I’ve never been so confused in my life, as when I first attended the birthday party of a Dutch friend. I had lived in the Netherlands a little under a year, and it happened to be my first real Dutch social affair. I arrived at the party and within minutes happened to be on door-duty. A group of the birthday boy’s friends walked in and immediately gave me 3 smoochy air-kisses followed by a trio of enthusiastic “Congratulations!”. I smiled awkwardly. That was odd! Congratulations for what? I scanned my mind for a list of recent accomplishments… Ah ha – the job promotion! I didn’t realize they knew? But nice of them to congratulate me on it, I supposed.

After moving into the living room, I was greeted by my friend’s mother and she again congratulated me, this time with a throaty Dutch “Gefeliciteerd“! I muttered a quick “Oh, its really not a big deal” which garnered quite an odd look from her before moving on. What happened next was completely unexpected: the entire room erupted into a flurry of “gefeliciteerd”s. Everybody was suddenly busy congratulating someone else! What the heck was going on?? Was there a group lottery win I didn’t know about?!?  

Needless to say, you may have caught on that Dutch people like congratulating each other on their birthdays. If hanging around this lanky bunch, you of course will also need to congratulate the person who’s birthday it is. (You can consult your trusty Dutch birthday calendar for help). But, wait folks, HOLD UP – you also have to make your rounds through the crowd and congratulate everyone who is close to the person’s who’s birthday it is!! (Plus, if you are a woman, don’t forget to give out all those kisses – and hope you aren’t in the midst of a nasty flu outbreak)! 😉

There are two very Dutch cultural oddities at play here: #1) the actual “congratulations” part. The term “congratulations” is a bit over the top for us non-Dutch people. In English, the term “congratulations” is reserved for major occasions (graduations, weddings, birth of a child, promotions, etc). “Congratulations” on being born?? On being alive another year?? I just don’t get it?? #2) What is it with congratulating people who’s birthday it isn’t! Why do they get congratulated? What did they do to deserve it?!? “Congratulations” on knowing someone who happens to be alive another year??

One thing’s for sure, while living in the lowlands you will get an awful lot of congratulations. A hell of a lot more than in other countries! In fact, it will almost feel like your own birthday on other people’s big day! But you’ll be sure to know when it’s your own -you’ll have the pleasure of having to bring your own cake!!

I suppose the Dutch are just trying to follow the wise words of the Mad Hatter by wishing each other: “A very merry un-birthday!”



107 Responses

  1. sonja

    Ha ha ha–love it! This is SOOOO true! I even do it now as a joke with my friends from Dutch background in Canada, because it’s just so, well, Dutch!

  2. Margriet Smit

    Must leave many ‘non’ Dutch people confused. I always love it when people call and congratulate me with either my hubby’s birthday or the birthdays of my children.” Other-landers” are just missing out!

  3. Citizen_Stu

    First time it happened to me I didn’t know what ‘Gefeliciteerd’ and thought they were introducing themselves. I kept on replying with ‘Stuart’

      • Predletter

        Dude, that’s so funny. Made a dutch man smile 😀

      • Just another Dutch living abroad

        HAHAHA shit!!! that’s to awesome!!! i’ve got tears all over the place laughing!! thanks for that comment bro!

    • Manon

      I keep picturing that in my mind and laugh! helps me chear up a ‘depri’ day!

    • Manuela

      LOL!!!!! That is seriously hilarious!… 😀
      “Hi.. Stuart..”
      “He! Gefeliciteerd.”
      “Hoi! Gefeliciteerd he!”
      “Hi there.. Stuart…”
      Oh my god, I love this comment! Two thumbs up! 😀

    • Esther

      Hahaha, love this comment!!
      I’m Dutch and here in France I often made the mistake to say ‘congratulations’ to everyone, they didn’t understand it at all… it took me a while to understand that it was quite Dutch to do it this way.

  4. Ʀon Derksen

    Although I’m Dutch, I never knew about this custom until I moved from the south of Limburg to Utrecht. I still find it absurdly odd to congratulate everyone with the birthday just because they were invited to the party.
    Perhaps that’s the reason: they congratulate each other on getting another free piece of cake! We’re Dutch, after all :).

