Birthdays & Milestones as an Expat

In two weeks, I will have been in orbit around the sun for 40 years. I love my birthday. LOVE IT. Like each person, it is a personal holiday celebrating one’s arrival in this world. It’s wonderful and exciting and should feel like sprinkles on ice cream and puppy kisses.


But with all the epic-ness I feel about my birthday, it is hard to celebrate as an expat. Firstly, because so many of my loved ones are thousands of miles and an ocean away. Secondly, because I’m not a big drinker and Irish parties are usually 12-hour long homages the distilling and fermentation process. Lastly, I like my sleep a lot, so I find it challenging to achieve the perfect balance of friends/cake/presents/festivities while still preserving an early bedtime.

So, when most people imagine a birthday party here in Cork City, there is music and drinking and dancing and some food.


I’ve been to plenty of parties like that so when I say they’re not my thing, it is because I’ve tried them and don’t like the taste. Kinda like how I don’t like eggplant even after trying it cooked in different ways. But just like when someone serves me eggplant, I eat it. So, when a good friend is having a party, I go. But when I attend a party where people are drinking a lot, I usually duck out after four three two hours, because I’m tired and foresee more of the same when I could instead be at home…in a quiet room alone. Introverts out there, you understand what I’m say, right? Plus, I have a kid, so sleep is more precious than champagne to me.


I’ve had a few perfect birthday celebrations and many other really nice ones, my 8th (lunch with friends at the House of Magic), my 16th (Halloween party with all my friends and family), my 17th (New Year’s Eve when I made an individual cheesecake for each 30 friends), my 21st (lunch with my 20 closest friends and pear ganache cake), and my 30th (my parents flew 2,500 miles to surprise me and friends surprised me at DishDash) were particularly nice. Some had 10 friends, others had upwards of 30. You know what all those perfect birthdays had in common? Friends and family. It isn’t about the cake or the drinks or the venue, it’s about who is there to mark the milestone. The presents are nice too (sorry, I know admitting that is so gauche).


But drunken nights out still wouldn’t be ideal since my favorite people know me well enough to realize I’d be sooooooo bored. And I’m such a lightweight. Two drink minimum? Ha! After two drinks, that’s me leaning over in the corner taking a nap there.


Basically, on a night out in my post-baby post-liver tumor body, I drink one drink per hour with a maximum of four for the evening. So, at some point everyone is getting more drunk and I’m maintaining a pleasant buzz and probably getting hungry/tired (and wishing I had brought my knitting). There comes a point when I shift to mom again (like Cinderella at midnight) then I begin to worry who is going to get sick or trip on something.


So, how do I celebrate my 40th birthday without just drinking beer, shots, and cocktails for a whole evening?  I mean, drinking can be any night. Seriously, I live in a city and I see drunk friends partying it up every weekend. I salute their livers.


Which leaves me with limited options since the masses want to drink. Can I make tea parties the next big birthday trend for adults?



What non-drinking big birthday parties have you held?

Do you feel melancholy about milestones as an expat far away from loved ones?


5 thoughts on “Birthdays & Milestones as an Expat

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  1. I totally understand on all counts. I was only visiting Cork on my 40th this year, scoping out the job I was offered. I had hoped for a celebration – that my new coworkers would treat me to a night out. I got nearly nothin’; there was a ‘going away’ party for a couple team members so I went there, and fell into the same zone as you: I can drink, but slowly so as not to get pissed. I turn into “mom” even though I’m not a mom. It’s fun, but it’s not at the same time.

    In 1-1/2 months, I turn 41, and now I live in Cork. Part of me wants the ‘all out’ party of the local variety if only to have the experience and to make up for last year’s anti-climactic event. (I had accepted the job that very evening, so it was a dual ‘downer’ not to celebrate with friends and family.)

    I think a night out, seeing a show, a really nice dinner and good wine – not binge drinking – is a great way to celebrate. And, if after one’s energy is still up, go out to a bar or club for a bit, but leave early. Rarely is that a regret. 🙂

  2. What about dinner out with friends? Let them do the drinking and you can leave when you’re ready. Or do an afternoon party and include the kids. That usually cuts down on the drinking.

    We hosted Olaf’s 50th(!) birthday over the summer and he wanted it to be a family party with all the kids invited. So we started rather early, and people left early because the kids needed to go to bed. Many of our friends drink, so we did serve alcohol, but many don’t and many of those that do aren’t going to get wasted in front of their kids.

  3. A while back I met two guys who had that day had an outing.

    It has not got onto my bucket list but it is an outing that appeals. It can be amended as taste dictates.

    They met in town and walked to Blackrock down the Marina. The stopped in the Maple Leaf for one. Along the ole railway line, they stopped at Rochestown Inn.

    Continuing along Old railway next to river, they got as far as Ferry Arms and had to stop for one.

    Foot passenger on the ferry and onward to Cobh where they had a celebratory drink and got the train back.

    Lunch in Bosun or coffee in Blackrock village could replace one of the stops.

    Enjoy your birthday

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