Dutch Quirk #39: Say happy birthday to everyone

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #39: Say happy birthday to everyone

How many times is it reasonable to say “happy birthday” at one birthday party? The Dutch seem to think the sky is the limit! 

Why limit yourself to wishing only one person happy birthday when you can congratulate everyone on the joyous occasion? 🎉

Dutch people love to feliciteren (congratulate) as many people as humanly possible, which can create some confusion if you’re not 100% sure who the jarige (birthday celebrant) is.

What is it?

It is no secret that the Dutch take their birthdays very seriously, and as an international, it can be daunting to navigate the sea of traditions. 

First, remember that you have to greet whoever you’re wishing happy birthday.

Dutch birthdays are a big community event. Image: Freepik

Then comes one of the most absurd Dutch birthday traditions: you wish the birthday celebrant happy birthday when you arrive at the party — oh, and basically everyone else they’re close to as well. 

You can either play it safe and stick to the simple, traditional “Gefeliciteerd” (congratulations) and leave it at that (occasionally including the birthday celebrant’s name).

But, if you really want to blend in as the true Dutchie you’re trying so hard to become — say “Gefeliciteerd met je [insert the title the birthday celebrant holds in relation to the person you are speaking to]”! 

Yes, it’s confusing, but here’s an example to better illustrate the situation: 

The mother of the birthday celebrant says to you: “Gefeliciteerd met Sophia!” (“Congrats with Sophia!”)

You say to the mother of Sophia (the birthday celebrant): “Gefeliciteerd met je dochter” (“Congrats with your daughter!”)

It goes without saying that you have to make sure you really know who the actual birthday celebrant is.

If you don’t, get a detailed description of what they look like in advance so you can identify who you should be saying what to. 

Another thing that can complicate matters a bit is when you’re talking to someone who has a weird, multi-linked relationship with the birthday celebrant. 

You might find yourself in a situation where you have to congratulate someone on their ex-husband’s-new-fienceé’s-friend’s-daughter-in-law’s-dog’s birthday.

Why do they do it?

After many attempts to understand my Dutch friends, I had to give up. It seems like no one knows why the Dutch insist on this weird tradition! 

Is it because the infamous Dutch birthday circle requires you to know everyone’s position, status, life situation, and relationships to survive the hour-long conversation? 😴

It’s a love-hate relationship with the birthday circle. Image: Freepik

Do the Dutch just love knowing as many personal details about each other as they can, so knowing your relation to the birthday celebrant? 

Or maybe it’s just the Dutch love for order and clarity — who knows? 

Why is it quirky? 

Congratulating everyone in sight on someone’s birthday is definitely not common practice around the world. 

In most cultures, we might give the birthday celebrant a quick squeeze before handing over a present. This is then followed by simply stepping back and hoping you know enough people.

Opening birthday presents is an affair for the whole party. Image: Depositphotos

The Dutch say nee to this more introverted routine. You’re going to make eye contact, shake hands, and get to know some new people.  

And you know what? It’s kind of cute! 

Should you join in? 

Definitely join in if you want to blend in with the Dutchies and avoid standing out as the only international. 

It’s considered polite, and you’re just better off conforming to the tradition — unless the fear of accidentally calling someone the wrong title or misunderstanding who’s celebrating scares you too much. 😉

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Juni Moltubak
Juni Moltubak
Juni moved to the Netherlands after realizing how expensive tuition fees in the UK are, and never regretted her choice of studying in The Hague. After three years of Political Science, she is ready for a new adventure — an internship at DutchReview! When you don’t see her typing on her laptop she can be found strolling around Haagse Bos or sitting in her lovely garden scrolling through interior design TikToks.


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