What does ‘trakteren’ really mean?

Just that one little Dutch word can send everyone running. Children because it’s exciting and usually
something delicious, adults because it’s just one more of those things expected from you when living
in the Netherlands.

Anyone living in the Netherlands for at least long enough to celebrate their birthday will know all about traktaties and trakteren. To Dutch people, it’s as normal as eating chocolate sprinkles on your bread or drinking a second cup of coffee without a second biscuit.

Trakteren means to treat according to the dictionary. Essentially it means treating others. This is a very big part of Dutch life so be prepared if you are working in a Dutch company or should you have school going children.

Where I come from if it’s your birthday everyone treats you, it’s a day for putting your feet up, and waiting to be served cake and other goodies. In the Netherlands, you treat others which, if you think about it, can be a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday. This is unless you have school-going children and you have decided to spend a few hours the day before your child’s birthday creating and preparing an insanely complicated ‘traktatie’ for the entire class.

Many a Dutch mother has spent hours in the kitchen making hedgehogs made of fruit, football fields made of sweets and liquorice and I even saw a caterpillar cake once which was a masterpiece to the untrained eye. Those treats are of course for the children although I was once treated to a desert island (made from a round cookie) complete with deck chair and umbrella by a male colleague who obviously had a lot of time on his hands. Although come to think of it, maybe he was trying to tell us something.

As an adult, you are expected to bring cake and lots of it to treat your colleagues on your birthday. Home-made or shop bought it doesn’t really matter. The Hema will never go bankrupt as long as it keeps its cake department up and running. The bakers must be up all night to keep up with the orders for tompouce, slagroom taart and appeltaart.

All cynicism aside it’s a lovely gesture for young and old and just one of those Dutch traditions that first astound you but after a while you hear yourself saying ‘oh I mustn’t forget to bring a cake to work tomorrow to treat my colleagues’.

Just one piece of advice from me, keep it simple.

Tracy Rozemeijer-Sexton
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