  5. Linda

    I’m Dutch and I congratulate the person whose birthday it is, but I try to avoid to congratulate everyone in the room. If I feel I can’t avoid it, I might say something like ‘Iedereen gefeliciteerd’ (Congratulaions to everyone) so I don’t have to shake hands with every person individually (I try to avoid the kisses as well). I think more and more younger people don’t congratelate every person individually. That’s more something for the older generation (i.e. older than 40 years old or so).

    • Martine

      I think ur right ,I am Dutch but have lived abroad for 22 yrs. I did not find it strange until I lived Broad for a while,I do like u kiss the bday girl/ boy ,maybe immediate family and wave a big “gefeliciteerd allemaal” congrats everyone and sit down,what u all neglect to say is the leaving part,again you do the rounds,3 kisses to all before u go home and shower

  6. Marco Sevriens

    I guess it’s not custom in the south of the Netherlands… Like Ron, i was born and still live in Limburg, and i have never ever experienced it ….

    Limburg…. a whole seperate part of the netherlands 😉

    • Vanja

      “Limburg…. a whole seperate part of the netherlands”
      With their own language, but it’s just a ‘kwestie van geduld’. 😉

  7. Ilse

    Having lived in Noord Brabant all my life (on the border with Limburg) I can safely say this is not a custom in all of the Netherlands! People do sometimes congratulate the parents of the birthday boy/girl but not everyone else at the party 🙂

  8. Jeroen

    Actually, I think this is one of those things where the words are basically translated, or explained a bit differently because it has more than one meaning. The whole “gefeliciteerd” thing in Dutch is basically just short for “gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag”, which just translates to “happy birthday”, the “gefeliciteerd” could also be translated to congratulations in those other situations and that’s where I think things go a bit wrong, in no way it is meant to be like that. They do not congratulate someone for being around another year, nor do they congratulate others with that.

    Sure, it’s odd that they say “gefeliciteerd” to other people in the party but it is not exactly translated as “congratulations” in this form. Of course, most people translate it like that because they have no other correct way of translating it, but then again, you also know how there’s no rational way of translating “gezellig” one on one.

  9. Barbara

    I live in Den Haag and never did, or heard this. The first time I went to the family of my boyfriend in Heemskerk (near Amsterdam) they did this. Even I, as a Dutch person, was confused. Years later I still think it’s a strange ritual. I think that only some places do this and also young people don’t do this. But which places these are, and from witch age, I don’t know. I only know that I have never ever heard someone do this in Den Haag (old and young).

    • Renate

      I also live (and have always lived) in Den Haag (The Hague) and to me it is very common. When I was young I also hated that I was expected to kiss a whole room full of people that I only saw once or twice a year (I detested kissing people anyway 😉 ). When I hit puberty I came up with just saying “Gefeliciteerd allemaal!” (Congratulations everyone!) while enthusiastically waving at all people. And leaving it at that. Most people where ok with it. But there always were 2 or 3 people saying: “No, you won’t get away with it that easily”. A big hug and three kissing following. Nowadays I try to avoid birthdays altogether 😉 and I must say I suits me very well. I still don’t manage to skip birthdays from relatives of my boyfriend though. Luckily they have a relatively small family.

    • M

      Im from Den Haag aswell, and very familiar with the ‘gefeliciteerd met…’ thing. I have to say i do it too, but not to everybody. When i go to a friend birthday, i might do the kisses and gefeliciteerd thing with the parents and siblings, and then just do a general hello thing to the rest of the group. But its very common to see people, especially the older ones, entering and going around the whole circle of people (there should be a seperate blog about this all sitting in a circle at birthdays),kissing and congratulating everyone.

  10. janeduttonutrecht

    I completely agree with this description of a birthday party. When I go to a family party, it feels like you are in a receiving line at a wedding, because you must congratulate them, shake their hand and also kiss three times. I know of fathers and mothers who congratulate each other on their child’s birthday. I have only been here 7 months, but I have heard the word congratulate more in these past months then ever in my whole life. Hey, if the Dutch are happy and it makes them smile, it is a good thing.

