Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy birthday to you

2) Making a wish!
Originally uploaded by pyza*
It's birthday season among many of my friends and family. There's a lot of American customs that are built around birthdays: the cake, the ice cream, the presents, the song "Happy Birthday", having a group of people hoist you in the air the number of years you've been alive and hitting your butt on an oar in front of a room full of people... oh wait, that last one was just at my summer camp.
So, back to the normal American birthday customs. In a recent discussion with a friend of mine from Bulgaria, she mentioned that her homeland does things a little bit differently. I don't know if this extends to other countries in the area. When it's your birthday, you share the happiness of your day by giving other people birthday cake and yummy treats. (In the event of a birthday dinner at a restaurant, the birthday boy/girl picks up the tab.) She had brought in homebaked goodies for her potentially befuddled American officemates on her last birthday. She also said giving Americans birthday presents was "really annoying", but apparently the gift giving custom is the same in both countries, and that's her personal grumblings.
If I'm doing my birthday math correctly, the amount of food given and received in both the American and Bulgarian traditions should be about equal for a full year, presuming everyone is nice to everyone else, and eats about the same. But slightly different implications lurk beneath the seeming mathematical egalitarianism. When you pick up the tab on your birthday, you're essentially saying that happiness is best shared with other people. It's a bunch of giving at the same time from one giver. When your friends foot the bill on your birthday, you're saying, "today is MY day and by golly you're all going to be happy for me!" It's a bunch of getting at the same time for one recipient. And doesn't that seem fitting in our land of individualistic thinking? (Please forgive me for the overgeneralization, cultural psychologists.)
I'll have to decide what I want to do for my own birthday dinner in a couple weeks time. Who knows? Maybe I'll go all Bulgarian! (Just don't sing me "Happy Birthday", which is actually a copyrighted song. How much in royalties do you owe now?)
EDIT: Thanks to yet another Bulgarian for clarifying that the giving custom is about foooood, not presents. I should fact check before I post these bad boys!

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