It’s my birthday…but I don’t have any friends!

Birthdays. Everyone has them. Some of us try and forget them, but most of us do something to mark the occasion. Especially when it’s one of the “big” days, one with a zero.


One celebrates the way one wants to…..

But what happens when you’ve just arrived in a new country and you don’t have any friends and your family are on the other side of the globe? Who do you celebrate with then?

Welcome to the sometimes-lonely world of the expat.

In 2008 we were posted to Islamabad and arrived shortly before one of my “big” birthdays (I won’t tell you which but yes it did involve a zero). As an August baby, I’ve always felt a little hard-done by when it comes to birthdays. I wouldn’t change it as, well, were I born in any other month than August then I wouldn’t be me. But as a child my holidays fell slap bang in the middle of the summer and no-one was ever around. I was also always one of the youngest in my class and as a consequence have spent most of my life thinking I am a bit fick (well, I can blame it on my birth date if I want to).

But as an adult expat, being born in August has had its downsides too. July and August tend to be the “moving” months for expat familes; either that, or they’re away enjoying their long holiday in their home country. Arriving in Islamabad as we did just a couple of weeks before my birthday, I didn’t exactly have much chance to make enough friends to invite to the celebration (remember – the birthday had a zero in it). In fact, I didn’t have that usual dilemma about who to include on the guest list: I literally invited every single person in the country I had ever had a conversation with (the shop keeper only didn’t make it because he wouldn’t have got past security on the diplomatic compound).

As it turned out, I had a great evening. For some reason, it was possible to get very cheap champagne through our commiserary at the High Commission, so everyone bought a bottle or two. Nothing better for breaking the ice with someone you’ve barely met than a glass (or five) of bubbly.


I must have had the same problem in St Lucia as we also arrived there in the summer months – although I literally have no memory of my birthday that year (perhaps it was so awful I have wiped it from my mind). But I certainly remember my daughter’s birthday as she also suffers from the same birthday-soon-after-arrival syndrome (hers is in September).

She had only just started preschool, and was going to turn four. While she did have a couple of new friends at school, there wasn’t anyone we knew well enough to invite to a party. This was probably a good thing: at the end of our posting we hosted her fifth birthday party in our garden. Several children were abandoned by their parents and one wasn’t even picked up at the end of the day – we ended up having to track down an aunt and finding someone to take her home. It was a very different culture to the one we were used to, and we certainly would not have known what to do about abandoned children at the start of our posting.

So there we were with a little girl about to turn four, and no-one to invite to her party. Luckily, we had a trick up our sleeves and arranged a trip down to an all-inclusive resort on the south coast (Coconut Bay, for anyone thinking of a visit to St Lucia), where we organised a cake to be brought to the room and she discovered the art of water-sliding. She (and we – think unlimited free cocktails and swim-up bar) had such a good time, she forgot all about the lack of a party.

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

This year, I will be celebrating my birthday the day after we arrive in Pretoria. It isn’t a big one (no zero involved), so just being in South Africa will be enough for me – although some wine and a bit of local steak wouldn’t go amiss. But both my eldest daughter and my husband will be marking big ones (with zeros) within a few weeks of our arrival, so we’ve already started thinking about what we are going to do.My husband isn’t one to worry about having a party (or even having friends), so hopefully a weekend away somewhere will please him. And let’s face it, there will be plenty of places to choose from.

But for my daughter, things might be a bit harder. Yes, she’s got past the stage where she wants twenty friends, a big cake and party bags. But she still enjoys doing something on the day, and she still loves spending time with her best friends (two of which, coincidentally, where born on the same day as she was, in the same hospital). If nothing else, the day will remind her that she isn’t with those friends, and that they are somewhere, celebrating without her.

If all else fails, there's always cake...

If all else fails, there’s always cake…

I know we will have ups and downs as a family when we move abroad, but occasions – birthdays, Christmas – are often the toughest times. We will do what we can to mark my daughter’s birthday and hopefully by then (she will have been at her new school exactly a month), she will even have some friends we can invite over or take to the cinema (or zip-lining. Or cheetah petting….). We will do our damnest to make sure that she has a good time, as we parents usually do (and we expat parents possibly even more than most). And if she doesn’t, if it’s a bit flat or she’s sad because she’s not with her old friends, well, we’ll just have to think of something to make up for it.

I’m sure there’s a waterslide somewhere near Pretoria!

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19 thoughts on “It’s my birthday…but I don’t have any friends!

