normal to host this typical party in the afternoon for your family (and maybe some close friends), and then in the evening just a booze&snacks party that definitely does not include a sitting circle ;).

        However, I don’t really get the thing about the cake: it’s birthday cake, so you eat it to celebrate the birthday right? Or do people in Britain eat the cake as a dessert on a birthday?

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I still don’t get it. You eat cake in the morning with coffee, cake in the evening with coffee, or you offer cake and wine/beer to someone who comes around 4 pm at your party (they are not appriciated and gone before 6 pm). Savoury first…and what do I do with my cake? Save it for dessert? So what do I do with my icecream?

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  12. Oh my gosh the circle seating and the food … For me the most confusing part is that there seems to be some sort of unspoken rule about when you should and should not be eating. If the food is on a table in the middle, at a given moment everyone will have only the kroket and won’t have touched the stokbrood … or if we’re still on the cake, everyone is HOLDING their cake but nobody is eating it, and suddenly everyone goes in at once! Not even after singing ‘lang zal ze leven’ or anything, just in the middle of a conversation about anything. Does this happen to you too or am I part of a mysterious circle?
    I have given up on understanding why and now just copy whoever is sitting beside me 😛

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I’ll tell you all about younger people’s parties after we land… Theme parties, Troma punch, puking in Grobbo’s bed, sleeping in bath tubs, nobody’s arriving before nine, snacks at exactly 10.30, drinking lukewarm beer (you people actually enjoy that) with cigarette stubs in it, uitsmijters for breakfast….

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So true, we are both english living here for an age now. Always makes me laugh when my husband gets congratulated on my birthday, he really had nothing to do with my entry into the world. And on the cake thing, even at evening parties you get offered tea and cake, being typical Brits we refuse and ask for a drink, well it’s 9pm we’ve only just finished dinner, can you tell we’re not Dutch, no 6pm dinner for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. How accurate :), but then students parties, they look more like your English birthdayparties. Loads of booze. Everybody brings something, not so much to eat. The maingoal is getting dunk and passing out on a couch, bed, toilet or elsewhere. And waking up and thinking ‘mommy I’ll never gonna drink again’
    On the other hand…. I think t’s time to get more chairs for the Circle of Doom 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I always HATE the circle thing, but I think it’s so indoctrinated, somehow the circles are everywhere. In a club too for instance, you all stand in a cricle and dance, even when you’re with a big group. And oh, if you ever try to break the circle anywhere.. it’s a waste of energy, somehow the circle will automatically reform itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yep, totally accurate description of a Dutch birthday party apart from the soup thing. Never had that at a birthday party, but that’s maybe because we always went in the evening. Hate the circle of doom. But, fortunately for us we’ve managed to duck most of the birthday parties. If you do that long enough you’re taken off the inner circle list. 😉 Where we live, in Limburg, you even have two circles of doom at a (birthday) party. One for the family of the wife and one for the family of the man. Ridiculous. I once tried to mingle between both circles. It was a waste of time and apparently not done. I moved from the west (Hilversum actually) to the south and am regarded as a “Hollander” by my Limburgse family-in-law, which means that you will never fit in whatever you try.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. When there’s a birthdayparty over here, I always put homemade eggsalad on the table for on toast or stokbrood (French bread). My homemade eggsalad is always the 1st one gone when combined with other little snacks like young cheese cut into little cube-shaped pieces, ham rapped around asparagus, extrawurst (boterhamworst) rapped around pickles, crisps & (sometimes homemade) dip, little tomato balls (about 1cm diameter), slices of salami and other sausages.

    “2. Coffee and Cake”
    Don’t serve cake/pie anymore because of all the leftovers, not that I mind leftovers, it will get eaten in the days after. But to save money and prevent a couple of extra pounds…. 😛 The leftover sausages like salami usually end up in a pastasauce.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I as a Dutchie, we sit in a circle that’s right, but we buy so much cake that we offer the people cake when they come, and mostly the coming around 15.00 and stay till 21.30 what they want really, we getting chinese, so everyone can eat what they want, and after dinner, we have more cake, and coffee, and after that we have the chips, peanuts, lots of other stuff, and we eat cake the day after because we have so many! hahaha , but i hate birhday parties, i prefer just with my parents and sister doing something nice.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Ye.. BDay parties with family really goes like this… but don’t forget we also got kinderfeestjes (lit: little child party) in which the children go for example to a swimmingpool or bowling… basically the heaven of every child (and if you don’t invite one kid you will not be invited to their party:P)

    with Teenagers it also goes a bit different.. when I have a party it look a lot more like what you said about a English party… boose ( if you are allowed by your parents) music and a lot of standing with some cake ofcourse… we often stay at the persons party till like 1AM and after that we will go to a bar.

    but ye.. your description of a Dutch adult party is spot on

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  21. This is a very typical Dutch birthday… but only on old school birthdays. If teenagers have parties, it’s mostly in a tent in the backyard (or inside if you’re house is big enough), and serve the boose, loud music and a shitload of snacks so you can roll home instead of cycling home. So, as a typical Dutch person, I don’t agree with most of these observations.

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