Five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays

Dutch birthdays can be a complete shock to the uninitiated, but there are few simple rules on how to deal with them.

1.If invited to a Dutch birthday party, do not expect wild dancing until dawn. It usually means sitting in a big circle of chairs, drinking coffee and eating a piece of cake. The wine might come out later. As guests arrive, they shake hands with everyone sitting down. If there is a shortage of chairs, the circle will be expanded. On no account should you attempt to form smaller groups.

2. If it is your birthday at work, you are expected to take in cake for your entire department. Your colleagues will not give you presents. They will all shake your hand or kiss you and have a polite chat. If you are not working, you will be expected to have the neighbours and your partner’s family round for coffee and cake. Don’t forget to put the chairs in a nice ring.

3. If it is your partner or child’s birthday, you must congratulate everyone else in the family. This might sound odd. It goes like this. It is your husband’s birthday. You invite his mother for coffee and cake. She says to you “Congratulations on Fred’s birthday”, you say to her: “Congratulations on your son’s birthday”. You congratulate Fred’s sister on her brother’s birthday and so on. Seriously. You do.

4. If it is your child’s birthday and they are at a Dutch primary school, you will be expected to supply a ‘traktatie’ – an edible gift for every child in the class. Some schools have strict ‘no sugar’ rules which means you have to come up with something clever with cucumber and cheese. Some schools also expect you to provide a piece of cake for all the teachers. Luckily this all stops from the age of 12, when your children will start demanding parties with smuggled beer and Bacardi breezers.

5.  If you are turning 50, beware of Abraham. The name of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, who reached the ripe old age of 175, is applied to men in the Netherlands when they reach the age of 50. Women are known as Sarah who, according to the Bible, lived until she was 127. Turn 50 at work, and you may find the company lift plastered with posters announcing that ‘Fred is Abraham’. Fiftieth birthday celebrations in the Netherlands often include songs pointing out the birthday boy or girl is old, grey and past it.

Fortunately, the more of us foreigners move in, the more the traditional Dutch birthday is being eroded.


125 thoughts on “Five rules for dealing with Dutch birthdays

    1. Martin Jasper

      Yes, I remember when we were living in Holland, very often we had unexpected visitors, and also made unexpected visits. For that reason living now in Spain it was hard for us that everything had to go through appointments.

      1. PT

        I’m Dutch and I keep on visiting my friends without appointment. However, I always tell others if they want to visit me, they should make an appointment because otherwise I’m simply never home. 😛

      2. Marloes

        I think most of the Dutch people will appreciate if you make an appointment or at least announce that you are coming 🙂

  1. Ezza

    Not sure why that last sentence was necessary… You and other foreigners may not like the Dutch way of celebrating birthdays, but as long as the Dutch are fine with it, what’s the big deal?

    1. Rob

      Well, actually a lot of my friends and family actually hate this kind of birthday party, maybe everyone I know, but people still keep doing it, because “it’s the way it is”. I’m Dutch and talking about Dutch people by the way.

      A lot of the replies on this website say that the things stated in the two articles are not true, but I find a lot of them to be actually really true. Maybe it’s like this in the Randstad and are the people in south and provinces a bit warmer due to the catholic past instead of the protestant way of living. I’ve never lived in the provinces though, so I don’t know.

    2. Asta

      That’s what I thought! Why would you be happy to erode a countries culture? Very disrespectful!
      I think it’s just good manners to welcome everyone on your party, to bring cake to your work and treats to your classmates. I thought a lot of the things were true and funny, but this last sentence just makes me angry.

    3. gerard

      i completly agree im dutch myself (ook pvv stemmer) and when i read that i thougth WHAT?!
      we are a country not some nomansland to conolise!

    4. michael roeleveld

      yes, I agree with you. It’s our culture and if you don’t want it, just simply don’t go live in Holland!

      1. Angela

        What offends you so much about it, why not explain that? Maybe someone like myself could understand better, for I can not find anything offensive about the article nor in the last sentence. Just to tell someone to leave is not very effective communication. Unless of course you just wanted to state one of the most overused statements to forigners on the planet.

      2. Ezza

        Well, Angela, can you not find the offense in ‘Fortunately, the more of us foreigners move in, the more the traditional Dutch birthday is being eroded’? Because the way I see it, that just means this piece of Dutch culture is crap and should be banished as soon as possible. I find that rather harsh for a foreigner to say. Each culture has a right to their own traditions, and despite the fact that maybe some Dutch do not like this way either, there are still many who do. So why, why would you ever want to state anything that way?

      3. Angela

        Ezza, it is called sarcasam. It is not to be taken literally. However I want to point out that not one forigner has stopped the traditions of the Dutch Birthday celebration for the population of Dutchies. I took it as, it is nice that more people move here with what the author considers much more enjoyable birhtday parties. It is birthday parties and it is weird to many. The circle of death as it is called. Even Dutch people I know do not get too excited about a traditional Dutch bday party. But to take offense as you have is simply silly. As stated most of what is written is in fun for us who are not Dutch.

      4. Nellie

        Angela, I also did not take the”five rules of Dutch Birthdays”seriously. I think it was actually meant as a bit of a joke, the same way Dutch make jokes about Belgians and vica versa. I was rather amused although the writer did not really have all his facts right, which I have written about earlier. However I was very surprised at all the indignant reactions to this item and the insults people are hurling at each other.

