Episode 4: Weaving Birthday Traditions with Cross Cultural Experiences

In this episode, we dive into birthdays! Jon and Blake’s birthdays are one day apart, so we talk birthday plans and what Erin’s students have up their sleeves for Blake… while Mary reveals her one big mistake in communication about birthdays with her first ever student.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • We’re recording in Mary’s empty student room. (Her living room is too noisy because there’s lots of construction sounds next door… like hammering and sawing!) Note the beautifully handcrafted desk, made by Jon. Feel free to overlook the unmade bed. And what you can’t see in the picture below, are Mary’s elbows which are quite sharp and pointy!


  • Erin has decided that Jon is of a “gentlemanly age”.
  • For Blake’s upcoming birthday, Erin will be cooking her 70% approval rating lasagna with garlic toast and Caesar salad.
  • Blake loves cookies!
  • The girls (Erin’s students) will bake him tinfuls of cookies.
    Update* Cookie making occurred at 2 a.m. in secret the night before his birthday.
  • You may note that there are no potatoes pictured on the cupcakes. Initially there was a potato cupcake, however it was deemed “not pretty enough” and was consequently consumed by the baker.


  • Blake loves practical gifts. Last year, Erin’s Thai student bought Blake a lightbulb for his birthday. It turned into a three store excursion.
  • Erin’s family always makes homemade cards for birthdays and other holiday events. Her students are included in this, and they make the most amazing, artistic, heartfelt cards… and have such beautiful penmanship!
  • When Erin’s family sings “Happy Birthday” they incorporate all of the languages of the household (and relight the candles each time). So they’ll sing it first in English, then Chinese, or Japanese, or Thai and sometimes Korean (they host a K-pop fan)- it all depends on the nationality of the students they’re hosting at the time.
  • Mary’s family doesn’t make a big deal out of birthdays. Erin agrees it’s a cultural thing. Mary’s family has a traditional way of doing things.
  • Mary usually knits something for Jon. Traditionally she gifts him an “unfinished” item. This year, he’ll receive a sweater that has been on her knitting needles for 4 years!
  • On the day we recorded this episode… we were 3 days away from Jon’s birthday and Mary still had to seam the sleeves, attach the sleeves onto the body, knit the neckline and the cuffs.

  • For all you non-knitters… if you’re going to knit a man a sweater – he better like it! And also, fingering weight = love.
  • For Jon’s birthday: Mary will gift him an unfinished sweater. He will choose something for dinner. Instead of cake, he’s requested Mary’s green onion pancakes.
  • The first year Jenny celebrated her birthday with Erin’s family, she chose a waffle cake for her birthday.
  • The first time Mary had a student she didn’t tell the student it was Jon’s birthday because Mary and Jon don’t make a big deal about birthdays. The next day the student went out and bought flowers and a card for Jon.
  • From now on, Mary tells all her students about birthdays and all festivities and events.
  • Mary hosts short-term students and rarely gets to celebrate their birthdays with them. In the first year after they’ve left her home, she will mail them a card. Erin will find her students on social media to wish them a Happy Birthday.
  • If Mary’s students are with her on their birthday, she has them pick their dinner meal and cake which she’ll make (from scratch).
  • Erin’s first short-term student always brought home balloons to the birthday person in the family.
  • “Just Dance” is a very popular video game played at Erin’s house on birthdays.
  • Blake is the creme brûlee master when it comes to birthdays. Talking about creme brûlee reminded Erin about the time they accidentally ruined a student’s lunch – on the student’s birthday – with the “birthday burrito incident”. Blake had to make reparations in the form of creme brûlee.
  • Mary’s favourite birthday meal is always weather dependent.
  • Jon’s has yet to pick his birthday dinner! This is stressing Erin out. 
    *Update* Jon was sick on his birthday, so Mary is planning to re-do Jon’s birthday on another weekend.

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Jon’s Sweater – Redford Pattern
Just Dance

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“But sometimes communication is everything” – Erin (19:20)

“See this is where I learn from my mistakes. If you are a family who does not make a big deal out of birthdays, one should still communicate with the student that it is somebody’s birthday in the house because that particular student might want to do something nice for said birthday person.” – Mary (19:24)

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