Thursday, November 17, 2011

Birthday Celebrations

My bday party in Germany with Billi ,Tinki & Nina. We went bowling.

  This week, I was reminded of yet another difference between living in the U.S. and Euro-living.

  Small cultural differences present themselves on a daily basis, but the way birthdays are celebrated here in France (and many of the other European countries I've lived in) are vastly different from how Americans traditionally celebrate their birthdays.

  I first became aware of the differences my first season overseas in Italy. It was one of my teamamtes' birthdays, and as practice was coming to a close, she gathered everyone together to tell us she had brought some food and drinks to have aperitivo after practice.  

  Aperitivo, or appetizers, consisted of small salty pastries, champagne, Coke, and Fanta. We all went to the back room, where everyone sat for a bit, drank a glass of champagne or Coke, had a some snacks, and celebrated our teammate's birthday.

  And again, yesterday, my teammate here in Dunkerque was celebrating her birthday. She did the same. Brought brought lots of small snack foods, along with champagne-like drinks, and cider (only in France it's called apéritif). The whole team gathered in the bar area of our gym for close to an hour to toast Aurelie, and celebrate her birthday.

Aurelie - setting up her apéritif.
  For my non-American readers, a team birthday celebration in the States might go something like this. Before or after practice, the team will gather into a huddle and sing "Happy Birthday" to the day's honoree. That's it.

  The second difference I've noticed is who brings the birthday cake/dessert. In Europe, if it is your birthday, you bring the sweets. In the US, friends and family usually always provide the cake.

  I always think of my mom saying, 'you can't bake your own birthday cake'! In Europe, they might not bake it, but they surely bring it.

  Similarly, if you go out for dinner on your birthday in Europe, it's your treat. My second season in Italy, I was invited to a birthday dinner at an awesome Brazilian restaurant in Milano. The restaurant was incredibly good, but also incredibly expensive. I think it ran about 50 Euros per person. I imagine that was a pretty hefty bill. And I remember thinking that I was entirely too cheap to ever treat my friends to something like that!

  Again, it's the opposite in the States. Many times, a group of friends will take the 'birthday-girl' out for dinner and split the check as part of her gift.

Birthday champagne.
  For my birthday my first season abroad, I did not participate in the Euro-birthday tradition. Maybe I was being a stubborn American. But I just thought it was strange, to bring your own birthday cake, etc. I guess I thought it was your day, not everyone elses, so you should be treated to something special.

  At some point between years one and two in Italy, my mindset changed. For my second birthday in Italy, I followed suit with the Italian tradition. I brought the champagne and the treats. And I have to say it was really nice. It was a nice feeling to take a moment out and share something special because of your day. Instead of others taking the initiative to celebrate, it is YOU taking the initiative to celebrate your special day.

  The aperitivo/apéritif tradition is something I've grown to enjoy (on both sides: giving and receiving): to take some time to appreciate your teammate/friend, and celebrate her birthday in a small way.

  I can't say I prefer one tradition over the other, but I think it's interesting how different birthday celebrations can be. Don't worry, there is one tradition I've found to be universal however. And that's the tradition of birthday presents!

  Is there anything about birthday traditions/celebrations I've missed out on? What's your favorite way to subtly celebrate a birthday?


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