      5. Nellie

        Every country probably has some customs that are difficult to get used to. My motto is to try to adapt and try to understand why some things are done this way. Of course everyone’s entitled to his of her opinion but people in some of the reactions to the comments on the Dutch customs are really getting their nickers in a twist and some are giving their opinions without knowing what they are talking about. Shakespear would say: “much ado about nothing!” Anyway lots of Dutch customs are changing in these moderen times, partly due to travel experience of the Dutch themselves, to marriages between cultures and the fact that many non-Dutch families now live in Holland. That’s okay for me if it’s a gradual thing but I agree with you that we shouldn’t go about changing other countries customs unless they are harmful to people and animals.

  2. Leonie

    Wow after reading this post I don’t feel Dutch at all. Perhaps me and my friends and family have always done it wrong. The shaking hands I recognise though!

    1. Deanna

      Leonie, I am Dutch and I do NOT recognize most of it as well.
      I suspect that these are experiences from the past. And definitely not from a big city.

      1. Amiche

        Absolutely, this is sooooooo 1970’s!!!! I am always amazed at why they keep dragging oldfashioned stuff up conc. culture and tradition, for any country. Boring! Culture is a living thing. It’s like where the whole sittingroom used to be directed towards the TV screen, and now we all carry ipad/ipods/notebooks etc. and make up our own mind where to sit with them.
        Foreigners still expect us to dance on our wooden shoes??

      2. Jo-Ann

        I am only 21 and studying here in the Netherlands. These things are true. Of course not all Dutch are like that, but a lot are. As a dutch person maybe you don’t experience it that way, but foreigners do.

  3. Paul

    Rule 1 is often sabotaged if you have a foreign wife and her friends are too afraid to mingle with the other guests. Then they start talking in their own language and they separate from the rest of the people. And later they say that dutch people are so cold and unfriendly, while basically they themselves started separating. You see the difference with foreign friends who embrace the situation they are in and who try to make the best of it (we do not care about you making mistakes in dutch, so do a lot of dutch farmers or people who speak in dialect… we love that you try. We do not like it when you think all the time about your great life as part of the ‘happy few’ in your country of origin and pretend everything is better where you came from… that sounds like our retarded seniors who talk all the time about life being better in the past… we like people who make an effort to make life ‘at this time and here’ the best.)

      1. Meta Fahrenfort

        One thing I do recognise is the part about ‘Abraham’. The Dutch do not say you ‘are’ Abraham (Sarah) though, they say you ‘have seen’ Abraham when a person turns fifty. Your birthdaycake that year may well be decorated as/with a representation of Abraham in sugar, beard and all.

    1. Fenna

      And that’s so treu!! We are Dutch and have lived in many different countries. Now we live in Texas, USA, and we love it but……there’s always a BUT!!!! It is so hard to make friends in the States because they are so distance and fake. There are some exceptions off course, and i realize that living in Texas is not an average American way of living but still! They say ” just come and visit if you want” ! But if you do that, well, that’s not what they ment and certainly not what they expected!!! Everywhere there are good and bad things. To bad that Americans only think that their country is the most modern, richest and best country on earth because it isn’t!! If someone doesn’t like the way Dutch celebrate birthdays then it’s their own problem and by the way, we don’t celebrate like that at all, except for the handshakes, but that’s only politeness!!

      1. Paul

        I did not even mean the USA, as I have no experience with them in my circle of friends in the Netherlands. I meant people from countries suchs as Peru or Ecuador. Countries that are not seen as the most developed countries in the world (even though they disagree with that) and the friends belonged to the ‘happy few’ of their country (the ‘rich’ and not the ‘average not so rich’), they hooked up with an ‘average’ dutch person and now complain about everything in the Netherlands and basically live their life they had in their own country, just situated here (like a Turk or Moroccan who does not want to integrate… so: listen only to music in their own language, only watch television from their own country and only follow the news from their own country). And when you are used to hospitals that pretend to be hotels and service costs almost nothing, you tend to complain the whole time. And that is quite irritating. Some people should get a reality check!

      2. Nadia

        “To bad that Americans only think that their country is the most modern, richest and best country on earth because it isn’t!! If someone doesn’t like the way Dutch celebrate birthdays then it’s their own problem and by the way, we don’t celebrate like that at all, except for the handshakes, but that’s only politeness!!”

        I am an American and I completely agree! Finally someone said it!

      3. Destinee Reines

        That’s just heehaw Texas. Go to NYC or NJ they’ll be right up front with you and tell you go you-know-what yourself and they mean it. Lol

  4. Henk Brasschaat

    The circle is the most terrible party ever. I’m Dutch… and as soon as the party starts growing then you better have a small home(student room). Then someone has to sit on the bed and others have to sit on the floor. It’s also very handy to have separate birthdays for friends and family if you have not arranged for a giant party hall, like a wedding or something. 🙂

  5. Thys

    Some of these are up for debate though. The whole ‘congratulating family members with family members’ thing is also often met with a response like “it’s not my birthday, I don’t care, but sure, thanks”. The circle thing is kind of true, but usually only for like the first hour or so, until it starts breaking up.

  6. naisl

    OMG I have been complaining to my partner about the way his family celebrates bdays thinking this was just his family..I should apologise immediately and embrace the tradition..the sitting around the big ring of chairs..will be difficult to embrace that. Helpful article!

