So the 'averaged sized' day arrived and despite the preceding days being warm and sunny, my now 35 year old eyelids flickered open to find Amsterdam grey and drippy and looking as unlike July as you could imagine. It felt as though the dampness had also found a way into my spirit and it was with heavy limbs and downturned mouth I that flung myself out of bed. HD on the other hand, having worked a double shift at the deli the day before, stayed buried in the duvet, barely opening his eyes and managing only a mumbled 'happy birthday' which trailed off into a snore.
Okay, no present - fine. Mumbly snorey birthday greeting - not as fine but still forgivable. I clumped down the stairs feeling distinctly middle aged but cheering myself with the thought that I would probably find a birthday card with one of HD's exceptionally loving messages inside, propped up on the table.
No card, no note with cheerful birthday themed sketches scribbled in the corners. Not even cup of tea looked likely. I said goodbye to an unconscious HD, walked out the door and promptly burst into tears. And the tears continued all the way to my Dutch class. Luckily with the rain it wasn't all that noticeable and I probably just looked like I was in pain, sort like the face I made when I rode my new bike for the first time and the saddle was tilted too far back.
I just had time before my Dutch class to stop and buy birthday cake. (In the Netherlands you buy your own birthday cake, which everyone else eats. Maybe also good to know that it is also you who picks up the tab at the bar should you be daft enough to suggest everyone goes out to celebrate your special day. I know, it's not right, and from now on I'm never going to reveal the date of my birthday to anyone.)
I greeted my Dutch teacher cheerfully and handed her a mini version of my cake, explaining "ik ben jarig", which means literally "I am year-ish". We talked about what I had been given (niks), what I was doing later (ik weet het niet) before I couldn't help but blurt out the awful fact that my boyfriend obviously didn't love me anymore because he didn't even get me a card. She looked at me like I had just started to speak Russian instead of Dutch (okay,okay, by this point I had run out of birthday-related Dutch and was complaining in English).
"A card? Why would he give you a card? You live in the same house!"
So apparently the Dutch, as a rule, don't give birthday cards, they only send them to people they aren't going to see on the day. Of COURSE! That makes sense, that's practical, that's Dutch. It also makes the whole affair even cheaper, but I won't resort to stereotyping. To someone who has a desk draw literally stuffed with cards just in case I get the urge to express a feeling of love, gratitude or general good will towards someone in my address book, this approach seems a little cold. But then I guess my approach could also be viewed as extreme, but coming from the opposite side.
So, the main thing to bear in mind should be 'year-ish' while living in the Netherlands is that you shouldn't really expect anything, except what you pay for yourself.
Note: this post was updated slightly after my lovely Dutch friend pointed out that she gives cards, including to people living in the same house, and that my story made my adopted countrymen sound a bit mean.