  11. Mir

    We do this too and the people I know who do it live in Maasdijk, Maassluis, Vlaardingen, Schiedam, Rotterdam and The Hague!

  12. Mark

    I think Jeroen is correct with his “lost in translation” explanation. There are many things for which there are two words or phrases in English, but only one in Dutch. E.g. “ape” and “monkey” are not interchangeable in English. Yet, the Dutch only have “aap”. English is a much richer language than Dutch in that they have so many more words, having been influenced by both German languages and French/Latin.

    By the way, I am from Noord Brabant, and have never experienced any party where everybody is congratulated. The birthday pig (there’s a topic for you) is congratulated and some close relatives like parents and siblings, but that’s it.

    • SERVO

      Maybe it doesn’t matter how rich the language is, it can also be more complex because of that.
      i know people that speak dutch very well and use the most complicated words. this doesn’t work at all with the communication if the other don’t understand.

      Indonesian is for example a ‘simple’ language, still there perfectly clear to each other.
      Less rich in words but more skilful in body language and facial expressions i guess?

      + lost in translation can be great.funny.moving and more.

    • Bob

      * “Ape” could be translated as “mensaap”, species like chimps, gorillas and urang-utans.
      * The “Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal” happens to be the most expansive dictionary in the world, with over 400.000 words.
      * I’ve been to many birtday parties in Noord-Brabant and Limburg, where it is perfectly custom to congratulate (and kiss) all people present.

  13. daan

    Im dutch and i never thought of this.
    gues its up to forgneirs to point us on our “strange behaviors”
    i think you just congrarulate ppl for having accomplished somthing and daily life of a common joe is hard and full of problems making it trough another crappy year is pretty good and frends and famaily help you so wel… thank them

  14. Esther Buitenhuis

    This is a very strange habit. I have lived in Australia now for over 17 years and am kind of Australian-ised I guess. These days I sometimes forget to congratulate my Dutch family with the birthday or marriage or whatever of Dutch family and friends. I no longer understand why this is nessecary. But laughed out loud when I read the post about the person at the party that constantly got congratulated and didn’t understand why haha

  15. Peter

    Very funny to read this from a non-dutch perspective. Very confronting as well. 😉
    As your blog already suggests, the meanings of the words ‘to congratulate’ and ‘feliciteren’ (of which ‘gefeliciteerd’ is the past participle) are not interlingual synonyms (anymore).

    The dutch have in fact stayed close to the origin of the word ‘gefeliciteerd’. It is derived from the french ´feliciter’, which is in turn derived from the Latin ‘felicare’, which means ‘to make one happy’, or rather ‘to wish someone fortune’ . I believe to felicitate is an English word as well meaning ´to wish joy to´. Do think of the name ‘Felix’, which means ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’.

    The origin of the word ‘congratulate’ is almost the same: from Latin ‘congratulare’, “to wish joy, give thanks, show joy”, but apparently in English it has evolved to being used only on someone having actively achieved something.

    So in fact the Dutch don’t congratulate each other, they wish each other well, and although it is only one persons birthday, they like to take the occasion of wishing each other well. That is why it applies to all the situations you just named. Nonetheless, I had a good laugh: ‘Vooral doorgaan!’

  16. Ellen Kluit

    The Dutch ‘gefeliciteerd’ is indeed something else than ‘congratulations’. It’s more like ‘happy birthday!’. With that difference, that we use the same word for major and minor occasions. You can also say ‘hartelijk gefeliciteerd’ (which would be something like ‘heartily congratulated’).
    The tradition of congratulating others is indeed odd. The most annoying thing is, that you don’t get the chance to introduce yourself to other people. You don’t say your name, you just say ‘gefeliciteerd!’
    Originally, people said ‘gefeliciteerd met ‘ (congratulations to ). It’s still extremely odd. No-one except Dutch people do it.

  17. Atreidez

    I’ll make a round at a birthday, but its more to say hi to everyone there.. Some people you only occasionally see, or maybe only at those birthdays, so its just rude not saying anything at all. I’ll congratulate them on the birthday of someone else, make sure they know my name or know who I am to the one having the birthday.. Is that so weird? It’s taken far to literate here, thinking that we congrats everyone but I think its more based on breaking the ice in a birthday group. If you have just shaken someone’s hand or gave them 3 smooches, its far easier also to have conversation 😉

  18. Helen

    Well I have lived in North Holland for over a year and although it was a little confusing to begin with,i find it another social thing that the Dutch people do ,gezellig!