  7. rmo

    Really, i’m dutch and I really really really HATE circle birthday’s. Those BD are so boring. In my family and friendgroup nobody has a circlebirthday, we only have high tables so you can stand. Also nobody goes around with drinks or foot. It’s on a big table or in the kitchen so everybody is walking around and talking with everybody.
    The birthdayparties I attend normaly take until 4 o’clock in de morning or sometimes even later.

    1. frank de graaf

      yes, birthdays in Holland can be boring, always the same people, especially in the North. But it is changing by the web and more volatile relation, and the religious divides erode a bit. The houses and gardens, if any, are small, and the weather often very instable, so people are kept inside. Give me advise how to invite my friends when I reach 65 in october, nasty weather and a small house, and it gets extremely expensive when partying elsewhere.

      1. Nellie

        Frank, I held an English Tea Party for my husband’s 65th birthday. Trays of scones, sandwiches, biscuits, small cakes, pieces of quiche (hartige taart) and lots of koffie or thee or orange juice. Of course also a beer or glass of wine for those who preferred that. Everything is put on a table against the wall and people have to help themselves with small plate and forks cups etc ready on the side of the table. It was a great succes and other people said they would do something similar. Another idea is to have lots of cold salads and tapas ready on a table with some baguettes (stokbrood) and herb butter and various drinks that people have to take themselves. This keeps people moving around as well. We often do things like that if it’s a special birthday.

    1. Shirl de Knegt

      Yes, I’m with you Liesbeth. What is it about foreigners wanting to change someone else’s culture.

  8. msmeisje

    Wow! Recognize the birthday party from my sisters’! She doesn’t like it when people at her party form smaller groups, cause then she can’t follow all conversation 😉
    And just talked about the congratulating of everyone when at a birthday with my uncle, whose family in law found this very weird.

    Luckily for me, my parents were never like that, and I married in a different culture, which helps also.

    Don’t like all the kissing either…

    Loved this list!

    1. Alexandra

      I’m afraid it’s not 1945 at all.
      Living in the Netherlands for more than 20 years now, starting as a student and continuing in the Randstad – and I must say, every single point is very recognizable. Student parties are different mostly and of course there are exceptions, but these are in general the rules you are supposed to know, even or especially if you decide to do it differently.

  9. hellendecloe

    I’m Dutch, but we ‘ve never celebrate our birthdays in a circle with coffee and cake. It’ s like rmo discribes.
    Nice food on a large table , drinks to get for everyone, high tables too lean on and everybody is walking, talking and can take everything he/she likes to eat or drink, nice music and dance if you like too do so.

  10. Julia

    That ‘congratulate everyone thing’ is so true. I was my father’s birthday a few weeks ago. I seriously catched myself on congratulating a friend of my father with my father’s birthday. Ok. Then even I thought it was weird, but yeah, I was congratulating everyone in the circle (a half moon garden circle for a change).

  11. Jacoba Schouten

    When I grew up in a rural area in the Netherlands the birtday parties were excactly as been describet. My mother counted before the birtdayparty started all the people who she eexpect to come. She has ten brothers and sisters and my father nine. And they came with partners. You can imagine: a big circle had to be made! My father had to get the extra chairs from the attach, always the exact ammount of chairs ofthe people my mother excpected. And while my mother was in the kitchen preparing the drinks and food, my father made ‘THE CIRCLE’. When the guests arrived they did shook hands with everyone as described. And than they sit down in the circle. From that time, they stayed at this place.Nobody changed chairs (or maybe one funny aunt or uncle, but it was not common). In the middle of the circle were tables for the drinks etc. When I was really young there were also glasses with cigarettes on the tables. Me and my two sisters walked around the circle to ask what people wanted to drink: coffee or thea. And after the coffee and cake (party started at 20:00 0 clock in the evening, thats the offical coffee time in the evening, so all guests arrive between 20:00 and 21:00. After 21:00 no coffee anymore, only juice, beer and wine. We served the other drinks. I was born in 1976 and my parents still do it this way. I think the meaning of the circle is to include everybody. Also the ‘not’so populair people were part of the group. Now I have my own house, child birthdays etc. And indeed, when my daughter is having her birthday and although there are chairs everywhere in the space as soon as the family arrives the make a circle!! The parents of my husband do it exactly the same as my parents. And every year I come, I know already which place everybody has in the CIRCLE. In his family the people sit on the same chair every year!! Brilliant!! And yes, we all shake hands to congratulate the other with “congratulations with your husbands father!’ Yes you to, with your brother in law’. Etc. So you also have to remeber how everybody is related. Last note: lot of people will recognize this: On sunday we and my big family visited my grandmothers. And than there were always two circles: One four children and one four adults.

  12. Martijn

    If you try to write down rules that supposedly pertain to all Dutch, then obviously very few people will agree on everything, as there are different habits in different regions, in different social circles, in different families and then of course people all have their individual preferences too.
    E.g., the one-cookie myth: Kenneth here above said to recognise it, but me – being Dutch and havind lived in the NL for most of my life until now – do not recognize that at all. (Eating cookies is rather the common factor among Dutch than only offering one to a guest.)

