If you're hankering for an opportunity to experience some cultural awkwardness and/or confusion - I recommend skipping this blog post and attending a Dutch Birthday party as soon as an opportunity arises.
You're probably thinking "How can a party be inherently awkward?". Just imagine walking into a party and experiencing these situations:
Forget "Happy birthday". In the Netherlands, expect a hardy "Congratulations (Gefeliciteerd)" on your day of birth, and extending that "Gefeliciteerd" when it's the birthday of someone else. If that's not perplexing enough, at a birthday party, it is customary to congratulate other people on the birthday of the host. Anticipate at least a few minutes of people greeting each other with hugs, 3 kisses and enthusiastic "Gefeliciteereds".
Confusing, right? In the States, we reserve "Congratulations" for milestones like weddings, birthing children and graduations. I would expect such flamboyant use of the word to happen more in a place like LA than the generally curt low country.
2) Spheres of influence
The Dutch generally don't do the "Make yourself at home; food's over there and the bar's around the corner" thing. They do circle parties.
The fun is much more controlled - and happens within one tight little enclave of chairs arranged by the host prior to people arriving. This is not like a party in the States, where the guests naturally form their own, smaller circles and fluidly move from group to group. The host sets the pace for food, drinks and entertainment and everyone stays seated in the same spot, chats politely and waits to be served.
For me, this is super odd as I am comfortable helping with prep or helping myself to my own water/wine/whatever (grabbing handfuls of candy when no one is looking). Before understanding the customs, I really "made myself at home" the first time I paid someone a visit. They probably whisper about me as the "Invasive American".
If a party starts at 7 pm - arrive at 7 pm. The California time buffer does not exist. "Fashionably late" is rude. It's quite simple, really. To my friends in the States - please accept my apology in advanced next time I visit and show up to your house on time.
4) Bonus: Music to your ears
Here is the English translation:
There is a birthday, hurray, hurray
that you can tell: that he is.
We find this all so nice yeah, yeah
and therefore we sing happy.
May he live long hurray, hurray
he live long hurray
he live long hurray, hurray
he live long hurray !!
As you can see - Dutch birthday etiquette is not alarmingly bizarre, but certainly leaves room for some awkward interactions for the naive.
Have you experienced any funny, awkward cultural differences at parties social gatherings? Or maybe a tradition you'd like to adopt in your own culture?