  1. Clara, sometimes I think you and I are on the exact same wavelength… it’s scary 😉 I just celebrated my 40 and had the exact same feelings of not feeling close enough to anyone here yet to feel we could have a party and feeling lost being 4000 miles away from everyone at home. And my husband, like yours, doesn’t care about that stuff (he turned 40 in March) and a weekend away was good for him too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Ssssshhh don’t tell anyone but the birthday in Pakistan was my 40th…..which makes me a bit older now than I would like to be….It is hard when it’s a “big” birthday and you’re in this situation, although I guess at least we had our partners and children. I knew one friend in Jamaica who celebrated her 40th soon after she arrived and she was single and childless – that was very tough…..Anyway for you, just save it all up for the next big one and make sure you really go OTT! Happy birthday though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We arrived in the south of France just a few weeks before my husband’s 40th and consequently knew no one at all for a party (and he’s a bit of a party animal so it was quite the come down from other big birthdays). I ended up throwing a surprise party the day before he turned 41 to mark the end of his year of turning 40 as by then we had friends and could also get organised enough to have old friends fly in. I guess that’s a bit long to wait for a 10 year old!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awww good wife Phoebe! Luckily my husband is not a party animal at all and there will be lots to do in SA that will keep him happy (to be honest, just the red wine and steak will probably do it – although we have thought of maybe a hot air balloon flight). With my daughter though, I think we’ll organise something special in advance and then wait and see if she’s made any friends to invite over for tea on the day or something.


  3. My husband and I don’t need big parties for birthdays, but our older daughter’s birthday is on the 5th of September and, as you said, it’s always tricky to arrange a party, if you move around. Last year, we celebrated her 5th birthday by going to Prague and spending almost 3 days in a zoo 🙂 This year, I’m not even sure if we will still be in CZ or already in UK. And I doubt she would meet lots of kids straight away upon arrival. Will have to plan a trip, then – it’s always a great alternative.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great post and something that Im sure hits a lot of expats out there. I also, for the first time ever, didn’t have anyone close to celebrate my birthday with and my colleague ended up inviting her family to a restaurant dinner which consequently made me feel even more lonely, but at the same time, I wouldn’t change these experiences for the world because you know it’s not always going to be like this and you do grow independently so much.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Neither me nor my husband are bothered about parties – but despite my family being in the UK and US he still managed to pull together a surprise gathering in Belgium for my 40th. I miss not having my family around for all my sons’ birthdays- that’s the hard bit if expat life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can completely relate to this post! My middle school aged son had a rough go this winter with his birthday – it was cold and dark here in Denmark and we’d only expat’d a few months prior. Having little social circle yet or knowlege of where to even host a party – we opted for a family-centric home birthday celebration. Just converting our favorite American cake recipe to local ingredients (different measuring systems and different ovens!) was an effort – but so worth it. Keeping some traditions while far away helped!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I so get this as this year is a big but yucky 🙂 birthday for me and sweet 16 for my daughter, both when we are in Egypt and away from even the rest of our family. I hope we can make it into something special for each other… and who knows, a few others as you so bravely did in Pakistan. I applaud you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Santa found his way to Sentosa Island to my son and that was just a holiday. Amazing what you can come up with to bring familiarity to a ‘strange’ environment. I enjoyed reading this.


  9. Your poor little girl (and you)! We quite like going away for our birthdays but of course the children like to celebrate with friends. I remember one year in the UK (I still have no idea of British Children’s Party Etiquette) I sent out invitations to the whole class for our son’s fourth birthday. Getting no RSVPs (why, why why!!) I made a spread for 60% of the invitees plus two cakes. One child turned up, apparently a party during October half term is a social solecism!

    Our eldest daughter is 1 September, 1st day of term in most countries. I send her in with 40 cupcakes every year to hand out, to friends and staff. Last year I was able to arrange a party for her – her first one -as term had started the week before. I even put off the delivery of our third child (the doctor wanted to schedule her on 1 September) by a day so she could have the party. I spent ages baking but could not eat as I was NBM. I think from now on we will go with the four friends bowling/cinema/pool or a joint party for all three children at the end of September/October.

    Hopefully your daughter will have met some people before her birthday but if not a special treat will still be lovely. When I look back on all the birthdays I had I remember the ones with my parents the most fondly. As they grow up holiday birthdays are better anyway as they celebrate at home not in their boarding school.


    • A couple of friends, day out is definitely the way to go! So much less stressful. I feel for you with your party where only one child turned up, I can’t believe the others didn’t RSVP – how rude! Luckily we’re in a small school and I see the parents of most of the girls’ friends every day so I can track them down! I also laughed at your story of putting off the birth of your third child for the party, that’s brilliant! Poor old third child, always having to fit in around everyone else (can you tell I’m a third child 🙂 )


  10. Pingback: Children’s parties: a cultural quagmire for new expats |

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