    If I think it over, I would hypothesize that ‘don’ts’ are generally more compelling than ‘dos’ (I mean, not only among Dutch, but in any culture).
    Take the example of the one cookie again: there is no rule that forbids to offer only 1 cookie. In many cultures there is some kind of obligation to check if a visitor has had enough to eat and to offer plenty when such isn’t the case (and for people that do not have a lot of money that would mean plenty of something simple, but that would always be better than too little of something maybe more delicious, but more expensive). In the Netherlands – as far as I can say – there is nowadays nowhere such a rule (anyway, the country is small and starvation non-existent, so no visitor would need to be fed per se, as anyone could go home when in need of a meal that is not being offered).
    In other words: one cookie, or in general a small amount of food, may be a very compelling ‘don’t’ in a lot of cultures, it is not in the Netherlands, but that doesn’t mean that there is a rule that prescribes to offer only a small amount of something.
    I have never had people that I was close to that would offer only 1 cookie when cookies would be eaten, but it would be perfectly ok to me if some elderly woman offered me besides a cup of coffee only 1 cookie (my stereotype idea of someone who would offer only 1 cookie is somewhat older, religious, orderly, etc 🙂 ).
    I imagine, though, that some people from especially some parts in Africa or Central Asia, would be in particular amazed or even insulted if someone would not offer enough to what their own culture would prescribe. Or, in other words again: the one-cookie myth may say more about the ‘don’t’ in many other cultures (that prescribe a form of generosity) than that is says something about Dutch people or ‘the Dutch’.

    Everyone has his or her own preferences and personal habits as to how to create a good atmosphere with friends or on a birthday.
    The circle BD phenomenon is interesting. Some people do that, some people don’t, some people do that sometimes and sometimes not, but very true that it would in general be a don’t to split of as a group. That is, it would be a don’t to turn your back to other people. But then there are exceptions still (talking in the kitchen, the host initiates a change to the party, moving outside in good weather) and even if the circle stays intact, you can always switch chairs with someone if you want to have a chat with someone that is a bit far away.

    Then I wanted to say something about hugging and kissing still: personally I also find it rude if someone tresspasses on someone else’s apparent discomfort with hugging or kissing. Of course, you often make mistakes of judgement in this sort of situation, but I think it is only decent to use your antennae and try to figure out in the split-second that you are given if someone that you are about to hug or kiss on the cheeks is comfortable with that.

    1. Pail

      The one cookie might not be accurate… but it starts from the fact that a lot of people serve those cookies through a box. And when everybody has had a cookie: they close the box. And most guests do not dare to take another cookie. And a lot of the stereotype hosts you mentioned in your post might not be so hungry (for sure they already ate the best cookies before you arrived), so they might not even think of offering another one.

      It is not a general rule that a guest can score only 1 cookie per party. But it is so easy to remember that one party of the few parties where indeed there is only one cookie… and then it is even easier to generalize that as being dutch. Like I could generalize that in a foreign country you get so much food at a party… but that neither goes for every party. I am also very used with the younger generation (under 50s) that, especially with bigger parties where the hosts can not be everywhere, that the food and drinking is at a certain place and you need to urge the people to self cater (as not everybody will do that by itself in order to stay polite). But at a certain moment, that works the best.

    2. Anglea

      Well to my non Dutch eyes ýour response reads typical Dutch. Esp. when you referred to third world countries and possibley offering more than one cookie. I find calvinism left a big impact on Dutch culture today. From the one cookie to not having a warm meal before dinner. It is just pratical if you are not starving that one should only need one cookie! 🙂 Wink
      The fact is in other cultures including mine, food is always offered and abundantly. In fact I grew up with the rule that when having guest it is better to have too much than too little.
      You always offer something to anyone who walks in your door and if you have cookies you leave a plate, bowl, or tin that is fully accessable and full. You offer you best food even if you do not have much.
      Different does not mean right or wrong it is just different. That is what culture is all about. Of course to generlize is what we are doing however it is the general idea of the way things are.
      Why argue what is not in general?
      The truth is I lived her for the past 7 years and the circle is very much alive and well. In fact the circle is a Dutch culture thing, even in the classroom you got the kring. I think you said it well, it is a polite thing for the Dutch to do, not anyone is left out and you can all look eachother in the eye.
      The circle at the party well it is a bit uncomfortable for me, and a bit of a bore. I am not sure why I have to sit next to so and so and if the circle is too big I can not talk to anyone else but whom I am next too. I am stuck there and I might be gettng a bit bored after a few moments of polite conversation. I like to mingle and that is my culture.

      1. Nellie

        I agree with you Anglea that the one cookie aspect is probably related to the Calvanist past. Also in the past one did not eat between meals as is the case nowadays when people eat at all times and snack a lot.A few years ago I went to visit someone from Serbia who now lives in Holland. It was just an ordinary visit and I was quite embarassed at the trouble they had taken and the amount of food that was put on the koffie table between us. It was a little too much if you know what I mean. I enjoyed the food but would have felt less uncomfortable if they had only done coffee and cake and later on drinks with a few nibbles.But it is apparently the custom in their country of origin to do so.

  13. Liz

    If the dutch way for celbrating a bithday is oldfashioned, why not invite us to your party to teach us how we should celebrate? If there’s a better way, i’m willing to learn!

    1. Frits

      Right… and instead of complaining: be happy you’re even invited to a party. You could also be ignored and not be invited.

      1. Jo-Ann

        OW and the toilet.
        Many dutch people don’t wash their hands after toilet use, so I do not shake hands. I just use the “shoulder touch”

        Still when they offer you a cookie, they don’t let you take it yourself from the cookie box, but take it for you.

