Happy Birthday to Me?

23 05 2010

So it was my birthday here on Friday, which was, needless to say, an interesting experience!

Earlier in the month and in April, my office colleagues had found out when my birthday was and had marked it on the calendar and asked me about what I had planned every once and awhile. In typical North American fashion, I’d respond, “Oh we’ll have a huge party on the beach and everyone will be invited!” Innocent enough, you’d think, and I never thought much about why everyone seemed so happy and excited when I said that.

However, as the event drew closer, people started asking more detailed questions about the food, often chiding me about particular dishes. One of the department heads who often hangs around our office was particularly insistent that the party should have a lechon de leche (whole, spit-roasted suckling pig). At first, I just nodded along and uttered meaningless supportive words like “Oh yeah for sure!”

Shortly after this though, my office mates were asking me about the food again and, thinking this was decided from the start, I said, “Yeah we’ll do a potluck! Everyone can bring a dish and it’ll be great”. Looks of sheer confusion passed across their faces and their mood immediately soured, with their conversation reverting from English to gossip-toned Ilocano.

Not understanding the problem, I eventually brought the issue up with my boss, who then proceeded to tell me that the Filipino custom was for the birthday celebrant / party host to buy everything for the party; guests were not expected to have to lift a finger (“Or else why would anyone come?!” he exclaimed sincerely).

Well shit.

At this point I had already casually invited half the building and promised a roast pig, and I was expected to pay for it all?! Wasn’t I supposed to be the one receiving gifts?

Needless to say, I had to back out of the pig idea and refine my invites a little bit. I also had not considered who would do the cooking, but luckily we were able to contract it out to the City men who worked shifts monitoring the local marine protected area (they pretty much just sit around all day, so are happy to cater events).

Even though I designed a fairly modest menu in the end, the bill still came to around 7000 Pesos (about 150 bucks), though I suppose that’s not bad considering we fed about 40 people on it and could’ve easily fed 40 more!

All told though, the party was a great success. All our coworkers, some of our friends, some department heads, and even one of the Ortega brothers showed up; we took a boat ride; sang videoke; drank; ate; and generally had an awesome afternoon on the beach. In terms of turnout and net happiness accrued, I have to say that this was probably my greatest birthday party to date!

And reflecting on it now, this system here of “the celebrant pays” actually isn’t that bad. For one thing, it means you only take one major hit to the wallet on birthday parties throughout the year, and you can then proceed to benefit enormously by showing up at every other friend’s party and getting loads of free food and drink with nothing expected in return other than your presence! Whereas, if you were to attend the same number of parties in North America, you’d have to buy a gift or drink at each one and you’d probably get way less free food since the celebrant wouldn’t be forking out for it.

Needless to say, I’m sold and I think it’s high time we started adopting the Filipino method! 😛

Until next time,




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