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Culture Shock: The Brazilian Birthday Song

The first time I celebrated my birthday in Brazil, my friends and I went out to a nearby restaurant. No sooner had we finished eating dinner, out of the corner of my eye, I saw about eight waiters and waitresses marching over to our table. They were led by a strongly built, full bosomed waitress who was holding a piece of cake – with a lit candle on top.

“Oh shit! They’re coming to our table!” I muttered under my breath, instantly realising what was about to happen.

Before I knew it all eight of them were crowded around us all, singing AT me. They had these huge, overly-enthusiastic grins plastered across their faces, the type that you only ever see when someone is singing the birthday song to you. Just seconds after they’d started singing, people on the nearby tables had put down their knives and forks to clap along too.

I had a situation.

I was also becoming very aware that had turned a deep shade of pink. I could feel the warmth rising in my cheeks and I really didn’t know what to do with myself.

To be fair, this isn’t something I can blame Brazilians for. I NEVER know what to do with myself during the birthday song! Are you supposed to continue looking at everyone with an enthusiastic grin on your face? Stare at the ground and wait until it’s all over!?! Aggressively stare at the cake?

As everyone sang, one of my friends (the one who would later confess he’d tipped the staff off that it was my birthday) seemed to be reveling in my discomfort.

About 15 seconds later I had a feeling that the end was near, so I moved my face a little closer to the cake, ready to blow out the candle. But just as I was about to take a breath something unexpected happened. The waiters and waitresses began to sing another birthday song.

That’s right. Here in Brazil there the birthday song usually has two parts!

É pique, é pique
É pique, é pique, é pique, é pique

“Oh God,” I said hurriedly to my friend, half joking – half concerned. “When does this song finish?”

I looked up at this group of restaurant workers, each of whom were still flamboyantly clapping their hands.

É hora, é hora
É hora, é hora, é hora

Ra-tim-bum
Parabéns!!!!!!

marilyn

Eventually they then whooped at me enthusiastically, which I took as my cue to blow out the candle. As they walked away, I let out a huge sigh of relief.

“Did you like your birthday song?” my friend joked; picking up a fork to eat the slice of cake that I hadn’t yet invited him to eat.

I smiled and shot him a meaningful look, one that left him in little doubt that the answer was a definite no!’

Afterwards, I reflected that in the UK we don’t sing this song with nearly as much vigor and energy. Our version is admittedly much slower. This is something a Brazilian friend of mine discovered not long after she’d moved to Canada.

A Brazilian on the English speaking birthday song

“I’d gone to Canada to study English. After a only a week there I was at a birthday party in a restaurant and I’d gone with the other students on my course. So a few hours later one of the waitresses came out of the kitchen with a birthday cake. Naturally, I started clapping. I didn’t know the song in English at the time, but I assumed that I’d be clapping at the same speed I was used to in Brazil.

I was wrong.

As everyone started singing I started clapping, then some people looked round at me and frowned. Imagine how embarrassed I was when I realised that nobody else was clapping as quickly as I was! I was so confused. The way you guys sing the birthday song in English is a weird version of what we’re used to here!”

 English Birthday Song vs. Brazilian Birthday Song

Having lived in Brazil for over six years and surrounded by its culture and habits for so long, I’m now in this weird position of looking back at things us Brits do through a new pair of eyes. Through distance and time, the birthday song i was so used to singing in England now just seems too slow. But having said that, the Brazilian one is a bit too long.

What can I conclude from all of this? Maybe that I’m a miserable bastard who will never be happy with either birthday song!

But hey, at least both English and Brazilian versions involve eating cake afterwards…now that is something I really can’t complain about!

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