        Still I love the dutch and the Netherlands 🙂

  14. Anouk

    Somebody said in the comments that it might be a ‘randstad’-thing, but coming from Brabant, I definitely recognize all these points as well 😉 (except for the one-cookie-rule though, but that’s technically from another post :P). There’s just one thing I’m wondering about: what kind of songs are those, we supposedly sing when someone turns 50?

  15. Jo-Ann

    I have a few more:

    If a dutch person says: I’ll be celebrating my birthday in Restaurant A, make sure to take enough money with you, because they celebrate their birthday, so get 1 free meal from the reataurant, everyone else has to pay the average of all the meals and drinks. So if you had only a salad, and someone at the same table had lobster, you will pay more than you ate. Still they expect gifts!

    When a dutch person invites you over, always bring something with you, or make sure you invite them shortly after. Because it is always 50:50!

    Dutch people visit unexpectedly around dinner time, but when you are at their place around dinner time they will politely tell you to leave, because they didn’t expect to cook for more people.

    Dutch people never have more than enough food. If they invite 10 people, everything is based on the 10 people. Not like us foreigners. We love food, so we even have doggy bags at the end of the party.

    When you go to a dutch party, do not expect to dance. The average dutch person just drinks until drunk. Dancing is only normal in latin scenes. Also when you invite them, the first thing they look for is beer. And 1 person can drink about 10 bottles of beer.

    1. Paul

      Not exactly right. I have yet to meet the first dutch person who takes a cookie out of the box to give it to you. I guess I have to meet your family in law…

      The restautant celebration and paying for it yourself is not with every party. I guess only when you get a non written invitation. But when you get an invitation with the famous enveloppe-picture, you will not have to pay for your food or drinking (and do not surprise them with anything else as a present besides an enveloppe… and they mean enveloppe with money insice, not just a very nice looking enveloppe… because they are not enveloppe collectors, they collect what’s inside!)

      Out of topic… being dutch I really dislike the going out everybody and then splitting the bill. It is not a lobster thing… But yes, I would order the filet mignon, because I do not drink wine or other alcoholic beverages (that is what gets the most expensive on the bill: alcohol… not the lobster!).

      It is true that in a dutch birthday party people do not stand up and dance. And that is a good thing I have to say. I do not mind people dancing at a latin party, it’s part of that party. But sometimes I wonder when I visit a latin person who does not want to integrate and only listens to Spanish music, watches TV from their own country (they know what happened today in their capital of origin, but have no clue what happens in the Netherlands) and everything is better in their own country (especially their hosipitals where the Ventouse or Forceps delivery seems to be ‘normal’ and Caesarean sections are done on schedule, so the doctor can make as much money as possible in one day… all good reasons for those latin women to have a delivery in their country of origin… duh! But that might be a subject for another blog – even though birthdays start with deliveries).

      Oh yeah… with so called Sjonnie & Anita parties it seems indeed true that people just look for the free beer to get drunk. But then again: when you are surrounded by Sjonnies who only wear jeans and t-shirt (even when they finished high school and are either employed or unemployed), you should not be that critical. Holland has a lot of subgroups and it seems that whenever and wherever you have your experience, you might want to stigmatize it to the whole population (same goes with my observations about latinas, the ones that want to integrate, learn the language and make the best of it… they have my support. But not the ones that only think about their great life in their country of origin where they belonged to the happy few and can not see it has flaws too).

    2. Dries

      @ Jo-Ann,
      Obviously you don’t really know what you are talking about. I am a 100% Dutch guy and lived in Holland all my life and now live in China since the last 7 years. By living abroad for so long now I have made myself very familiar with many other cultures from around the world as most of my friends in China are people from different countries around the world (From Chinese to French to people from the U.S. etc., etc.).
      I have lived in the south of the Netherlands most of my life but also spent some years in the Randstad.
      Regarding your first point of bringing your own money to a restaurant and getting 1 free meal is something I have never ever experienced and I have not even heard of it. Normally we do split the full price between all attendants if we go out drinking or eating and the people who only ate a salad and some water most of the time don’t complain that they have to pay the same amount as the other people. However if they don’t want to do that it is fine but they have to speak up to say so. If you don’t have the balls for that, well then that’s your problem I guess. Most people don’t even go to a restaurant in to celebrate their birthday so you must have had a pretty unique experience if I look at your story but don’t pretend you are some professor of Dutch culture as it is not a common thing to celebrate your birthday in a restaurant.
      The 50/50 rule is common among friends but in no way on a date unless you date a big “el cheapo”. Also it is very common to make a drinking “pot” where everybody puts in money and everyone’s drinks are paid from that money. Another way I often see is that you take turns in getting drinks for each other. Sometimes you pay one round more than someone else but the other week maybe one next. I see this everywhere around the world with many different nationalities and in my opinion it is perfectly normal. Expecting free drinks all evening without giving any is simply unrealistic everywhere in the world, so grow up if that is what you expect.
      Regarding the “visits during dinner time” you couldn’t be further from the truth when you say Dutch people always just cook enough and ask you to leave when this happens. Particularly in the south of Holland it is very common that people drop by unannounced (even during dinner) and most of the times they are allowed to eat along if they didn’t have dinner yet. EVEN if there is just enough then people will just share the food with one extra person and will just eat a bit more of the dessert. I can imagine that this happens more in the south than in the Randstad for example as people in the south are generally a bit more warm hearted but what you state that it is like that in the whole of the Netherlands is really not based on the right facts!
      I don’t know where you are from or what you do in parties where you are from but on any party I have ever been, whether it’s a party from someone from the U.S., France, Germany, U.K., Australia or Holland, people start drinking beers and wine so if that’s not normal for you I guess you haven’t seen too much of the world yet.

