As I get ready to blow out yet another candle this week (yes it’s my birthday and all presents are gratefully received) I thought I’d write about some of the differences (or similarities perhaps) that you will encounter when celebrating Italian birthdays. Like virtually everything here there are some social rules that you should know about if you’re planning on moving to Italy and so here is my ‘How to guide’ to ensure that the only surprise you get is your presents. Buon compleanno a me!
How to celebrate your birthdays Italian style
Italian Birthdays: Don’t expect cards
It’s the thought that counts and a beautifully worded card can hold more weight than a present as it’s here where the deepest sentiments can be expressed. But in Italy, or at least in the South, this concept isn’t shared. Birthday cards aren’t used in the same way that they are used in England, at the very most you might receive a small piece of white card with Buon Compleanno or Tanti Auguri written on it. This cuts down the hours spent poring over which is the best card for your friends and family but it is also one aspect of Birthdays that I particularly miss. (For the record it’s not just birthdays that ignore cards, Christmas cards aren’t a thing here either).
Presents are given after dinner
Okay so I’m a little bit like a five year old when it comes to birthdays. I spring out of bed with the same enthusiasm as I do on Christmas morning and like to inform every single person I bump into from the postman to the supermarket assistant that it’s my special day. On my first birthday here in Italy I patiently waited for my then-boyfriend to give me a present. As the hours passed I started to think he’d forgotten. Act cool Olivia, it’s not a bit deal, you’re not crying on the inside or anything. We had an amazing day, went for a beautiful meal and then after we’d finished, after the dessert and the coffee, he then hands me my present. Apparently this is how it’s done here so don’t, like me quietly question how he had failed to pick up on months worth of hints, you might get a little something after dinner!
Obligatory cake photos at Italian birthdays
I am not entirely sure why but for every single birthday I have ever experienced there is always a photo opportunity around the cake. This is done with every single person present not as a group photo but as individual photos. I have hundreds of these photos, exactly the same just with different people awkwardly clinging on to me while my face visibly aches from smiling for too long. I have never looked at these photos again after said day. Perhaps it’s just a celebration of how amazing the cake is, who knows!
No shying away from your age!
Oh and on that cake which will be beautifully presented for all to see, members of your party or not, there in the middle in brightly burning wax will stand the digits of your birthday age. Being English I have been brought up to never ask a woman’s age. As a woman in Italy I not only have to announce my ever increasing numbers to the world but also have them immortalised in the obligatory cake photos as mentioned above. Sigh. Thank god I’m not shy.
It’s your birthday so you foot the bill
Finally, this is the last and most important point of celebrating Italian birthdays. This is crucial to know as it can make or break your birthday if you’re not aware. In Italy if it’s your birthday you pay. You are the one inviting people to indulge you for the evening so the very least you can do is pick up the bill. While in the UK it’s all your friends and family who will chip in to buy your grub or a round or two, in Italy it’s the opposite so be prepared at the end of the night to fork out for all your champagne guzzling habits. It’s your party you can cry if you want to…!
How do you celebrate your birthday? Do you do any of the above? Are there any other traditions that you do? Let me know in the comments below. Want to find out more about Italian culture? Click here for a list of ten things everyone who moves to Italy learns to do. Interested in other traditions? Read about some Italian wedding traditions here