You’ve made a real Dutch friend. You go to his house for coffee. After a while, you excuse yourself and squeeze into a tiny, windowless, ventless washroom tucked under the stairwell. You sit down and notice that a calendar is taped to the wall across from you.
If it’s your first time in a Dutch toilet, you could be forgiven for wondering: do these agenda-loving people even schedule their bowel movements weeks in advance? But on closer inspection, this isn’t just any calendar. This is a verjaardagskalender – for keeping track of birthdays.
Yes, it’s hilarious. Why? I don’t know. Everything that happens in a washroom is hilarious. But it is also very, very important. Splitting the check, sandwiches for every occasion, and toilet calendars: the holy trinity of typical Dutch living. And as with all Dutch customs, there are rules:
- It is an honour to be on the calendar. If you’re here, you’re in the inner circle. Never under any circumstances is it okay to add yourself to someone else’s toilet calendar. You presumptuous little shit.
- The calendar is perpetual, so you must include birth years as well as birth days. This is very efficient and thrifty, because you don’t have to buy a new calendar each year. One calendar to rule them all.
- When someone dies, it’s customary to pen a little cross next to the birthday entry. Is there any greater tribute to Aunt Wilhelmina’s life than scrawling ‘RIP’ next to her name before you pull your pants up?
- The Dutch get emotionally attached to their toilet calendars, which are often treasured gifts from loved ones or hand-crafted by their since-grown children. If they move, they will pack these calendars lovingly and take them to the next toilet they call home. Even King Willem is said to have a favourite toilet calendar. Do not desecrate the calendar; it is sacred. Unhygienic, probably, but sacred.
Personally, I’m conflicted about the toilet calendar. It is, admittedly, deeply practical, especially if your Facebook notifications are set to silent. When I find my own birthday written on one, I am elated: truly, I’ve leveled up in the integration game and have secured friend-status with my Dutchie.
I am also a little grossed out. This is the moment that you thought of me: when you were expelling your bowels?
But in the end, your pride of place on a toilet calendar isn’t really about you. Your Dutch friend hasn’t recorded your birthday so he can remember to buy you a cake. No, he wants to remember the day that you will buy him one.
Because – in case you haven’t encountered this custom yet – on your birthday, it’s your responsibility to treat your friends and colleagues to cake. And from their porcelain thrones all over town, they are really looking forward to it.