  19. Sylvia Kuijsten

    Whaha, nice blog! I have to say that I don’t like all those birthday kisses, I mostly try to just shake hands, but as a Dutch girl that’s quite a challenge 😉

    • Desirée

      Yes, it’s horrible, having to kiss everyone 3 times… And what’s with 3 kisses on New Year’s eve?!? Even when you’re just with a small group, like just your parents, you’re expected to wish them a happy new year with 3 kisses… Ugh 🙁

  20. Jos

    I think we need to approach the issue from a historical point. Basically the Dutch are a quite violant people. In the middle age they used to slap each other in the face when ever they met. Now of course this went out of control. Initally they tried to solve the matter by digging canals all over the country. They had the curious idea that by doing that people wouldn’t slap each other in the face any more. So what happend was that we started drowning each other. It took us many years before we discoverd a method which was quite innocent without having serious side effects. We started to kiss everybody, with or without a reason what’s however. So please be aware, if you meet Dutch who are not kissing around, they will be of the slapping type!!

    • The dutchess

      This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, do you have a source for this theory or is it just a ‘broodje aap’ story?

      • Desirée

        I always say we Dutch don’t have enough imagination, but I think Jos has enough for all of us! 😉

    • psalifeobserverandfineartist

      Very funny …ha ha ha…three kisses to you.

  21. swienie

    “Congratulations, you are now subscribed to the site Stuff Dutch People Like and will receive an email notification when a new post is made.”
    Following your blog didnt seem to be a major occasion to me (as you write that you only use the word ‘congratulations’ for major occasions 😉 !
    But thanks! Its great! Keep on posting!! 🙂 !

  22. ikkke

    lived in noord -brabant all my life and i can safely say we dont do this, i find it strange it must be a northern custom

  23. Miriam

    My Guyanese English speaking partner came to me startled and completely confused the first time I had people over on my birthday (in Suriname), and of course he was gefeliciteerd by EVERYBODY; the whole gefeliciteerd thing still puzzles him! I just love this blog LOL

  24. Maartje

    I am 33 and I enjoy this custom very much, as it is a great way to introduce yourself to people you do not know yet. It connects people!

  25. Co

    isn’t it great, when you are learning Ditch, to get nicely away at birthday parties with only one word?! Count your blessings!

  26. Erik

    I’m a real dutchy who immigrated in Canada about 4 years ago. Back then I never realized that this is a Dutch(-only) custom so at the first b-day that I went I started congratulating people in the room. You should have seen the looks on their faces. Took me while to explain.

    Great blog! You really made me lol!

  27. royhornstra

    Haha, awesome read! As a Dutch person I have a theory about why this happens. I think, people who are close to the birthdayparty-host, get congratulations because they are in the “very close” social group. The people who are close to each other help and take care of each other. So I think it makes sense to congratulate the close friends and familie because they helped get the “jarige” get through a whole year. Saying “en gefeliciteerd to all of you” is actually sending the message that you don’t know who are the close people to the birthdayboy. I think… maybe 😛 I’ve never really thought about it.
    my two cents 😛

  28. ablabius

    The whole birthday party thing originated in a time when 50% of infants died within their first year. When a child did reach its verjaardag (literally, the day one year had passed) family, friends, and neighbours came over to offer their felicitations to the parents and close relatives (including each other), rather than to the child, who was probably trying to sleep somewhere.
    The (I think mostly Northerly) custom mixed with the catholic custom of celebrating name days and evolved into an annual festivity, although it is still mostly celebrated for children.

    As others have stated, the Dutch do not congratulate (on birthdays anyway), instead, they offer felicitations, and when they offer them to you, they are merely trying to include you into the festivities. (Again, as said, it is how you say hello at certain parties.) Even more so when they say congratulations, because even though the translation is off, they are doing you the courtesy of speaking a language that is not their own.

