German Culture: Birthdays


In honor of my birthday yesterday, I thought I would tell you a little bit about what to do when its yours or someone else’s birthday in Germany. So, here are a couple of do’s and don’t of birthdays in Germany.

1. Do not, under any circumstances, wish someone a “Happy Birthday” before the actual date of their birth.

Not only is this considered to be rude, but it is just plain bad luck. At the beginning (and even now sometimes), I made this faux paux quite often. I knew I wouldn’t see that person on their actual birthday, so I would say it a couple days early when I did see them. Very un-German of me. You can, however, acknowledge that it will be someone’s birthday in the next fews days, which I found to be a polite way of acknowledging their birthday, but not bringing them any bad luck!

2. Do throw yourself a birthday party, especially if it is considered a “big” birthday!

The birthday honoree is the also the host. So, whether it is a big birthday like 25, 40, 50, or 80, or just an invitation out to dinner, everything is provided by the Geburtstagskind (Birthday kid)! This is especially good to remember, as an American, on any day of the week. If you ask someone to have dinner with you at a restaurant, that means the tab is on you! We have also made that mistake a couple of times, but thankfully had understanding friends that had been around lots of Americans 😉

Last year, we were able to celebrate two big birthdays with Chris’ family in Germany. His uncle turned 50 and his grandfather turned 80. Although both birthdays were really different, they both reminded me of something like a wedding reception in America. It was a big party at a venue with plenty of catered food, and for the “young folk”, there was music and dancing. Each party lasted for hours and included toasts from friends and speeches about special memories of that person. It was such a cool experience for us, and especially special for me, because Chris’ grandfather asked me to be the photographer at his birthday party! It was a great bonding moment for us 🙂


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