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How to throw a Dutch birthday party

Date:12 November 2019

Gefeliciteerd! It’s your birthday. Seeing as you are living in the Netherlands, it’s time to throw a Dutch birthday party. 

1) You must throw your own party and arrange it all yourself 

While in other countries your friends might throw you a surprise party or take you out to dinner, in the Netherlands, you must arrange it yourself or else it won’t happen. My friends and I have agreed that we will only give each other gifts to someone if they arrange a party (very, very direct Dutch mentality). You have to choose a date, location and provide the cake. Most people celebrate their birthdays in the comfort of their home, inviting everyone over for cake at a specific set time. If you aren’t keen on having all of your friends over at the same time (if your student room is too small), you can also send an open invitation, meaning people can come by when they like throughout the day to come to eat cake and wish you a happy birthday. 

2) Everyone must congratulate everyone in the room

It is common courtesy that everyone, and I mean everyone, congratulates everyone else who is present at the birthday gathering. Coming in and simply saying hello after giving the birthday boy/girl a hug is unacceptable. You are all gathered there to celebrate your mutual friend, thus you all have something to celebrate. 

An appropriate greeting will go like this (let's say the birthday boy’s name is Asmo): 

Person 1: Hello! Congratulations with Asmo’s birthday!

Person 2: Congratulations to you too with Asmo! 

It is also common to greet everyone with 3 kisses on the cheek or a handshake. While this isn’t as common in student culture, if you’re ever invited to an adult Dutch birthday party, expect three kisses on the cheek if you know the person, or a handshake if you don’t know them. Not greeting people is rude, even if you’ve never seen them before. 

3) Everyone sits in a circle and you offer them coffee and cake 

Once your guests begin to arrive, arrange all possible seating options in your room in a circle. This makes your birthday all-inclusive, so that everyone can talk to each other. Having small groups talk amongst themselves is less gezellig. As your guests begin to take their seats, offer them coffee and cake so that they can sit on their chair awkwardly as they try to eat their cake and drink their coffee at the same time so that they don’t have to hold it any longer. If you baked the cake yourself, don’t forget to mention this at least a few times, it will result in a couple of compliments. Make sure to have a dishcloth close, because rest assured, someone will accidentally kick over a cup of coffee that someone else has set on the floor. 

Once everyone has finished their coffee and cake, bring out some borrelnootjes (a peanut that is covered in a hard, spicy shell) to show that it’s a real party. 

4) Presents must be opened immediately. It is not acceptable to open the presents once everyone else has left. 

Upon being invited to a party, it is socially accepted to bring a gift, as the host will be supplying cake, coffee and borrelnootjes. As a host, once someone gives you a gift, you should open it directly. Saying that you’ll open it later is rude towards the person who has gotten you this gift. So you must sit in your birthday circle and open your gift as all your friends anxiously watch to see what the present will be. 

5) Acknowledge that your social life will revolve around birthday parties 

You might have noticed a birthday calendar hanging in the bathroom, where all the birthdays of people you know are written. Get yourself a birthday calendar and hang it in your bathroom. This is a thing. Look at it while you pee so that you remember when everyone’s birthday is. Realize that your Dutch social life revolves around birthday parties. Now that you’ve thrown your birthday party, make sure your friends also throw one so that you can eat cake and borrelnootjes while sitting in a circle. 

Of course, everyone likes to celebrate their birthday differently and this is very generalized, but if you follow these steps, you’ll fit right in with all the Dutchies. 

About the author

Hey! I’m Danique, a Dutch/American studying International Relations and International Organizations with a mild obsession with coffee, cats, and rowing. If you can’t find me, look for the girl (almost always) wearing pink and writing blogs.


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