  29. Mark

    I’m Dutch. I laughed! And I hate the stupid 3 kisses and the whole line up of shaking hands with everybody at birthday parties. There is 1 good thing about though:
    The people on a birthday party that you don’t know, you don’t kiss, but you do shake hands plus the obligated ‘gefeliciteerd’ PLUS (and there’s the bonus) you mention your name and vice versa. So from that point on you have met potentially new interesting people, and because of the simple handshake and name exchange a next step onto a conversion with such a ‘stranger’ is quite easy!

  30. Eva Marita

    I´d never realized before it´s indeed a bit ridiculous the congratulate somebody for knowing somebody that lives another year… Now I understand why my friends (in South America) are so surprised when I congratulate them with others. They think I´m extremely courtly, but after 8 years I´m just still very Dutch!

  31. Jennifer

    Just found this site. I love it. I was born in Canada but my parents are from The Netherlands. I grew up with congratulating the immediate family of the birthday person. I still do it. My friends now understand that it is a “Dutch Thing” same as the three kisses.

  32. Barbara

    I had the pleasure of going to an American kids birthday once. Big sportsvenue, 2 bounce houses and 2 birthday cakes. One for the girl turning 4, one for the girl turning 5.
    In advance, I asked the mother of the other girl what to bring as a present, not wanting to go empty handed. She told me there was no need, but thinking it would be weird and rude not getting anything for her birthday, bought something anyway.
    On arival to the venue I was told to leave my gifts on the piles of gifts, mostly colorful bags with the gifts inside, covered with thin paper. My nicely giftpaper wrapped present stood out next to all the bags.
    When it was time to open them, the birthday kids sat on a chair, and without even a birthday song the dads handed the kids all the gifts with 2 seconds apart. No one knew who gave what, no one had time to see what it was… Open, put away, open, put away etc. till all was unwrapped and that was it. All the opened gifts were put in a big bag to take home and no one saw the gifts ever again.
    I absolutely hated that the gift I gave, that took me 3 weeks to make myself, was back in the bag that fast. (She loved my present though, but I found that out back at their home). And I really DIDN’T have to bring the other girl something… I never even got to see her face when she opened my gift.
    How’s that for weird birthday traditions! 😉

  33. Maggie

    When I congratulated my Canadian boyfriend on his best friend’s birthday he was very confused too! I explained to him and he answered: “That’s another weird thing you can put on the list.”
    We Dutch people are quite weird if you think about it! 😉

  34. Gaetan

    A lot of cultural mis-communication later, my dutch partner has now been to many “verjadagen” abroad, and knows you don’t usually congratulate everyone for one’s birthday. Even if she still finds it weird 🙂

    So when we get to go to a birthday somewhere, especially inside the family, she makes clear to me beforehand that I really ought to say “gefeliciteerd” to everyone 🙂

  35. Jordi

    This prob. Started when someone was at a birthdayparty and did not know who’s birthday it was. So he congratulated everyone, that way you are sure you did congratulate the one.
    I’m from spain, i refuse to congratulate everyone. I will kiss the good loking ones, as in spain we do dish out a lot of kisses to family and friends.

    So the tric to a international traveler, combine what you like forget teh rest:-)

  36. Laura

    This site is hilarious! I’m Dutch and I didn’t realise how weird some of our customs are to foreigners 😉

  37. PaulineF

    You could maybe do an add-on piece (combo of this and the bring your own birthday cake to work piece) on the whole concept of the celebrating your birthday with a “koffie kring” at your house. You, the birthday person, host everyone at your house and you provide the refreshments and among some people, it’s offensive if you don’t want to celebrate your birthday this way (which of course includes getting your house ready for guests and then doing a load of dishes after everyone’s left).

  38. Dustin Brumley

    I had the pleasure of completing my 29th trip around the sun yesterday and the double pleasure of finding a post on this fantastic blog regarding a common point of confusion for expats living in The Netherlands. This entry saved me from having to write about it myself! Enjoy!

  39. femkestrietman

    Haha this is so common! I can’t be bothered to kiss everyone, I just yell out congratulations to everyone when there is a really big group, and kiss the parents and direct family members and close friends. Ok, I now actually realize I do kiss and congratulate a lot of people… I think it’s a good thing, you also meet people you don’t know yet instead of retreating to your own little group.

