Traditions in English-speaking countries

Birthdays offer a great chance to have a look at small differences between cultures and the traditions in English-speaking countries.

My birthday was earlier this week. When I spoke with my sister in the US on Sunday, she wished me a happy birthday, a few days earlier than the real date. I saw my German neighbor on Sunday too, and she knew I was having a birthday this week. Did my neighbor wish me a happy birthday before the real date? No, she didn’t, because it’s not the German tradition. I got a friendly message from her on my birthday.

In the US, there’s no problem if you wish someone a happy birthday before the day of their birthday – we don’t believe that it will bring bad luck.

Another difference is when you celebrate your birthday – if you go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday in the US, usually your friends and family pay for your meal and their meals – you are the person celebrating your birthday, you are the guest of honor, so you don’t have to pay for yourself or anyone else.

So if someone from another culture wishes you a happy birthday before your birthday, or they celebrate a holiday, birthday or other special event a bit differently, don’t worry, it’s only a cultural difference.

It’s fine to ask someone about traditions in English-speaking countries – or any other country – and tell them how you might celebrate or observe a special day in Germany. Generally, people are happy if you ask, because it shows that you are interested in learning more about them and their culture.

Mindy Ehrhart Krull
About the author

Originally from the US, Mindy Ehrhart Krull holds a master's degree in journalism and has been teaching English and working as an author, editor and proofreader in Germany since 2008.

At DELS, she leads a team of several English trainers and language professionals.

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