9 Apr

Dutch Circle Party

Anyone who has lived in Holland for any length of time has most likely encountered a Dutch circle party and those who have not will eventually, it is inevitable. A Dutch circle party (the name is not a euphemism) can be best described as a ‘party’ that involves sitting in a circle all afternoon and chatting while drinking tea or coffee and eating cake. Anyone who only considers a party to be a party if someone is passed out in the corner, people are making out in the kitchen and the cops have been called at least three times is going to be sorely disappointed by a Dutch circle party.

When attending a Dutch circle party it is important to know that when other attendees shake your hand and announce ‘Gefeliciteerd’ they are not introducing themselves. It might start to seem like you are being introduced to a very big family or that Gefeliciteerd is a more common name than Smith but they are in fact wishing you, “congratulations”.


“Stuart. Nice to meet you Mr and Mrs Gefeliciteerd.”

This is because it is custom for the Dutch to congratulate everyone at the party and (as I discovered) is not because they are unsure about who the birthday boy or girl is (don’t try to be helpful by pointing).

Once you have successfully found a place to sit with in the circle (not necessarily with the people you arrived with and most likely with people you don’t know at all) you will be offered a drink and some cake. If you desire a drink with a little extra kick it is advisable to secretly conceal a hip flask of alcohol about your person since the strongest thing to be served at most Dutch circle parties is chamomile tea.

It is also custom for there to be a minimum of 3 or 4 generations of family present at a Dutch circle party (the maximum limit is only set by the average human life span). This makes it entirely possible to go from a conversation about life as a member of the Dutch resistance during World War 2 to which Sesame Street character is best and why (It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance).

However, since a lot of these conversations will be in Dutch and thus impossible for a non-Dutch speaker to follow it is best to find something of interest to do to pass the time such as; staring at a wall, listening to the clock tick, trying to guess how much Dutch ‘worst & kaas’ you can eat or simply going to your happy place.

However, you must also stay alert! As a non Dutch speaker it is possible to go from being unintentionally ignored to suddenly having the entire room focus upon you within a split second as everyone waits silently for your answer to a question that you might not have heard because you were too busy watching a bug crawl across the window. This can happen because a Dutch attendee simply wanted to practice their English, ask you what brought you to Holland or simply know the current prices of the UK housing market. Whatever the reason, everyone in the room suddenly wants to hear the English speaker talk and they never seem to realize what a shock to the system this sudden intimidating attention can be or that testing us on our Dutch under the watchful eye of a room full of native speakers is not necessarily the most comfortable of situations.

But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.


Find out more about the Dutch Circle Party by checking out these posts:
The Original Dutch Circle Party Guide
How To Identify a Dutch Circle Party
Dutch Circle Party Closed Loop Theory
…or get your very own Dutch Circle Party T-Shirt


72 Responses to “The Dutch Circle Party Guide”

  1. wordgeyser says:

    I’ve heard about them, heard the horror stories and managed to avoid one so far. Gotta love the Dutch!

  2. Mirthe says:

    Lol this is so brilliant :D It’s exactly how we celebrate all the birthday stuff, but I’m used to it.. Didn’t know it’s so awkward to non-Dutchies

  3. Hippy Jesus says:

    Dutch guy here, this is indeed how at the very least most birthday parties are. However, there are plenty of these WITH alcohol (usually only beer and wine though) However, they are indeed a horrible bore and I don’t really celebrate my birthday because of this shit.

  4. Gurumaguaffi says:

    Funny article

    In South Africa we do pretty much the same, except replace the tea with beer, and the table full of cheese snacks with a bbq.

  5. Koen Havik says:

    Great post! And very true! I never realised that a “Circle Party” was that… euh lets say “special”… Now that I have read this post I realise that all the birthday parties I go to are exactly like this. And I now feel a little bit sorry for my wife who is Chinees and dragged to all the parties the last few years. And is about to give one herself…

    Anyway I’m still laughing about your story! :-)

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  8. Aaron says:

    “It’s best to avoid getting these two conversations mixed up, Dora the Explore was never part of the Dutch resistance”

    One of the funniest things I’ve ever read on the net =D

  9. Sjoerd says:

    Other traditions:
    Don’t forget that the “jarige” (birthday boy or girl) has to present everybody a piece of cake and a drink of choice, i.e. he/she is busy all afternoon. So you speak your host only when entering and leaving the party. A kind of willfull slavery.
    I always seem to be seated between a silent elderly man, and some gossiping female neighbours, so I’m ignored from two sides.
    But never try to change seates! NEVER! Once you are seated you are stuck. It’s not allowed to take another empty chair, because that’s the the chair where aunt Geertruida sat, she has just left 45 minutes ago to cut some cheese and will just return from the kitchen, at least an hour later. The cirkle will shoo you from the chair. So every seat is invisibly reserved, since there is allways a shortage of chairs, allthough extra plastic garden chairs were provided by at least two neigbours.
    Happily there is a cure nowadays:
    Start smoking if you don’t smoke, and go for a fag on the balkony, or in the kitchen.
    The best party is allways in the kitchen.

  10. Sjoerd says:

    Story from my boyfriend family from Leiden:
    The party ends when the “oprot soep” (= F*ck off soup) is served.
    Everybody knows the soup is the last call, so drink your soup and go.

  11. Fluffylove says:

    Dutch circle party, brilliant! If only the weather would be good enough in Holland to have lots of bbq’s and garden parties we would soon be evicted from our house for invading the sound privacy of our neighbours…

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  14. Mark says:

    In our family we refer to these get-togethers as “the Dutch Circle of Death”. We avoid them like the plague after having suffered a few. Early on in my relocation my mother was visiting from the UK and so had to join us for a birthday “celebration”. She must have known more about the hell we were about to enter as she had brought her book to read. She spent the whole time wedge between 2 aunts reading her book and not a word said or an eyelid batted.

