Lifestyle Living in California Living in North Holland

Comparing Dutch and American Birthdays

I’ve been a bit lax in posting this week because Sander’s had time off from work. During this past week we also celebrated his birthday! Not so long ago I wrote a post about how the Dutch celebrate birthdays. I figured now would be another good time to compare them. Sander’s a very low-key and down to earth guy so we didn’t do much.

I need to point out this post contains my own personal experiences. I cannot speak for anyone else on how they experience a party in either the American culture or the Dutch culture. My birthday parties were different from my friends’ parties for various reasons. What I say here is not set in stone for all American or Dutch parties.

Birthday Calendars
When it comes to remembering birthdays, the Dutch have a creative way of doing so. Birthday Calendars hang in the toilet room (we have a toilet room and a shower room). When you’ve got nothing better to do, why not check to see who’s aging up soon? It’s a practical way of keeping up with the family. But you can’t find this in an American bathroom!

No congratulations here
In The Netherlands, everyone wishes each other “Congratulations” instead of saying “Happy Birthday.” In America, we hug or shake hands and say “Happy Birthday!” When it’s time for cake, the birthday person is sung “Happy Birthday” and made to cut their cake. Slices are given out and everyone enjoys! In The Netherlands the sweets are pasties or slices of tarts. In America we have everything from simple premade cakes to extravagant ice cream cakes made by bakeries that only create cakes!

BYOT (Bring your own treat)
If it’s a coworker’s birthday you can expect larger offices to throw birthday parties. The guest of honor doesn’t have to lift a finger. Party commies handle the cake, the drinks, and the decorations. These guys keep a list of birthdays and schedule the parties. Birthday gifts are usually a group effort too. Everyone from the office pitches in for a gift. I know this also happens in The Netherlands! My point is that if it’s your birthday in America you don’t have to worry about a thing. Smaller businesses aren’t held to this expectation though. I worked at a bookstore where the birthday person would bring their own treats to share.

Musical Chairs
I get that it’s easier to have everyone sit in the same room to catch up. At parties in The Netherlands, all the guests sit in a large circle to talk to one another. This seems a bit odd to me. In America we stand all over the place and form groups to chat with. Everyone does their own thing most of the time. I’m sure that red solo cup is super famous all over the world now. It’s typical for guests to grab their own food and drink.

In The Netherlands, the guests are always served by the hosts of the party. I’ve seen some cases where a guest will offer to refill other glasses. In America we usually don’t. Sometimes people hang out around a firepit or play beer pong. Other parties have video games for people to play with. I’ve been to birthday parties with DJ’s and dance halls. I’ve also been to intimate dinners at restaurants.


All in all, it’s important to remember that this day is about the birthday person. It doesn’t matter how they want to celebrate their birthday. What matters most is the people who attend and what everyone means to each other. As long as the party doesn’t end in a fight (I’ve been told about those too…) a party has no rules or specific way to be celebrated! We all have our cultural norms and it’s exciting to see how they differ all over the world.

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