When the lockdown is over we’re going to celebrate our birthdays!

From circle talks to felicitaties: a survival guide to Dutch birthdays

Have you ever wondered how the Dutch celebrate their birthdays? When the lockdown is over there will be plenty of birthdays to celebrate! So let’s prepare you for what lies ahead, because the traditional Dutch way of celebrating a verjaardag (birthday) is a very specific Dutch custom. Get ready for endless congratulating, sitting in circles and awkward reactions to unwanted gifts..

Congratulations to everybody!

Is it one of your Dutch friends’ birthdays? There are several options to express your birthday wish in Dutch. ‘Van harte gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag!’ (heartily congratulations on your birthday) or just ‘gefeliciteerd!’  is the most typical way. A little less common is to say ‘proficiat’ or ‘fijne verjaardag’ (happy birthday).

A funny (and kind of weird) Dutch custom is to congratulate everyone in the family on the birthday of their family member, usually with three kisses on the cheeks. To the aunt of the birthday girl for example, you say ‘Gefeliciteerd met je nichtje!’ (congratulations on your niece). This continues until many cheeks have been kissed, hands have been shook, and everyone is congratulated by everyone. It might take a while.

The infamous circle

The typical Dutch family birthday party does not have a very good image, neither for the Dutch themselves nor for foreigners. This is mainly due to the infamous kringverjaardag, translated as the ‘circle birthday’. During the kringverjaardag, the whole party is seated in a big circle. Everyone is facing each other, which means the conversation is plenary. And you never know what these kringgesprekken (circle conversations) will lead to: heated political discussions, weather related chit chat or painful silences..it’s all possible.

A Dutch birthday party usually starts in the afternoon with koffie en gebak (coffee and pastry). Around 5 pm, borreltijd, it’s time for wine and beer served with party snacks such as kaasblokjes (cheese cubes), worst (sausage) toastjes (crackers) or bittergarnituur (a platter with deep fried Dutch snacks such as bitterballen, frikandellen and kaassoufllées). Eet Smakelijk!

Unwrap your gifts

When the Dutch give each other cadeautjes (presents), it is customary to unwrap the gift right after receiving it in the presence of the gift-giver. This means that you have to react to your gift spontaneously and act pleasantly surprised, which in some cases requires good acting skills.

Also very Dutch: making a wish list for your birthday and sharing it with friends and family, so that you do not get any unpleasant surprises. Also, asking for money for something you are saving up for is not uncommon. The Dutch like to know where they stand.

Are you looking forward to your first real Dutch birthday party? Start to improve your Dutch so you can impress the party guests! Taalthuis offers various Dutch languages courses to learn Dutch at different levels. Check out our course offer and find the Dutch language course that suits you best!

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