  15. Sarah says:

    I LOATHE these things. Fortunately, my sister-in-law’s in-laws (my niece and nephew’s other grandparents) are still under the impression that, after 7 years here, I’m still unable to speak Dutch and they ignore me completely. The grandmother sounds like a Python in drag and I haven’t been able to speak to her with a straight face since I figured that out a few years back anyway… I suffer through an hour or so and focus on the cake and talking to the parts of the family who have caught on to my Dutch abilities.

    Also, I’ve still not gotten used to being congratulated for my husband’s birthday, and “yep. I haven’t managed to kill him yet” has slipped out of my mouth a time or two.

    I’m doomed.

  16. About space and cake – Three cultural highlights of the Netherlands - Lexiophiles says:

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  17. Geraldine says:

    Superb article! I love it! I’ve been in this situation so many times… Also what Aledys and Sjoerd had to say is sooo true!… If you are coming from Argentina you won’t miss the person who asks “are you talking portuguese (or latin) down there?” – which my husband always take my arm as soon as he hears this question, before I kill the person who asked – and definitely, the party will end with soup! why? LOL!

    The most interesting part is that as soon as you arrive they offer coffee and/or tea with a portion of the cake – already cut – and you wonder when they are going to sing the Happy Birthday and/or blow out the candles!? :))) and forget of asking for a second portion of the cake (if you really liked it)… probably they bought “just” enough considering 1 portion x head.

    Agree with a comment that always try to escape to the kitchen.. there is where you will probably enjoy it the most!

    Congrats for the blog and I hope you will win the competition.

  18. Dutchflavour says:

    [But do not worry. Most Dutch circle parties have a set end time at a very respectable hour which the host or hostess will politely remind you of by starting to clean up around you.]

    hahaha so true!! my mother does that always!

  19. I am Dutch, married to an American, and I cannot count the number of circle parties I have sat through in . . . America, in the house of my in-laws, in a small rural community. Every aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor and dog would show up. For hours and hours I’d have to listen to all the news from the neighborhood and everyone’s life, and I actually understood it all. I would go hide out in a bedroom for a while and read, but invariably my dh would come looking for me ;)

    Of course I’ve had plenty of Dutch circle parties, as I grew up in Holland, and my husband had to suffer through some of them as well, without understanding much. So it goes!

  20. johanna says:

    Just found your blog thanks to the well-deserved Bloggies win.

    I am a Dutch born Australian who has lived here for – ahem – many, many decades. Two weeks ago I went to a “circle party” for my father’s 86th birthday, in the suburbs of Sydney.

    Because it is an important birthday, it started at 11am and finished at about 4pm. It was exactly as you have described, although at least people spoke a lot of English (my Dutch is sparse).

    There were a couple of young Dutch backpackers there (were staying with one of the guests), and they looked absolutely haunted, poor things. On the pretence of showing them the garden I took them out of sight and slipped them a cigarette and a beer. One of them remarked that it seems that there is nowhere far away enough to escape these sorts of gatherings.

    The only slight variation worth mentioning is that several of the mainly ancient guests brought along various electronic devices loaded with a few thousand of their favourite family and travel photos. Ah well, at least the food was plentiful and lekker.

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  22. Alice Anna says:

    The British alternative to the Dutch circle party of course is everyone going to the pub and getting pissed in the absolutely minimum amount of time possible, making lots of noise, crashing at a weird hour in place unknown and waking up without any clue what has happened. Party!!!!

  23. Sailqueen says:

    Having lived in Holland for 13 years (no longer, now watching people get drunk at parties no matter the hour in Australia) I am well acquainted with circle parties, the evening ones were better as the cake and coffee requirement were out of the way quite promptly to be followed by snacks and drinks to ease the night. What has not been mentioned is after the deliciously awkward moment of congratulating everyone on the hosts birthday you are offered a choice of taart and coffee. In the kitchen a large slab of your choice is put on a plate and the requisite coffee (strong enough to put hair on your chest) is brought to you in the circle and you then have this interesting juggling act of holding onto both the coffee and the cake plate while trying to accept the congratulations of the next entrant into the room (usually 3 kisses and/or a handshake) I found myself balancing my cake on my lap, while I quickly downed the coffee as there is absolutely nowhere to put either, the coffee table is miles away and there are no side tables in sight either. I would just pick up the fork to have a piece of cake when someone else would enter the arena and I’d once more be clutching the plate and coffee and trying to rise to greet them. I still have nightmares about those events. I never suffered the language humiliation as I learned to speak fluent Dutch within months of living there. We didn’t choose a big city to live in, no we chose a southern rural village – acclimatise or die!!

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  29. JDvanZeijl says:

    Lol, I am native dutch and I hate these ‘parties’ :))

  30. Great blog! Thank you! SO hilarious, SO recognisable…
    Just to add my tuppence worth:
    – Horror (1): The word itself “Ge-fe-li-ci-teerd”. What kind of twisted-logic-in-the-universe invented such an utterance??
    Horror (2): Exposure of my ‘who’s who’ ignorance, when going round the circle shaking hands and desperately trying to work out the connection of that hand with the birthday boy/girl. E.g. (literal translation) “Congratulations on the birthday of the cousin of your neighbour’s mother-in-law!”

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  32. Darcy says:

    I am Dutch and I simply refuse to congratulate everyone in the circle – it’s simply too ridiculous. In my experience there are usually two camps at these parties – people who accept the circle and people who do not. The latter group will just wave at the circle, say hello loudly (if they’re bold enough) or simply move into the room quietly, only saying happy birthday to the person whose actual bloody birthday it is.

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