Should you expect someone to do something for you on your birthday, or should you be doing something for the others on your birthday?
Who should organize the party?
In Hong Kong, if you are having a birthday, you are kind of expecting your friends/ family to do something for you. For example, someone is going to give you a surprise. Someone is organizing a birthday party for you. Someone is going to prepare a birthday cake for you. Someone is going to invite you to eat out, etc..
In Germany, basically it is the opposite. The birthday person is expected to do something for the others when he/she is having a birthday! If the birthday person wants to have a celebration, he/she should host a birthday party. It can be at home, in a restaurant, in a bar/club, etc. The point is that the birthday person should be the one who is organizing this party.
If you have a birthday and want to have a party at home, you will be the one to send out invitation to people, preparing food and drinks, putting decoration at home, preparing a birthday cake, and of course cleaning up your place after the party.
If you want to have a party outside, e.g. in a restaurant, you will be the one who make the restaurant reservation, invite people to come, etc. Sometimes the birthday person will pay for all the food and drinks in the restaurant. Or if it is a bigger group, the birthday person may want to pay for only the drinks of the people.
And remember, in Germany, people host their birthday party on or after their actual birthday. It is actually considered bad luck if you celebrate your birthday beforehand.
When working in a office job in Germany, I am getting free cakes very often. When someone is having a birthday, they are supposed to bring a cake to share with the others. I mean, it is not a rule that you must do it. But many people do that.
And I forget to mention, people in Germany normally bake their own cake (I would say 95% of the time). Versus in Hong Kong, we normally don’t have an oven at home and cakes are always bought from a shop.
One thing which is in common for Germany and Hong Kong: People are supposed to bring some presents. In Germany, if you are invited to a birthday party from someone, you are supposed to bring some presents with you. (a present is not needed if you just eat a birthday cake from your colleague in the office!)
Unlike in USA, wish list is not widely used here in Germany. Most of the time people will have to come up with a gift idea themselves. Sometimes people put in money together to buy a bigger present, or they just buy something small individually.
Cash coupon is really common in Germany. You can buy cash coupon in almost any shops/restaurants/online store like Amazon. So if you are not sure about what to buy, you can always just get a cash coupon from one of the shops. And the birthday person can then decide what he/she likes to buy with this coupon.
My cultural shock
I have to say I was not aware of this cultural difference when I first came to Germany. On my first birthday here, I asked some friends to go to dinner with me in a restaurant.
In Hong Kong, it is very common that we don’t ask the birthday person to pay. Let say, if we are 10 people in a restaurant, when the bill comes, we will just divide the bill by 9, instead of 10 people, so that the birthday person gets a free meal (as a present).
So I was not aware that this is not the case in Germany. On my birthday, when the bill came, I was so shocked that everybody was just paying for their own bill!
That was funny, when I think about it now. Actually, according to the German culture, I should have invited those friends for that dinner instead!