Celebrating Birthdays In The Workplace

In the United States, sending birthday greetings and best wishes to business colleagues is often considered a nice gesture. One would have to wonder what harm could ever come of such a seemingly thoughtful recognition for colleagues or clients. When doing business internationally, such a greeting may not be understood nor welcomed.

In Viet Nam, celebrating individual birthdays is rare. Since the occasion is not a Vietnamese custom, only a few urban people who are influenced by Western customs, take part in such celebrations. In Vietnamese tradition, the actual day of birth is not to be acknowledged, and people become a year older every year at tet, New Year’s Day. A similar tradition happens in Korea.

Today in Japan, some people celebrate birthdays on the day of their birth, but this is not Japanese custom. The practice only began after World War II, and Japanese people typically celebrate at tet as well.

In Cambodia, birthdays are not big events. It is not common for Cambodians to celebrate birthdays and, in fact, many older people may not even know the exact date of their birth.

In Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), many people consider celebrating a birthday haram, something that has been forbidden in Islam by God. While there is nothing in the Quran that prohibits explicitly such a custom, some Muslims believe recognizing birthdays is against the Shariat law. Thus, the practice is not religiously forbidden but a cultural practice.

Some religions do not celebrate birthdays at all. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, do not celebrate birthdays because they believe that such celebrations displease God and are considered a sin.

On the other hand, there are some cultures where recognizing a birthday is very important. For example, the ritual of birthday celebrations in the workplace is deeply embedded in Dutch business culture. Typically, department secretaries keep notes regarding every person’s birthday and decorate that person’s work area on that day. The birthday celebrant brings in his or her own cake and pays the bill for any dining event with colleagues.

In Germany, people often bring cake or sweets to the workplace or buy lunch for coworkers on their own birthday. In some places, it is also common to bring in beer.

In Poland and Croatia, bringing sweets into the office for your colleagues is often common. However, it is important to note that in some cultures such as Slavic and Greek, a birthday may not be as important as a name day.  A name day is a day for which that person’s name comes from, usually a saint. For example, the name day for John is January 7.


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