      Every country has their own traditions (some good, some bad) and I know some can be annoying for foreigners or even for us Dutchies but it’s not up to you to change another countries cultures or traditions. The only thing you can do is either adapt and accept them or leave if you don’t like them. Living in China (a country with 5000 year of history and one of the oldest culture in the world) for 7 years I have experienced many difficult and annoying habits / traditions of Chinese people but who am I to come there and say it is wrong or stupid what they do? Why is it that YOUR values and cultures are so good or superior over an other one’s nation/county? You have to adapt and learn to respect other people’s cultures, traditions and habits and even if you think some things are stupid you need to learn to ask yourself the question: “Why is my country’s culture or way better than this? Who am I to judge between better or worse?”
      If you can do that you can live happily in any country in the world and will see that people respect you far more than when you judge everything based on your home country’s values and traditions.


      1. Fenna

        i completely agree with you Dries!! I think people who think all the opposite are totaly wrong and have now clue what so ever about the Netherlands and the Dutch way of living!!!!!! I lived in many countries, and live the USA right now so i think i have a right of speak to say that they are wrong about almost everything!!

    3. gisela

      fully Agreed ,,..I am indonesian and married with dutch man, we live in Indonesia, many times we are struggle with it, as part of my fimily cant accept his “DUTCH RULES”

    4. Fenna

      that’s why, and i think you are an American, are all so FAT!!!!!! You eat to much!! I f you have friends like that you have the wrong friends!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Maarten

    This is all 100% accurate, I didn’t know this was dutch-specific though, haha! What are birthdays like in other countries?

  17. Geert

    haha this is so true but you should try being born into a dutch family on the same day as an older sibling lol, you don’t get your own circle and lucky if anyone recognizes your birthday other than your siblings

  18. Frank

    As a foreigner who lived in the Netherlands for 24 years i can tell you, most of it is NOT true. Maybe it applies to a older generation but in this day and age, especially in thé “Randstand” all this is an urban myth.

  19. Kasper

    I recognize a lot of things, we (me Dutchy and Argentinian wife) had a good laugh. This list is perfectly true, however the younger generation (like my friends in the 30’s) don’t make the circle that often (although now I’m thinking, I still see it in some friends houses). However I enjoy each type of birthday.

  20. bonneuse

    Ha! My experience exactly :). I’m German, and my Dutch ex-boyfriend and I got into a huge fight one day because I didn’t congratulate him on his son’s birthday. It took us a while to figure out why he was angry and why I didn’t get it. Turned out he was deeply convinced that this is the way it’s done everywhere, and I had a hard time persuading him that he was actually wrong (and he grew up in the US, mind you, lives in the Amsterdam area and is in his 40s, so theoretically he could know better). And yes, I’ve also done my fair share of sitting in circles.

  21. Norbert Happé

    I never realised it was so weird congratulating each other with somebody elses birthday, until I was at a birthday of a Dutch friend who lives in Switserland. Her parents congratulated her Swiss friends with her birthday and they were stunned. We had to explain it to them and it was a big laugh.

  22. Dmitrijs Graņicins

    To post author: in my opinion the last sentence in the article isn’t sounding nice. Like “Good God their native BD traditions are being thrown away and forgotten”. Sounds a bit Nazi to me, if you pardon my rudeness.

    1. Paul

      Of course, born on the 23rd july 1993… you must have dealt with a lot of nazi people during the 2nd WW. Now ‘give that pipe to Maarten’ and translate the word ‘kakker’ into Latvian.

  23. Pingback: Birthdays on the Brain.. and Turning 40 (someday) - The Three Under

  24. Colinda van Liere

    I’m dutch and living in Norway now for 2 years. In the region where we live, live also other dutch people. Some of them come to our birthdayparties and we celebrate that just like in the artikel: in a circle, with coffee and cake and later in the evening chips, nuts, beer and wine. And we’re not only shaken hands, but also kiss each other 3 times on the cheek 🙂

  25. Pingback: De flessenlikker en verjaardagstradities | Marmite's Blog

  26. Anglea

    Well I have accepted the circle of death…but when I throw parties… all my Dutch friends love them. There is no circles really except maybe one in the back yard and well that is fine by me. I make sure the seating is all over the place no circle and no room to form a circle. This is higly effective. We have kids running around, music and if you want some booze it is there but I like the fact my Dutchies do not find a birthday an excuse for getting silly stupid drunk. I love the fact that you congratulate the family on birthdays I think it is really a nice tradtion.

  27. ellis

    haha this is kinda true for me.
    Except i’m 16 and I give partys at night with wine and beer so…
    But my parents give these kind of party’s. I’m not going to dance or drink with my grandma and aunts thank you very much. Just with friends. We only do the circle when old people are around. Young people never have to sit in the circle.

