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Traditional handshake preferred over a birthday kiss from colleagues

Card on birthday welcomed

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

THE HAGUE – Don’t kiss a Dutch colleague on his or his birthday. They hate such affectionate displays at work or elsewhere, preferring the traditional handshake. Dutch seniors appreciate a hug for their birthdays. While others may find it a challenge remembering countless birthdays, the Dutch do not. Their birthday tracking system has been perfected with the aid of special calendars, found in the vast majority of Dutch homes (and also in emigration countries).

Much of this information is not really new to most people in the Netherlands or those with recent Dutch roots. However, a recent survey, commissioned by TNT Post, has quantified these Dutch traditions with data, percentages and other statistics.

A birthday is a fairly important event for the great majority of Dutch people. The survey confirmed this aptly: 80 percent of all Dutch households have at least one birthday calendar, usually hanging on a wall or on the door of a bathroom. The percentage of Dutch people that appreciate receiving a birthday card is at 82 percent, fairly close to those who display a birthday calendar. Up to 90 percent of the people surveyed are familiar with online made personalized birthday cards, which they usually send by regular mail. A humorous card has the preference of 49 percent of those interviewed, a choice especially favored by men.

Past happenings

With all that interaction regarding birthdays, it becomes very difficult to conceal one’s age. It may be a surprise to North Americans but 94 percent of the Dutch people have no reservations in revealing their age without fibbing about it. It actually should not surprise any one that not knowing the age of the celebrant easily could turn into it being a topic of conversation at the birthday party, perhaps with a lot of teasing and good-natured ribbing. There is one subject many Dutch people avoid talking about at birthday parties: their health. No less than one out of two dislike the subject, followed by talk about politics (36 percent). Not avoiding those topics are respectively 24 and 19 percent of birthday partygoers.

Favorable subjects at party parties are family matters (49 percent), but personal subjects such as recent happenings or, even more, stories about happenings in the (distant) past rate far higher. This is particularly the case with younger Dutch people! Not at all popular is talk about the comings and goings of star personalities (29 percent dislike it), the latest gossip (26 percent avoid it), cars (off limits to 19 percent) and sports (to 16 percent).


Other data about birthday celebrations include information such as the fact that the average birthday party costs between 25 and 100 euros (43 percent), that the most popular aspect is the experience of closeness (gezelligheid) (62 percent), that only 15 percent are happy to be in the centre of attention, that 36 percent see reaching the age of 50 as a milestone warranting something extra, that reaching the age of 18 is an extra important occasion (29 percent), that Dutch people prefer receiving cash as a gift (25 percent), and that most Dutch people restrict a birthday party to family and close friends (62 percent).

TNT Post’s interest in the promotion of birthday cards, particularly those sent by mail, is obvious. However, it apparently does not devote much attention to ‘birthdays’ of businesses and organizations, including its own. For those interested in postal history, TNT Post was launched on January 15, 1799, as ‘Staatsbedrijf der Posterijen Telegrafie en Telefonie,’ and nicknamed PTT. It took over fifty years before the PTT introduced it first postal stamp, released on January 1, 1852. Since then, numerous designs have been released, including in recent times the release of a Rembrandt 400 and a NGV 150 commemorative stamp.

As far as the promotion of Dutch identity is concerned, that angle has been covered as well. The latest is the design that features a rookworst, for many people a culinary identity symbol.