Celebrating your birthday in Germany

I love spoiling my friends on their birthdays: making them feel extra special as they celebrate one more year of life. I love giving thoughtful gifts, writing nice messages in cards and making sure the person who’s birthday it is gets spoilt. So yes, I was very surprised to find my friends buying me drinks and taking me out for dinner on their birthdays, instead of the other way round. Had I missed something?

Typically, in Germany, when it’s your birthday, the day really does go your way. You plan everything down to a tee, meaning no one organises your birthday apart from you. You cover all the costs and there’s also no point in anyone trying to pay for you, as it’s just not the done thing. My Mexican friend had mentioned this to me a few times, but it’s only recently that I’ve come to see how real it actually is.

I always had the understanding that your birthday is your day off and your day to be celebrated, rather than your day to celebrate other people. But my German friends explained that you are celebrated because you receive gifts and are surrounded by your loved ones…. you just give them something in return too. It actually sounds pretty perfect because when organising everything for yourself, you can be as picky as you like and there’s no risk that someone who thinks they know you really well will plan something you’d never choose for yourself in a million years. But can’t we just do the giving without the receiving?

Talking of giving and receiving, if you’ve moved to Germany and are yet to have a birthday then you should know that you’re expected to bring a cake to work for your colleagues. Yep, on your own birthday. I mean, it doesn’t have to be self baked, so it’s not too much hard work, but this is not so common in the UK office. If my colleagues in London had walked in with their own cake on their own birthday, I’d have thought they’d thought we’d all forgotten.

Despite the culture differences, I still love being able to make my friends in Germany feel special on their big day. As I wrap up this culture shock of a celebration, I’ll remind you that it’s forbidden to wish someone “Happy Birthday!” until the clock strikes 12. Just don’t do it, it will bring bad luck and no one will be impressed. 😉

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