  28. loonyandrea

    I always think it´s so weird that people state that Dutch people are cheap, we do things 50:50 etc. I am Dutch myself, but have lived in 5 different countries and have only recently moved back to the Netherlands. 1 of the things I realise is a lot different from other countries is, when you go to a birthday you usually bring a gift and the host provides food and drinks for everyone. Not like in other countries where everyone shows up with their own booze, trashes your kitchen and you can’t even get a card, allthough you have been so generous as to invite everyone to your home.
    When you are invited to a restautrant in an unofficial way, it is strange that you expect that people pay for your entire meal, unless you have very rich friends? But it says more about you being cheap, then the person inviting you. My experience is, as stated before when it is an official invite, complete with card etc. you usually expect free dinner and drinks, if it is a casual invite, it is not, but then you are also free to decline and arrive later.
    A lot of the things described in the article are very old fashioned and yes, off course there are people that still do it that way, like my grandmother. But you can also look at tit from this way: Dutch parties are not about the drinking or eating, they are about making an evening accessible for everyone to socialize with each other, unlike a lot of other binging countries where it’s all about stuffing yourself with food or getting pissed and having meaningless rants with one another.
    Also: every culture has their own traditions and they are not right or wrong, they are simply their traditions. So, I really do NOT understand why some people here think it is necesarry to insult us, or think they have the right to feel superior. Simply stated; if you have a problem with someones culture, then stay out of it, don’t try and change it. There is no better culture, simply one where you personally feel more comfortable or less.
    And for some of those moody Americans: don’t you dare judge our culture as your country is so clearly without any form of culture at all.

    1. Anglea

      You are so defensive it is hard to get past it and see your point. The article is not bashing anyone but you certainly are doing a good job.

      1. Ellen

        Well – you could say the article isn’t bashing anyone, but the final sentence definitely isn’t very friendly.

      1. Anglea

        The article in discussion is not about me and if I am sweet or not and I do not feel I made any not so nice comments really. So yes I think I am rather sweet most times :). But… It is about Dutch culture. I do not see how it bashes anyone. My opinon yes and her opion differes fine. But and a big but, how can I relate to her point of view? I would like to at least be open to it. It was hard to do as I stated, I do not feel her post made a good point because she definately bashed many countries with very direct negitive ideas. The picture I was painted was really offensive. The point being their are other cultures who are crappier than mine does not address why she felt it was negitive and offensive to her culture or Dutch culture if you will. In my opinion I think it would be nice to say how it offends and why. This way we (non Dutch) can learn more about the culture.

  29. Pingback: Christmas Expat Style in the Netherlands - The Three Under

  30. Kloas Nienduur

    Sure there are a lot things that are recognisable in what you wrote for the Dutch. But let me state that Dutch, as all people whereever, are the products of their upbringing, their intelligence and the environment. I, for instance, learned a lot of different cultures through my parents. They invited a lot of foreigners to have a coffee, a drink, or to spend an evening at our place, when I was young. Later I became friends with a lot of foreigners, here in Holland, and learned a lot of their cultures. Some of them were surprised by what they saw here, and told how the ‘rules’ are in their countries. Most of the Dutch are open-minded outgoing people. If not, you got the wrong ones….

  31. Jasmijn

    I am a 27 year old Dutch girl. The circle thing is so old-fashioned. Every birthday party I go to, never a circle with chairs. People mingle, it’s much better than ‘the circle’.

    1. David

      It depends who’s birthday it is. Not all Dutch birthdays is a boring circle of people. All this is exaggerated in my opinion.

  32. Eline

    I’m dutch and it’s really fun to read!
    But your child is giving “partijtjes” till 13 and they don’t drink alcohol at all!!!
    Having parties and drinking alcohol starts at 15th.
    And if you become 25 you are a half sarah or Abraham and you wil get the half of sarah or abraham (only his legs and feet)

  33. Erika

    For the ones that do not recognize those habits, where are you living? I live in Rotterdam for 14 years and all mentioned things are a common practice. I do not find it wrong, excepting for the boring parties and the traktaties, have to wake up earlier to prepare them :/

  34. David

    I’m Dutch but only A few things are true, but most of it is exaggerated. Why do you want to create an false image of Netherlands and the people living here??

    1. Anglea

      Sorry but in general it is true not false. Is it generalized for a reason… Lived here for almost a decade and I recognize it all. Maybe the Dutch do not recognize it because it is normal to them. So be it, you all just do not party like rock stars 🙂 wink

  35. Todd

    Nice post 🙂 My friend just sent me the link. I have been living here for 14 years (Amsterdam mostly and the last 4 years in Groningen) and I do recognize some of the things you mentioned; I had a chuckle actually. I can’t comment on points 3 and 4 since I don’t have kids. I have seen signs and pictures posted for 50th birthday celebrations, but no direct experience. Point two is true. Though I wouldn’t say people expect you to bring in pie (apple pie almost always in my experience, yet everyone calls it cake ;)), but rather most people at the University where I work do and I do too :). I think it is a refreshing twist; I am tired of my American friends/family always expecting something (a gift from a shop to be exact) on their birthdays; it is a bit superficial at times. Point one, I do recognize but mostly at ‘family’ parties. I have been to dozens of 20-30 something birthday parties and they usually start in the evening/night and the beer and wine is out from the start (food too). Though there might initially be a ‘circle of chairs’ in a large group, this rarely lasts as the night goes on as smaller groups form (e.g. people go out for a smoke and have a chat). To be honest, the parties I have been to in the US in this sense are not that much different.

