Tomorrow is my birthday and it would be the first time I’m celebrating it in Germany, except that I’ll be in Winchester, England. But if I was celebrating it in Germany, there are four things that would be different:
1) My German friends might not say “Happy Birthday.” No this is not a case of Germans being cold and isn’t nearly as mean as it sounds. My German friends may say “Happy Birthday” but alternatively they may also say “Congratulations.” I’m not sure exactly why congratulations are in order, since birthdays are not something everyone looks forward to, especially when you get up there in age. But I guess when you consider the alternative, perhaps saying “Congratulations” is the appropriate thing. After all, you’ve made it this far.
2) I wouldn’t open any birthday presents or cards before my birthday (but I did anyway). Yesterday a few American friends kindly gave me a card, some gluten free goodies (which are not so easy to find in Stuttgart) and a Swabian Cookbook. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness (thanks so much guys!). J.P. on the other hand was horrified and insisted on knowing why I had opened everything 2 days before my birthday. He’s rather concerned that I’ve now brought myself bad luck by doing so and can’t understand my nonchalance about opening birthday presents early. Let’s hope the German superstition of opening birthday presents before your birthday does not apply to Canadians living in Germany.
3) I wouldn’t have a birthday party. I’m not having a birthday party, but don’t feel sorry for me, it’s because I’m not organizing one. In Germany, if you want a birthday party, you organize it yourself. If you don’t want a big fuss then you don’t organize anything. I have mixed feelings about this one. In some ways I like this, you get exactly the size and type of birthday party you want since you’re organizing it yourself. On the other hand you’ve got to organize it. Fortunately I’m not into big birthday celebrations for myself so I’m OK with this but if I were still in Canada my friends would be organizing some kind of birthday event, even if it was just a dinner with a few close friends.
4) I would pay for all my guests. This is what surprised me most about celebrating birthdays in Germany. The person having the birthday pays for all the guests if they invite them to a restaurant. This is different than in Canada, where the birthday gal/guy is normally treated by their friends on their birthday. I learned this a few months ago when we were invited to a German friend’s birthday brunch. He invited about 30 people and in addition to brunch we all had cappuccinos and did a champagne toast. I was mortified to learn that he would have to pay for everyone and thought we should at least offer to pay for ourselves. J.P. insisted that this is how its done in Germany and that it would not be appropriate to offer to pay and that by inviting everyone the birthday guy knew he would be paying for everyone. I don’t know how much the check came to but I’m sure it would have been over 500€. Now do you understand why I’m celebrating my birthday in England and not in Germany?
Where would you rather celebrate your birthday?