When you think about it, birthdays in the United States are pretty self-centered. Your friends and family stop what they’re doing to celebrate you by buying you presents, baking you treats and (if you’re old enough) getting you drunk. In some other countries, this idea is turned on its head, and your birthday is a time for you to celebrate the people in your life. You’re the one who bakes the cake and buys the drinks. This makes some sense, really. But there are also some birthday traditions around the world that Americans might find intriguing (or just plain bizarre).
Let’s take a look at 16 of the most fascinating activities, foods and rules surrounding birthday celebrations in other countries. We’ll also give you a guide for how to wish someone a happy birthday in 10 languages.
1. Starting with a common tradition that you’ve probably already heard of, in Latin American countries, a girl’s 15th birthday is celebrated with a quinceañera. The celebration begins with a mass and ends with a party, as it’s both a religious and social recognition of “womanhood.”
2. Another fairly well-known Latin American (primarily Mexican) birthday tradition involves beating an object with a stick until candy falls out. That’s right, we’re talking about a piñata. Piñatas are present at many celebrations, not just birthdays, and can take the form of the traditional donkey, cartoon characters and even politicians. It’s a great way to relieve stress!
3. An old tradition in parts of Germany for men who were still single on their 30th birthday was to sweep the steps of city hall while dressed in drag until they could find a virgin to kiss. Fortunately, it’s been modernized a bit since then. Now, single men and women spend their 30th drinking cheap booze with their friends while sweeping steps or doing other chores to show they’re “eligible” for marriage.
4. In both Brazil and Jamaica, there are traditions that involve getting flour thrown at you. Jamaicans will sometimes be “antiqued,” or covered in flour, on their birthday. Brazilian kids take it a step further and throw not just flour, but also eggs at the birthday child. Sounds like a baker’s nightmare!
5. In a similar vein, Canadians often get “greased” on their birthdays, which means their friends and relatives ambush them and smear butter on their noses. Apparently, this practice is for warding off bad luck.
6. Sometimes people in the United States will dole out birthday pinches (or punches). But in Italy, Argentina and Hungary, they take a different approach. In these countries (and probably also in others), friends will pull the ears of the person whose birthday it is — one tug for each of their years of age.
7. In China, people eat egg noodles, called 长寿面 (chang shou mian), on their birthday to symbolize longevity.
8. Taarties are tarts filled with fruit and topped with whipped cream, and they’re served on birthdays in the Netherlands.
9. Australians celebrating a birthday often eat fairy bread, a rolled-up “pastry” simply consisting of buttered white bread with rainbow sprinkles on it. No judgment here (well, maybe a little).
10. Ever want a pie with your name on it? It’s pretty common for Russians to get a personalized pie on their birthday.
11. 미역국 (miyeok-guk) is a seaweed soup served in South Korea as a birthday breakfast. It’s said to replenish nutrients, so mothers often eat it after going through childbirth, as well.
12. In Germany, Greece and some other countries, it’s considered bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday before the exact day, or to celebrate your birthday early.
13. Unlike in the United States, it’s the birthday boy or girl who pays for events and buys drinks for their friends in Italy, Germany and other European countries.
14. Along the same lines, the birthday celebrant will bake the cake for friends and colleagues in Germany, rather than the other way around.
15. In Italy, you’re expected to open your birthday present right away in front of the person who gave it to you. It’s rude to just put the wrapped package to the side. Hope you like it!
16. In Vietnam, people usually don’t celebrate their individual birthdays. Instead, everyone celebrates together on Tet, which is the day that celebrates Vietnamese New Year and everyone turns a year older.
How To Say Happy Birthday In 10 Languages
German – Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
French – Bon anniversaire!
Spanish – ¡Feliz cumpleaños!
Italian – Buon compleanno!
Portuguese – Feliz Aniversário!
Swedish – Grattis på födelsedagen!
Indonesian – Selamat ulang tahun!
Russian – с днем рождения! (s dnem rozhdeniya!)
Danish – Tillykke med fødselsdagen!
Mandarin Chinese – 生日快乐 (Shēngrì kuàilè)