    What we should be talking about (;-)) is Dutch drivers inability to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks (literally, if they see you approaching the crosswalk often, in my experience, they will speed up to get by first); their rush to get on the trains (which makes getting off them that much more fun ;)); and when a new line opens in a supermarket the fact that you were there waiting first seems to make no difference as they rush to the opening register. Anyhow, just my experiences (I have no empirical research to support my claims), but fun to talk about nonetheless. So thanks for the post!

    1. Nellie

      I agree with you Todd about the cars and the queues at supermarkets. I am Dutch myself but not blind to our faults. However this is not a matter of custom but just how people have become. Also this is a very small country and traffic is becoming a big problem. When we were in England years ago I was pleasantly surprised that the drivers were so polite on the roads, but maybe it depends on where you are and maybe it is not the same now.

      1. Dutchbro4life

        Bro them cucumbers are the only reason I throw parties. Without them there ain’t no way to turn up, you know? Get what im saying?dont even get me started on the cheese platters mmmmm #dutch4life

  36. ik

    Number 4 is so not treu! I am 15 and i never drink! Nobody I know drinks… I just wait until I am 18!

  37. Nellie

    I am Dutch but lived in Australia from my 4th until my 16th. I thought the above artikel on Dutch habits was very amusing although not completely correct. I had a hard time getting used to congratulating everyone in the room if just one person had a birthday. Still forget sometimes. The story about “one cookie” is probably a link with the past. Biscuits used to be quite a luxury and if you invited someone for coffee you would offer them the biscuit tin and they would politely take one biscuit and the tin would be put away. Nowadays the younger generation will often put a plate of biscuits on the table and at Christmas time or on St Nicholas Dat there will be various plates of goodies (cakes, chocolates and sweets) on the table for everyone to take as much as they want. (Not really a good thing actually as I disapprove of too much sugar!).There also used to be strict times for taking koffie or tea and still are in a lot of homes of people my parent’s age.
    For instance koffie at 10.30 in the morning. If you happen to arrive at 11.00 o’clock uninvited you will not be offered koffie. The same for tea in the afternoon. I believe the right time is 3.00 o’clock.
    There were also rules about which day was washing day (mondays) and what to eat on which days ( never eat red cabbage on Mondays, and Wednesday was “meat-ball day”). I can’t imagine why.Maybe minced meat was cheaper on Wednesdays,However much has changed now. Many of my generation (I’m 63) have jobs outside the home and we have experience with other cultures and are influenced by them. So we no longer abide by all the rules. In our home we still have the birthday circle but we all enjoy it as it enables us all to hear everyone’s news, to interrupt each other and generally create a real hen house. Those who find it a bit too busy can go outside for a smoke or escape to the kitchen for a chat with another escapee. Sometimes if it is a special birthday ( een kroonjaar ) which is if you are 10, 20, 30 etc. people will sometimes have a buffet so that you get up to take your food and thereby walk around a bit and talk to various people in small groups, or a barbecue if the weather is fine.
    I think the part someone mentioned about paying your own food in the restaurant is not when you have been invited but when you agree as a group to go out to dinner. Then you either pay with the group or pay your own. I once did not have much money when going out with the group and I arranged beforehand to pay for my own food so I could buy the cheapest food and everyone was okay with that. They even offered to pay some for me so I could have more expensive food but I didn’t want that.
    What you probably mean is what happens on a “hen night” or “stag night”when the ladies and gents have their parties before the wedding. Then the people invited all pay a part of the expenses of the bride or groom. This could be a dinner, a film night or whatever. The important thing is to choose something you think the bride or groom will enjoy.
    Nowadays it is also usual for both girls and boys to pay part of the bill on a date as the girl also usually has a job as well so why should the boy always foot the bill. For early dates it might be romantic for the boy to pay but this could get really expensive if you have bad luck with girlfriends and they skip off after a few dinners!

    I don’t remember all the items in the article so have no more comments. However I am surprised and alarmed at the insults people are sending to each other. Just have a little laugh and “tut tut”
    and try to explain if you think someone has got it wrong but please…. keep it cool.

  38. RMGroen

    @Fenna – You seem to have quite a bit of disdain for Americans even though you live in Texas USA. My wife and I are Dutch and have lived in +10 countries and have lived in the US for the past 12. I work in the oil and gas industry for a Dutch company with offices in Houston. My wife works in the finance field. We are both very happy and have great friends from all parts of the world who are positive, fun and non-judgmental.

    What I have noticed is that most Dutchmen have an easier time moving to the US and making friends in the US than most Dutch women, especially if the woman stays at home or does not have a professional career. If the Dutch woman was a chronic complainer in NL, then they will be 100x worse in the US, especially in Texas. From all of your post you only complain, complain, complain. You exaggerate like saying ALL Americans are this or that or fat. This is just not true. There are many fit Americans, and there are many overweight Americans too. But if you travel to NL you will also see a growing number of overweight people.

    There is no sense in arguing and fighting over general statements contained in the article. Even though we may be Dutch, it does not mean our families carried through with Dutch traditions in exactly the same way. People are writing about what they recognise about the Dutch culture and how their families celebrated birthdays. I have experienced most of what is in the article, but that does not mean the rest is wrong just because “I” didn’t experience it, now does it?? If I said it was wrong based on my own personal experiences would be stubborn and wooden-headed 🙂
    Have a good and positive day!!


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