Happy Birthday to Me!

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  ,
Saturday, March 27, 2004

Hi everybody,
My birthday was Friday, so I thought I'd share some Dutch traditions surrounding birthdays.

It is expected that on your birthday you will bring a birthday tart (verjaardagtaart) or another treat to work to share with your co-workers. Birthday cakes as we know them in America are not common here. Normally a fruit tart-like thing called vlaai is brought in. I thought it would be nice to bring a traditional American chocolate layer cake. I had to buy the cake mix while in Chicago at the beginning of the month. Although cake mixes can be found in the cooking section of the American Book Store (and probably at other expat stores), they are not readily available in the normal grocery stores. Normally people don't make their treats; they purchase them. So, my colleagues were really impressed to learn that I had made the cake. Little do they know how easy it is!

Many people in my office take Fridays off, so I decided to bring the cake on Thursday so that more people could enjoy it. Following the example from birthdays of others, I sent an email to the department letting them know my birthday was the following day and inviting them to join me for cake after lunch. Although I had noticed that other treats had been offered at 11:00 I thought that right before lunch seemed like a strange time for sweets. Several people asked why I was offering cake right after they had all eaten. After lunch, to me, feels like dessert time and makes more sense than spoiling your appetite by having it before lunch. It was later explained that the Dutch prefer to have the free food first so that they know how much lunch they have to buy! These people really live up to their reputation of being cheap! Another example of frugality: One colleague actually took the plastic disposable plate and fork that I served her cake on and announced that her birthday was the coming week so she would wash this plate and fork and reuse it! This wasn't a big serving plate, just the little plate that 1 piece of cake is served on. I'm not clear how she's going to serve the others!

Normally when somebody brings in a verjaardagtaart, people enter the room, shake hands with the birthday boy or girl and wish Congratulations. On Thursday, nobody did this. They would come in, shake my hand, confirm that my birthday was the following day and take a piece of cake. Finally somebody told me that they couldn't wish me Happy Birthday because it's bad luck to do so before the actual day. So, on Friday there was a steady stream of well-wishers coming in, sometimes confirming that today was THE DAY, and enthusiastically wishing me Happy Birthday. Quite nice.


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