The first birthday party we joined here in Arizona was so …. intense. There was A LOT of food and so many things going on. And there was no structure. I was completely overwhelmed and felt totally exhausted afterwards. And I wasn’t even hosting. It was easy to agree NEVER EVER host a party the American way. This weekend we celebrated Vlinders’ Birthday with her friends from school. Unfortunately I have to admit reluctantly that we found ourself throwing the party with a lot of the American bells and whistles (not all of them of course…. we will always stay Dutch). But still, the American way of birthday celebration differs a lot from the Dutch way. So I don’t want to abstain you guys from a complete run down of our findings.
Let’s start with saying that Dutch people would consider most American birthday parties as a little bit over the top. Not sporadicly parties here are accompanied with clowns, mermaids, princesses, bouncy castles, balloon twisters… you name it. A couple of weeks ago, Vlinder was at a birthday party where they had a game truck. This is a large truck with all sort of build in computer games. You should google it. It is quite cool. But I don’t think that something like that would be a big thing in the Netherlands because Dutch people are a bit more conservative as it comes to parties… or actually in everything… They have the spirit: ‘act normal, that is already weird enough’ (gosh that translation sounds strange).
Another difference in the way of celebrating child birthday parties is that here parents do not leave while in the Netherlands they bring their invited child over pick him or her up after te party. Here parents join the party together with their children and most of the time take brothers and sisters too. Besides that, you never know how many people show up. In the Netherlands you need a good reason not to join a birthday party when your child is invited. Here birthday parties are way more optional. Some people don’t or do show up without giving a notice. Or they say they will come and won’t be there after all. The most important downside of this, is that it can leave your child behind with disappointment. It is so sad when your child is looking forward to a party and nobody is coming (or only a very few). Another disadvantage of the American way is the difficulty to estimate how much you have to buy or make. Since you don’t know how many people will come (invited children, parents, siblings) you have to buy A LOT to make sure that you won’t go short on stuff. That makes it almost impossible to keep the whole thing on a low budget. On the other hand, having more parents at your party means more help during activities and thus less stress which… is a good thing.
There is one more thing that I have to mention about birthday parties the American way and that is: the goody bags. It is very common here to give all the children at a party a goody bag when they go home. And I mean: ALL kids that are there. Goody bags are filled with candy, crafty things, fidget toys … you name it. The first time we got one we thought it was ridiculous and over the top. But it is so common here that it is not rare to hear kids ask where they can find the goody bags (which we think is spoiled and bad mannered). It is more a standard than something you can optionally add. But this too makes it even more hard to keep the party low budget. I mean: i had to make 24 goody bags. One year ago we agreed not to make them. But now…we just did it… because it is how it goes here and you don’t want your kid to be different from their friends.
So back to Vlinders’ party. We hired a Ramada at Kiwanis Park in Tempe to have the party over there. A Ramada is some sort of house with a fully covered roof but without walls. The Ramadas’ at Kiwanis Park are equipped with two large metal tables, benches, a trash can and a large coal BBQ. All fixed so you cannot steal them ;). You can rent a Ramada at Kiwanis park from the city of Tempe for 25 dollars when you are resident and 50 if you are not. We live in Chandler so we are no residents of the Tempe city. But let’s face it: 50 dollars for a nice place in a park like Kiwanis is not a whole lot of money. Our Ramada was located just between a playground and a splash pad which was pretty nice. It still is 40 degrees celsius over here (approximately 100 degrees F) so we planned the party in the early morning. We decorated the Ramada with balloons and paper chains while Vlinder and Lieve were bouncing back and forth (which was pretty annoying). We had three large coolers filled with ice to keep the drinks cold. We had candy and snacks. I baked 40 cupcakes (cranky face). To give the whole thing a little Dutch touch I couldn’t resist to buy drop (black licorice) and spekjes (coloured marshmallows with more taste than the American versions ;)). By the way… I LOVE giving people here black licorice (drop). They absolutely hate it. You should see their faces….soo funny.
Anyway… Vlinder wanted to tie dye t-shirts with her friends so I bought a whole lot of white shirts in different sizes and enough ties and dye to provide a whole orphan home (Dutch saying, I know… not an English one). I divided both food and tie dye stuff among the tables and that was it. The Dutch are used to a more structured plan for child birthday parties. I remember that one of my old co-workers was drafting whole event schemes for her childrens’ birthday parties (which perhaps is not the standard but it might give an idea). Here it is the other way around. During the party, some children were busy with the tie dye, some were playing at the playground and some were looking for some refreshment at the splash pad. I truly didn’t have to do anything. Everybody took care of themselves and just did whatever they pleased. And I have to say: I LOVED IT! This was by far the most relaxed birthday party I have ever hosted. I tried these kind of parties in the Netherlands, putting all food en stuff on the tables, but I ended up rushing the entire party to make sure that everybody was provided with enough drinks and snacks. Here I actually had the time to chat which was so nice (I know… I am chatty). It is pretty common here to take care of lunch or dinner for your guests so we ordered pizza (for locals: at Barro’s… Those are the very best!). After the party we threw everything in the trashcan and went home. No mess, no cleaning up… perfect. A little impression below…