Alice Mapenzi Kubo was born in Kenya’s Kilifi District.
She’s been a resident of the Netherlands since 2001, having studied business administration in tourism at Breda University of Applied Sciences, followed by a Master’s in international development at the University of Amsterdam.
She is the author of The Abolition of School Fees in Africa and currently works as the Programme Manager for Africa at Child Helpline International.
The Dutch are well-known for being very structured people who play most of time by the rules. Birthdays are no exception to that.
By Alice Mapenzi Kubo
At birthday parties you have to not only congratulate the party concerned, but also the parents, sisters, brothers and anybody else who happens to be in the room.
If the birthday is celebrated at home, people are expected to bring a present. That said, the Dutch are very modest in their spending. Friends and relatives will phone up to inquire what is still on the wish list, to ensure that the recipient does not receive the same gift twice.
On the day itself, people pay the person whose birthday it is a visit; all will sit in a semi-circle or circle and have tea or coffee and gebak (pastry). The conversation is usually centred around the childhood of the birthday boy or girl, as well as other family matters, and tends to be repeated each year, which, to be honest, can be become somewhat boring to foreigners.
In almost all Dutch households you’ll find a birthday calendar on the toilet door, with the clearly marked birthdays of relatives, family and friends. If, while doing your business on the toilet, you notice yours is missing, you may wonder if you still have a special place in the hearts of the people you are visiting.
"How old are you?"
The Dutch also have no qualms about asking how old you are. Unlike in some countries, where a man will refrain from asking a lady her age, here people are very much at ease with that question. They generally love inquisitive questions such as: Why do you think that way? Why does this bother you? Why? What are you going to do? How do you feel about that?
Recently, I was forced to listen to a conversation between two bus drivers. The one about to go off duty was relieved by a younger colleague, who asked in a loud voice: “Hey Jan, you are soon retiring, right?” Although with some hesitation, the older driver responded: “Yes”. Not noticing the disturbed look on the face of his co-worker, the other driver continued probing. “And what will you do after retiring? Have you thought of something to do or will you just take it easy?”
Jan responded: “Honestly, I haven’t given it much thought, but I think I shall take some rest.” The younger driver continued: “I think you should, you deserve it.” To which Jan replied: “Well, maybe I will think of something else to do. I am used to working, you see, and I doubt if I will be comfortable with just relaxing. We’ll see.” “All the best Jan,” said the outgoing driver. He ignited the engine and set off.