  40. Jasper

    Probably someone mentioned this but while I like your blog so far I am not quite ready to read all the comments ;). ‘Gefeliciteerd’ is translated as congratulation but it doesn’t really mean congratulations. The translation is not exact. Look up ‘felicitate’ which is an archaic english word. Basically you are wishing someone luck or happiness.

  41. Solange

    Ive been living in Den Haag for two months now and a month ago I went to a bday party, right one week after mine. People I didnt know kept saying happy birthday to me and till today, I thought how nice and considerate Dutch people were… -.-

  42. alice

    hahaha so true ! did you also notice the circle you were sitting in ?

  43. birgitta

    I’m from The Hague and its been a tradition with my family young and old, we congratulate close family only really and some close friends, I think Peter sums it up best ‘the Dutch don’t congratulate each other, they wish each other well, and although it is only one persons birthday, they like to take the occasion of wishing each other well.’ We’re a gezellig bunch 😉

  44. Chantal

    Yeah, I do know this habit! My family is from Rotterdam and we do have this weird habit, haha! Why? I have no clue! Always found it strange. But it’s part of my family.. Haha!

  45. andreas

    I’m Dutch, but even I don’t get the hassle of congratulating just about everyone. If people want to congratulate me with it, fine, but definitely not the other way round.

  46. Florence

    I am Dutch too, have been living in the US for >21 years. I do remember (and still experience when I go back and visit) this strange ritual. I didn’t understand it when I still lived in The Netherlands, and do not understand it now. I am trying to find out, though, if this ritual has been around for a long time. I do not remember anybody doing this when I was in elementary school in the 60’s, and maybe even a little later in the early 70’s. Any insight/studies on when/how/why this started?

  47. Joanny

    One time, before I knew this was a typical Dutch thing to do, I was in the UK and went to a friend’s (note: he’s British and this was the first time meeting his friends and family) birthday and I was already late and embarrassed about that so I congratulated everyone and excused myself for being late then rushed to the toilet.. When I came back everyone was staring at me and finally his dad asked me why I did that so I said “because its your sons birthday” with the most awkward grin on my face, my friend took me aside to tell me how he forgot to tell me that they don’t do that, so after I explained how normal it is here it kinda became the joke of the night haha.

  48. Vicky

    I’m an American, and when my husband and I were in Holland a few years ago to visit his elderly Dutch relatives, we attended an 80th birthday party for his aunt at a local resteraunt. What I mostly remember about the party, besides the three kisses, was how long the party lasted! I think we were there for six hours! We had very little to eat (just some small appetizers and a little cake were passed around) with lots of coffee, tea, and some Schnapps toward the end. What I was most impressed with though was seeing many of his elderly aunts and uncles arriving to the party on their bycycles 🙂

  49. rightie

    The congratulating, kissing and hugging is toch all very gezellig? Then you sit down in a circle and get your cup of coffee and your gebakje and after that your advocaatje or your sherry’tje…. i miss it all.

  50. Anke

    I can confirm what my fellow-southerners stated above. As a person born and raised “onder de rivieren” – in the southern part of the Netherlands, this “gefeliciteerd” custom struck me as totally odd when I moved to the northern part of the country. I actually thought it was incredibly rude. You enter a room, and instead of introducing yourself you simply say “gefeliciteerd”, and be done with it. Combined with their odd custom of sitting around in a circle it certainly does not help, socially speaking…..

  51. P Lod

    The weird part is that people congratulate my parents and sister with MY birthday as well. Even as a Dutch guy I never got this.

  52. Jesse

    Im Dutch, and i never understood this, so i never do, but i have a theory
    in a regular Dutch birthday people sit in a circle, and the birthday bunny is the servant
    So a birthday is no fun at all fot the birthday bunnee, what are you supposed to say?
    Congratulations on this day of suffering? Neee!!! let’s congratulate other people instead

    Just a theory…

    • psalifeobserverandfineartist

      Hilariously true…please read what I wrote way down on this blog.

