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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.


  • yeah, i can imagine...we have a very simple routine here for birthdays...affectionately referred to as GPL (try and decode that one, if you can. hint: use colloquial Hindi)...at midnight, the entire hostel gets the (un)lucky fella, carries him to the terrace, and then the GPL session begins...greetings after that, and treats, of course...it's a lot of fun...wonder what I'll do after I get back to civilization...

    By Blogger the Monk, at 11:28 PM, April 02, 2006  

  • A very interesting dilemma! Even the term 'Belated Happy Birthday' sounds quite ridiculous but we all say it anyway!

    By Blogger ichatteralot, at 4:56 AM, April 03, 2006  

  • Ah. A topic dear to one's heart, this. One has several favoured methods of prolonging the Happy Budday conversation beyond the all-important one-minute mark.

    If the greet-ee agrees immediately to the treat in principle, the greeter may proceed to demand that the treat be given at, say, the Ritz in New York. That usually keeps the convo going for a few more sentences, depending on how the negotiatory skills match up. Then there's the mandatory marriage-related wisecrack. If the greet-ee happens to be single, the matter cannot be allowed to pass without a largely meaningless jibe of the "So, time to get married, what?" variety. If the greet-ee happens to be married, a remark of the "And one-tenth of those years spent in holy matrimony!" can leave people in no doubt about either the greeter's wit or his mathematical acumen.

    P.S. One shall now wait with bated breath for the Junkie to wish the One on the Auspicious Occasion of his blog's half-birthday. And we shall observe closely how the conversation goes. We shall time it, even. Half a minute should suffice.

    By Blogger One in a Billion, at 9:57 AM, April 03, 2006  

  • Funny! Surely, someone might just write that book. I've been on both sides of the awkward silence before, but my observation is also that in a predominantly guys circle, we tend to get on with it, almost as if saying, "Enough of the gay banter. Now, out of here". Ofcourse, if either the greeter or 'greetee' is a girl, then the conversation tends to proceed along the lines you have captured so well in your post.

    By Blogger Srihari, at 10:19 AM, April 03, 2006  

  • Bah! I deal with this very well - no such embarassing moments - I forget all birthdays :))

    By Blogger apu, at 9:55 PM, April 03, 2006  

  • what i find even more awkward is when people say 'many happy returns of the day' - that is so archaic and i can never make sense of that phrase. then there is always the greeter who seems more excited about the birthday than the greetee - excitedly breaking into a rapid fire question round - so what are you plans, going out anywhere, and...what did you get - leaving the greetee muttering under her breath!

    anyway, slightly out of context here - but was trying to reach you on email - and could not find your email id - would you be able to share it or write to me at reshma.anand@gmail.com - thanks

    By Blogger Reshma Anand, at 1:12 AM, April 04, 2006  

  • HA HA HA!
    So So tru:))
    but here are some suggestions

    Relate to the start sign...are u also like that..so and so is also a arian..orwhatever

    get some wise cracks up ur sleeve, about how some weird tribals celebrate...( you could make them up actually)

    Well that GPL is kool , i forgot to mention(",)

    Marriage/children et is is pretty bane.. though can still be put up..

    Ask..Something that can put the person to thought... say exact time
    or does he/she remember what s/he was wearing the same day last year...and the prevous/ what has changed.. some or any fuzzy jazz.. can go on

    .. well if i had more time.. i could have atleast finshed the first chapter of the intended book..:))

    By Blogger AlterinG Abhishek, at 3:00 AM, April 04, 2006  

  • I am wondering if the greet-ee asking for a gift is a positive way of extending the conversation? ;)

    By Blogger Casablanca, at 3:08 AM, April 05, 2006  

  • Let us be liberated from such social compulsions.......Why pretend to be nice?

    By Blogger The Regular Joe, at 12:10 AM, April 07, 2006  

  • monk: the GPL sounds terrifying. I'm not sure I've got the expansion exactly right, though several unsavoury possibilities spring to mind.

    I imagine it will, in any case, be a good addition to a book titled '100 things to do before you say Happy Birthday'. And having done these, there should be no worry about what you say after. Neat solution.

    ichatteralot: Yes, I know ... although the follow up there is much easier. Profuse apologies and stories of how you remembered in the morning but then forgot because .... etc can keep the conversation going for a couple of hours.

    In fact, we possibly need a book called '100 ways to explain why you forgot to say Happy Birthday'. Lots of opportunities here for aspiring writers, as you can see.

    the one: Excellent, I have to say. I especially like the marriage angle. With women, it is also possible to bring in a kids angle, with meaningful references to the biological clock.

