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Urban Junkie

Sunday, April 02, 2006

100 things to say after you say Happy Birthday

Honestly, there should be some more authoritative information on the subject. What do you say after you wish someone a happy birthday? This is something I have struggled with for years, and the content of my birthday greetings is testimony to the fact that I still haven’t figured it out completely.

Me (with hearty, hard-hitting good cheer): Happy Birthday!!!
Birthday greet-ee: Thank you.
Pause. Now what?
Prolonged pause, in danger of becoming an awkward silence.
Me (in unnaturally loud voice): So!
Birthday greet-ee: So?
Me: So what are you doing today? BIG celebration planned?
Birthday greet-ee: Yes, I’m having dinner with a few friends.
Me (even louder): Great!!!

This, of course, is the complete dead-end. Nothing for it now but to excuse myself with impassioned pleas to have a wonderful day and a jaunty ‘catch you later’. There are only two variations I can think of to the above sequence, with respect to how the awkward silence might be filled. The first is a demand for a treat, and the second is a wisecrack about the birthday greet-ee’s age. Neither leaves much room for conversation beyond a couple of exchanges, especially if the greet-ee agrees immediately to the treat and appears unflustered about age.

The problem, I think, is that a Birthday Conversation needs to be conducted at a heightened level of exuberance. It needs to sparkle and shine, it needs to exude hearty good cheer and sunny effervescence. One cannot mix mundane everyday trivialities like “Have you finished the report” or “We’ve run out of toothpaste” or “I have an awful cold” with the liveliness of a birthday greeting. Besides which, a Birthday Conversation needs to be conducted several octaves above the pitch of normal conversation, which puts a further constraint on possible topics that can be covered. How loudly is it reasonably possible to say “Do you want some coffee”?

The difficulty is exaggerated on the phone. Face to face, at least, there is the possibility of enthusiastic thumps on the back, pumping of hands, waggling of eyebrows, and all manner of body language to fill the gaps in conversation. Besides, for reasons that I cannot quite pin down, a phone conversation that is not able to last a minute seems infinitely more pathetic than one conducted in person.

The only solution, I find, is to approach the conversation with pre-set limits on time. Arrange for someone to interrupt almost immediately after the ‘happy birthday’ leaves your lips. Then, by ignoring the interrupter for a few additional seconds, you actually manage to create the impression of wanting to prolong the conversation but (alas) being dragged away against your will. Or there is always the Meeting routine (*Breathless voice* I’m just on my way into a meeting sweetheart, but wanted to wish you first … have a GREAT DAY, catch you later, *kissing sounds* BYEEEE). Quick and painless, and delivered with appropriately forceful heartiness.

I think there is hope for me though … the problem is more widespread than I thought. Having recently been through a birthday myself, I was able to spot (with my unerring eye) several instances of acute birthday greeting discomfort amidst the boisterous greetings that were belted out to me. So someone just might write that book, don’t you think? The market seems ripe for it.

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