My First Birthday (party in the Netherlands)

The Dutch circle party is a tradition written in solid stone. One does not stray far away from the circle party when choosing to entertain their friends and family on their special day. If you don’t quite know what a circle party is, then let me lay it out to you pretty simply: it’s a party where everyone sits in a circle and eats a suitable amount of party food.

On entering said party, you will be congratulated by everyone. You must return those congratulations with a handshake and/or three cheek kisses. This is very important. Don’t forget to congratulate everybody, like I do, almost every time. Even if you don’t really know the person who’s hopefully washed hand sits in your own, you are still to congratulate them. Also, they will tell you their name. Return this interaction with your own. Both names will be forgotten immediately, but you cannot afford to not ask.

After you’ve literally touched almost every person in the room, you will be offered a beverage. This action is done so swiftly, it’s almost magical. Said beverage will be thrust into your paws almost immediately. Dutchies are very keen on keeping their guests from dehydrating on the spot. It will be tea or coffee to start. Along with the beverage, a slice of cake, or ‘taart’ will be proffered. It will most likely consist of apple filling or slagroom, which is just whipped cream, so stop tittering at the name. It could also be oranjekoek, which, despite the name, doesn’t taste one iota of oranges, and is the kind of cake that leaves a funny feeling at the roof of my mouth. It could also be something else completely delicious, but it will always be provided with slagroom.

Now, you will take your place in the circle. When you entered, there was most likely a circle already formed (unless you are early birds like us. Then you are the creator of the circle, which is almost as good as being at the front of a Conga line), and your host will have either shunted everybody along and placed two new chairs in the now gaping space, or, broken the rules of what a circle looks like and formed some sort of ‘abstract circle’, where you will join the rest of the coffee sipping, cake eating family members.

Once said cake and coffee have been adequately inhaled, the Dutch tend to move on to the heavier stuff. Now comes the beer or wine, and not only the delicious drinks, but the delicious food too. I’m talking about the cheese and sausage and everything in between. Be prepared to be sat in your circle and faced with endless platters of borrelhapjes. Borrelhapjes are basically anything that goes well with alcohol, which let’s face it, is literally anything. But for Dutchies, this does also include vegetables. So, amongst the Doritos, olives and bitterballen, there are usually neatly sliced cucumber circles, as well as tomatoes, and peppers stacked lengthways into a spicy hummous dip. Not only do they not want you to dehydrate, but you must have something a little healthy to keep you from collapsing in a drunken heap on the floor.

Now, maybe I take the piss a little. I mean, in England we do parties differently. We let our guests in, point at the beverage table and tell them to get on with it. If we’re huggers we’ll hug the birthday girl or boy and that’s it. We don’t even tell others that we’ve arrived, and we certainly don’t have the luxury of sitting down with a piece of cake to get us into the swing of things. The chairs will have probably been taken out of the room for starters, so we’re forced to move around – but that does give us the added benefit of freedom. Don’t like what Aunt Mabel is barking on about? Point feebly over her shoulder with some lame excuse that the ‘birthday girl needs me now’ and you’re free to roam around until you find someone more suited to your conversational needs.

I turned 29 on March 22 and my own Dutch circle party happened the very same day. It was my very first one, and something I felt as being a huge weight on my English shoulders. It was such a huge weight, that I onl y invited 7 people, rather than the entire village, as also sometimes seems to be the case at these parties. I promptly served my handful of guests with their choice of tea or coffee (one person went rogue and had a Pepsi Max) and a slice of taart. So far so good.

My own circle was a little abstract; we had somehow created a horseshoe, rather than a complete circle, but looking at the faces of those around me, they seemed to be enjoying the circular festivities whether or not I’d literally just failed the first rule of the Dutch circle party.

Once the starters were out of the way, I went a little mental. I decided that the only way to ensure that my guests survived the next few hours was to create a constant stream of food and beverages. This meant that I spent 96 per cent of my own party serving food like a waitress. I mean I kind of enjoyed it. It became almost a game to me.

Reckon you can get the next pizza on the table before the last slice of Ham & Pineapple is picked up?

How fast can you snaffle that bitterball before someone notices?

How many glasses of wine can I refill before they’re even empty?

Am I going to end up as one of those people that other people refer to as feeders?

I continued the evening in this way, before I finally sat down as the first few guests left, and discovered that the rum colas I’d been sipping throughout the evening had in fact, gone straight to my head. I sat for a while, picking at the leftover olives, and feeling pretty satisfied with the way things had gone after all. I was given a metaphorical thumbs up by my remaining guests: everything had gone well, and it was in fact, a lovely evening.

So how did I find my first Dutch circle party? I rather enjoyed playing host, whilst everyone nattered in the background, even if I, the birthday girl of all people, spent most of the evening on my feet. Do I feel like I could go one step further and host more than seven or so people at one time? Perhaps, but I’d find that extremely overwhelming, which is a shame, as next year’s a big one. Next year I turn 30, and I don’t think I’ll get away with so few people in the house…


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