Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

This week my daughter is celebrating her 10th birthday, although this birthday will be only the 4th one she’s celebrated in the country where she was born.   As a third-culture kid (a TCK) she’s already had a chance to have her special day in Brazil, Argentina, and Russia — each celebration being very different from the others.  And so, as we prepare for yet another party, I am thinking of differences in the meaning of birthdays and in birthday celebrations around the world.  Not just for kids — for adults too.

The country where I grew up (Russia) one’s birthday is a very important occasion and that importance isn’t reserved for children only.  Adults treasure their birthdays and celebrate them yearly in circles of their family and friends.  An interesting fact is that when you decide to celebrate your birthday with co-workers, it is you, who is responsible for bringing a cake to share.  My husband, an American, always found that a bit odd.

In the US birthdays are a lot less of a big deal for adults.  Your family may or may not call you on your birthday and, even if they live far away but happen to be close on that special day, they won’t always come and spend the day with you.  But in a different tradition from Russia, in the US your co-workers will treat you to lunch and your friends will treat you to dinner.

What meaning does your culture attach to birthdays?  And how have you celebrated your birthdays (or your kids’ birthdays) in different countries?  Please share!

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6 responses to “Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

  1. is this question not for russians, or expats leaving in russia I suppose, the way it’s worded?

  2. globalcoachcenter

    Hi Mary,

    It’s a question for everyone and anyone who has ever celebrated a birthday abroad!


  3. Hi again Margarita, I hadn’t seen your blog before I responded on the Linked-in Group, so I thought I’d paste my response on your blog too!

    I just recently wrote about the differences in celebrating birthdays in the States (where I’m from) and in Spain (where I live). In Spain, it is up to you to organize your own birthday party and it is customary for you to treat your friends to something, besides bringing in some candies or cake for your coworkers in the office. In the States, this would be unheard of as it is customary for your friends or family to take you out to dinner for your b-day or to organize a party for you. I still have trouble in Spain (after eleven years) when it comes to my b-day as I am still not too comfortable with calling attention to my very own birthday; most years I would just as soon let the day pass, but it is thanks to my friends who urge me every year to do something (or knowing that I’m American they have also been known to even throw me surprise b-day parties) that I have actually celebrated it or I would probably have ignored it for years!

  4. Hello Margarita,
    I made a post on Linked In as well, but then realized that you wanted to hear more about differences. My cultures are Swedish and American, which makes it very confusing, since the US side of me wants to be invited and celebrated while the Swedish side knows that it is my duty to invite and welcome friends and famly to my home with food and cake. I guess traveling to exotic locations on my birthday was a way around that conundrum about how to celebrate. I also spent one birthday in Rio, Brazil and another in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’d say I’ve spent around 20 of my 28 birthdays in a different country. And your daughter may say the same thing 27 years from now!

  5. globalcoachcenter

    @ Anna Maria — I hope my daughter will have all those experiences! It’s fun celebrating birthdays in different ways.

    @ Allison. Very interesting about Spain…I am hoping to live there at some point so I’ll keep that in mind.

  6. I’m from the US and had great birthdays as a kid because it is the day before Halloween. It was like a non-stop party. As I got older I’d get less gifts and attention. Maybe just go out with friends or have a big dinner together.

    Today I think of it as a kind of personal New Year. What would I like to do in the year ahead, feeling gratitude, what would make my life more complete…etc.

    Today in France I have to train my French husband that I still like some birthday attention! His family just phones, no emphasis on gifts or parties.

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