I celebrated my 23rd birthday this past weekend. It was my first birthday away from my family and friends, and I’ll admit it was a bit tough (read: I was miserable and cried for days. Inconsolable mess, is what I was). My boyfriend did his best to make it perfect – he drove all over town to get the things we needed for the party, AND he got me a gorgeous gift, AND he bought me a mango for breakfast, AND he dealt with my sulking without becoming (visibly) fed up with me. But even now, despite the fact that my party was awesome and that the guests ate all my snacks (apart from the spectacular guacamole fail) and gave me wonderful and funny gifts, I am still a bit bummed that I didn’t have my usual birthday traditions.
I lived on my own for 3 years before I moved to Tilburg, so it’s not like I haven’t been by myself, or at least without my family, on my birthday before. But I’d have my friends over for cupcakes and tea, and I’d see my family on the weekend, and they would all sing the Danish birthday song and we’d have our traditional birthday brunch, and my extended family would come over for afternoon coffee and cake, and we’d have a lovely dinner. And there would be presents and Danish flags all over, and my grandma would remark on how big/grown-up I was getting (despite the fact that I have been hobbit-sized for years now), and my brother would nonchalantly hand me his present, as if he could care less and would actually rather be playing PS3 (which might really have been the case, but I’d like to pretend it wasn’t).
It takes some getting used to, this living abroad thing. I was excited to leave my country for years, but it never occurred to me that living abroad would mean that I would have to spend my birthday abroad. Old habits die hard, and especially birthday habits will probably live forever. I can’t even imagine spending Christmas abroad, without mum’s gravy, sitting in a circle with all our presents, one person opening a gift at a time so everyone can appreciate it, and of course, my grandpa grumbling at grandma for hassling him about the roast, when obviously it will come out perfectly, as always (no one makes a roast like grandpa. No one).
But I suppose the good thing about moving abroad, to a place with different traditions, is the adoption of new “ways of doing it”. And there are some things about the Dutch approach that I like, even though hosting the party by yourself is expensive – in Denmark it’s common to have a “potluck” party where the host buys the snacks and some mixers and drinks, and most of the guests bring their own alcohol (and this is not frowned upon, honestly!). I injected a little Danish-ness by making a “lagkage” (layered cake) with homemade custard, raspberry jam, whipped cream sides and icing, just like mum used to make it, and purchased enough drinks and beer to keep a small army snazzled for days. A good time was had by all, and that’s all that matters.
It all takes some getting used to, it really does. But in hindsight it was probably one of the best birthday parties I’ve had, I was surrounded by new friends who like me, and anyway, who says you can’t have birthday brunch even though it’s not your birthday??
Trine Larsen (23) from Denmark studies Management of Cultural Diversity at Tilburg University and blogs for Univers.