      • psalifeobserverandfineartist

        Prettige Verjaardag to you, anyway…if you come to California…I will either make you a birthday meal or take you out to the local Febo. Ha!.

  53. Jos

    ‘Congratulating’ everybody on a birthday party is indeed quite common in the Netherlands. However outlanders shouldn’t translate it as ‘congratulations’, but more as a standard greeting. In the Netherlands it’s more usual to say ‘Gefeliciteerd’ instead of ‘Hallo’ which is the normal greeting for casual meetings. But if you say ‘Hallo’ to everyone on a birthday party it sounds rather boring, so most people prefer to say ‘Gefeliciteerd’ as a greeting.

    So in the Dutch it’s quite normal to greet everyone on a birthday party when you arrive. Is that also typically Dutch? I think it’s a good social behaviour. Also, when there is someone at the party you don’t know, you say: ‘Gefeliciteerd, (ik ben) Jos’. So it’s actually also a way to introducing yourself to people at the party you don’t know. That’s in my opinion the main reason why Dutch people do this. It will avoid situations at the party when you are talking in a group and don’t know each others names, which I personally find pretty awkward.

  54. Steve

    I ran into this one unexpectedly after having been almost mugged in Amsterdam. I managed to attract the attention of a nearby police officer towards the end of the, er, transaction, and my mugger and I were taken to the Warmoesstraat(?) police station. When they were filling in a registration form of some sort, I was asked for my date of birth. I gave it, and was immediately told “No, not today’s date, your date of birth”. I explained that it was indeed my birthday and everything stopped for congratulations, handshakes and kisses. I even had a handshake from the mugger!

    (There was a sequel – about a year later I got a letter from the Netherlands Embassy in London to say that my mugger was appealing and had called me as a witness – presumably in the hope that if I didn’t turn up he’d get off. They very kindly offered to pay my flight over from London at O-dark-thirty, and back again at teatime the same day, but I pointed out that such a flight would be significantly more expensive than if I flew over on a late flight on the Friday and booked into a hostel for a couple of days and flew back on the Monday evening; for a wonder, they agreed. So, I turned up at the Police station at the right time on the Monday morning to be taken to the court – only to discover that the mugger had withdrawn his appeal.)

  55. Mirjam

    I (being Dutch) truly never realised it was strange, until reading this. And bringing your own cake on your birthday.. never guessed that in other countries people would bring you any cake!! 🙂

  56. Qute

    I am Dutch, grew up in Friesland, and this custom confuses me every time. The congratulations to the birthday girl -or boy- I get, but why congratulate everyone in the room?

    • Qute

      to add: I’ve experienced this weird habit after I moved to Groningen.

  57. Irentje

    Oh, how much fun. Found this while googling how do Dutch congratulate parents on their child’s birthday; wanting to pass that on to my step-son on his daughter’s 3rd birthday. Defintely will book mark this, it’s fun being Dutch [born in Blokzijl, immigrated with parents when I was 6 months old]

  58. Tamar

    Oh yeah, completely true. Being a Dutch person myself, I’ve known this to happen all my life, and I still think it’s a really strange tradition. I still don’t understand why we do this at all!

  59. psalifeobserverandfineartist

    I lived in Amsterdam in the mid-later 1980’s for several years. I am a Californian by birth and now. Whenever anyone I know has a Verjaardag, I sing them the Dutch birthday song…I have done it so long, they naturally expect it every year.
    Another memory, my birthday on my first year of living in Nederland. Pissed me off! I had to do all my own cooking on my birthday and make my. own cake too! By the time my. birthday guests showed up, I was so exhausted, I could hardly celebrate. After the first year, my policy was that I only made the desert and otherwise we all went out to a restaurant and everyone paid for themselves. That way I could be queen for a day..my day. ;~)

  60. E. Coldenhof

    It is just like when people say “Congratulations on your daughter’s graduation! You must be proud” or so on, that’s what the Dutch is implying.

    “Congrats on your …. ‘s birthday! You must be happy that he/she got to live another year!”

    After all, everyone at the party is celebrating not just the one whose birthday it is!

  61. kevin

    Never knew it’s weird for foreigners, it’s so normal to me!!

