Thursday, April 26, 2012

Birthday largesse

Today is my sweetie's birthday. So this morning, I rolled over, wished him a happy birthday, gave him a kiss... and then exclaimed, "Oh no! I forgot that you have to bring treats to work! I should have made brownies yesterday."

He'd forgotten too. "You could just pick up a box of chocolates at the train station on your way to the office," I offered helpfully. But we both knew that was going to be an obvious last-minute ploy, the usual fall-back when you don't have something better. Unremarkable and uninteresting.

(One of the things I love most about living here: Belgian chocolates can actually be considered ordinary.)

I said, half-jokingly, "If I got started now, they'd be done in an hour. What time do you have to be at work?" But as it turned out, Piet had brought some work home last night that still wasn't done. He decided to finish it this morning, while I baked, and go in a bit late.

Back in the U.S., we expect (or hope) that on our birthday, our co-workers will take us out to lunch. Maybe the boss will spring for a cake. If your colleagues really like you, they may even go in on a group gift and card.

The exception is of course elementary school, where the birthday boy or girl will bring cupcakes to class, thereby ensuring at least one day of peer-group popularity. Assuming your mom can bake, that is--or is willing to spring for store-bought cupcakes laden with sugary icing and sprinkles.

Here in Belgium, this practice continues for the rest of your life. It doesn't have to be cupcakes (which are actually something of a novelty here), but you are expected to bring treats of some sort to work or school. Chocolates, or course, are standard and easily acquired.

Once I had a student in the English-conversation class I teach at the local community center bring a whole vlaai (a kind of local pie) to class along with plates, forks and napkins. A couple of years ago, Piet took fresh fruit to work.

If you're Belgian, you can still expect to receive presents from your close friends and family on your birthday. But your colleagues and classmates are freed from so much as having to remember your birthday, much less plan for it.

Instead, you offer them something nice to eat, ensuring that your birthday is a special day for them too, and receiving lots of heartfelt birthday wishes in return.

Unfortunately, my brownies were undercooked--I guessed I rushed them a bit--so Piet had to settle for half a pan. Only the ones around the edges were good. Still, I hear they were a hit with his co-workers.

I have another shot at it, though. Since he splits his time between Brussels and Hasselt, he has to take treats to the other office tomorrow. I have a second batch in the oven now.

1 comment:

  1. oh, lucky you, hope, yr 2nd batch went well enough! I was just browsing Belgian Bd gifts, as I'm Russian (btw you described perfectly well, how it is w Bds in RU) and my Bf is Belgian and I had been exposed to diff bfs and diff cultures before, but not Belgian, so let's see what can I do... we don't have baking facilities here... but lets see what I can do