    *Dashes off to make copious notes in Birthday Greeting diary*

    srihari: Is that true? Do guys really get to escape the ominous Birthday Greeting silence? (I, unfortunately, have not had a chance to observe this first hand, since whenever I am participating in a birthday greeting, either the greeter or the greet-ee is necessarily always a woman)

    Sigh. Why should such an unfair deal be dealt to womankind?

    apu: may I refer you to the book I suggested to ichatteralot above? Or perhaps you would be better equipped to write it, since your experience in the matter seems immense.

    reshma: True, true. Though in defense of the over-excited greeter it must be said that the pressure to maintain hearty exhuberence is immense. And when confronted with a greet-ee who seems bored with her birthday, the greeter is likely to be understandably nervous about onus of keeping the conversation peppy. One must be forgiving of the overexcited state in such conditions.

    abhishek: Yes, you do seem well on your way to writing that book. Do give me advance notice when it is out. I shall be the first in the queue at the launch.

    casablanca: I imagine it would more likely have the effect of terminating it abruptly :)

    regular joe: Nice? No, I don't think filling the gaps in conversation involves being nice, if you go by the suggestions in this commentspace!

    By Blogger Anjali, at 9:25 PM, April 07, 2006  

  • hee hee!sure!!

    By Blogger AlterinG Abhishek, at 11:38 PM, April 10, 2006  

  • Very good point! It IS an awkward moment or two following that greeting. It's almost as awkward as it is when two people haven't seen one another for many years and run into one another excitedly saying "oh WOW it's YOU!" they stop. they each say the same "so what have you been up to?" they each say "nothing much" then there's nothing else in common and the conversation comes to a crashing halt. UGH... I hate when that happens!


    where ARE you? You haven't posted in quite a while!

    Oh. And by the way ... happy belated birthday!

    By Blogger Weary Hag, at 1:01 PM, April 29, 2006  

  • Hey Anjali. Long time no post?!!!

    Am developing withdrawal symptoms... am even getting desperate enough to suggest a few topics that you could write about.

    By Anonymous tara, at 4:40 AM, April 30, 2006  

  • you could always dabble in philosophy... meanwhile, drop in at my place for a trick :)

    By Blogger manuscrypts, at 1:54 AM, May 02, 2006  

  • Anjali Puri, where art thou?

    By Blogger the Monk, at 11:36 PM, May 08, 2006  

  • Hey, whatsup, no more blogging?

    By Blogger apu, at 10:44 PM, May 10, 2006  

  • Hey nice blog..
    Keep blogging

    By Blogger Shailesh, at 7:15 AM, June 03, 2006  

  • well...sometimes, shud one be sad on his/her birthday...that he/she has lost another year of his/her life. sometimes, i m kind of afraid of looking backward to my tear and try to enlist the accomplishments (if any). But then we celebrate our birthda and forget everything...its life

    By Blogger Kanishk | कनिष्क, at 6:41 PM, July 19, 2006  

  • hey where are you??? come back and start blogging...

    By Anonymous gaurav, at 8:54 AM, July 31, 2006  

  • anjali!! awesome blog! was going thru old mails and found ur link! Good good! will read the rest of ur blogs too!

    By Blogger Zee, at 1:18 PM, October 06, 2006  

  • You be missed much, O Junkie. Do write something. Anything.

    By Blogger One in a Billion, at 3:17 AM, October 15, 2006  

  • First time at ur blogspace! .. Was just thinking about the whole thing today morning when I wished a colleague of mine on her b'day!! Nice post :)

    By Blogger Vinod R Iyer, at 1:27 AM, November 10, 2006  

  • Lol....

    came by your page looking for something to say after Happy Birthday..

    While its good that im not the only one thinking about this , its sad that I didnt find what I was looking for.
    Gulp... Ill have to go ahead and make that phone call.. cold blooded , under prepared... sigh

    Wish me luck.
    Nice article btw.

    By Anonymous Ankur, at 3:03 AM, February 22, 2007  

  • I just wasted 5 min. of my life. That was horrible. Someone NEEDS to put funnier stuff on here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:33 PM, July 20, 2007  

  • I had to wish someone 'Happy Birthday' today and just as you said, I was left wondering what to say after I have wished the person concerned. So, I thought of doing a search of interesting ways of greeting an individual and stumbled across your blog. Just, wanted to say that really liked the way you described this...


    By Blogger Attiya, at 4:47 PM, August 01, 2007  

  • i do not belive i just waitsed 5 minutes of my life reading that. im going to bed now. like seriously, absolutly horrible

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:56 AM, October 17, 2007  

  • Where's the 100 things to say.. unbelievable!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:28 PM, September 14, 2008  

  • me i dont have embarassing moments like that cuz i almost never say happy happy birthday! on there real birthday cuz they have nothing to tell u just thank u
    what u do is say it a day or so after . say happy belated birthday!
    they have much more to tell you like what they got or what they did and all that and u can than just talk about somethink biff

    By Anonymous sexyme, at 7:18 AM, April 17, 2009  

  • One thing that can be gross, but promises to catch the Birthday Boy(or Girl) off guard is to remind the "24" years and nine months ago your Mom and Dad were getting funky...*awkward silence* At this point you'll have their attention.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 AM, October 29, 2009  

  • This is a excellent original post. I'm copying the entire thing to save, and to use snippets from it for all my friends.
    The first couple of comments were focused, but the rest were insanely pointless.
    Thank you.
    Francesca from Long Island NY

    By Blogger frannied@optonline.net, at 6:39 AM, May 14, 2013  

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