    One note: there are also people who just congratulate the one who hs their birthday and say in public to the rest “hello” or “Good bye”

  62. Peter

    At the office there’s always somebody who knows it’s my wife’s birthday and starts to congratulate me. All others stand up immediately to do the same.
    Complete with all the kisses.

  63. Renee feikema

    Ja, Peter ik heb dit boek ook. Misschien is deze traditie wat veranderd onder jonge mensen maar normaal, echt, feliciteer je je familie en goede vrienden misschien. Maar de Nederlanders zijn vaak wat overdreven wat verjaardagen betreft.
    Ik ben blij dat jij de Passive begrijpt!

  64. Dutchgirl

    Funny, I always assumed this was a normal thing to do on birthdays, never considered it was something typical dutch.. Like many things discriped in the blogs. As a dutchy, I love to read these blogs and since I haven’t read the book yet, I know something to put on my wishlist for sinterklaas this year 😉

  65. Adriaan Molenaar

    In fact, the game is a little bit more complicated: First, you should congratulate the person whose birthday it is (“gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag”), then you make the round and congratulate the others WHILE MENTIONING THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO THE PERSON WHOSE BIRTHDAY IS IS. E.g. to the husband: “gefeliciteerd met je vrouw” (congr. because of your wife), to the children “gef. met je moeder” (congr.bec.of. your mother), to the father-in-law “gef. met je schoondochter” (congr. bec. of. your daughter-in-law), etc. This is pretty mindboggling. In case you don’t know the right relationship, you just say “gefeliciteerd”. This strange habit 1) makes clear to yourself and every-one how well you know this bunch of people end 2) helps you (and others standing behind you…) in storing the relationships in the brain.
    Adriaan, Dutchman for 32 years

  66. Sam

    Lived in Holland for 4 years & I hear you:-) Going to my girlfriends families house for a birthday celebration took 10 minutes just to go around the group kissing & shaking hands upon arriving, oddly it always seemed to be conducted in a large semi circle too, more by chance than design:-)

  67. Inge

    Haha, I only noticed this as a ‘Dutch habit’ a long time ago myself. I have a lot of foreign friends and lived abroad as well and as a Dutchie, I must have congratulated other people with someone elses birthday more than once without realizing others find it a it odd! I always looked at it as also being happy for the birthday boy/girls’ friends and relatives that their loved one is another year older and still happy and healthy. And therefore congratulating them with that 🙂 I guess it also maybe comes from our idea of ‘humbleness’; the fact that we don’t really like to be in the spotlight (“doe normaal” ;)), and this way the attention gets shared and spread out a little bit 😉

  68. THJ

    Hi there,
    Can anyone explain why some people make a big deal of a birthday? My hubby is Dutch, I am not.
    This just happened. Me and my hubby have a friend who my hubby new from before I just recently met her. She is a single mother with a daughter who just turned 15. We had recently moved into our house and can I say that we are overwhelmed with a lot-to-do? Also I had a scheduled trip abroad that she knew about and she casually mentioned that it’s too bad since her daughters birthday is coming up in that time. Well, we can always catch up and celebrate it later , stopping by and congratulating with maybe some flower, pastry, gift… whatever.
    She texted me while I was already traveling , I didn’t reply to her but I told my hubby about it so he can contact her which he did and congratulated her and told her that we are sorry for not attending, he is also busy with work and remodeling and we will visit when I am back home. Couple days passed I came back home, about six days later I sent a message to her, that I finally can have a breather and asking her how is she doing and how is the birthday girl thinking that we can schedule to visit. She didn’t reply right away. Waited til next day and replied saying that they are very hurt for not receiving a message of congratulation on her daughters birthday from us and that she understands that we are busy but everyone is. (Let me also mention that she is a stay at home mom.) I kindly replied to her saying that we are very sorry that we hurt their feelings it wasn’t our intention. Also the reason we didn’t think it’s important to message because we all knew about the surrounding events. I also mentioned to her that I usually message or congratulate people online who I can not meet to do so in person. We had planned to do that in person , so I don’t feel bad.. besides it’s a child’s birthday. What’s the big deal?
    Thanks for your input guys..,


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