What Are You Supposed To Do When People Sing Happy Birthday To You?
You're at a restaurant with friends celebrating your birthday. You weren't expecting it, but a waiter brings you a dessert with a candle. He puts it in front of you and all your friends sing Happy Birthday. Or maybe your co-workers surprised you with a birthday cake during a meeting. How are you expected to act in this moment? You feel so awkward and on the spot.
Smile and wait for it to be over
The answer is quick and simple. Just smile and let them sing. Say thanks after. If there's a cake, blow out the candles. That's it. You may feel uncomfortable, and like something bigger is required of you, but you really don't have to do much.
The slightly more detailed answer is you can sit there and smile pleasantly. You can also smile in a way that acknowledges you feel a bit awkward, but you're being a good sport about it.
People have two kinds of motivation when they sing Happy Birthday to you. The first is that they're doing it in a straightforward, sincere way. They know that's what everyone does at birthdays, so they go through the ritual without giving it more thought than that.
The second is they're playfully bugging you. They're well aware many people feel a bit embarrassed and singled out when Happy Birthday is sung to them. They know it's a corny tradition. They want you to squirm and grimace a little. They want to inflict some mild discomfort, in a good-natured, joking way. So if you are a tad uncomfortable, don't try to hide it. Smile at them in a playing along, "Yep, you got me!" manner. Maybe even chuckle a bit at what's happening.
Again, that's all you have to do. And remember, it will all be done in about thirty seconds.
100% optional: Do something jokey
If you just want to get through the Happy Birthday song, smiling will do the job. If you want to try to elevate the moment a bit you can respond by joking around. You could:
- Sing along with everyone
- Act out an exaggerated display of being flattered and flustered, e.g., fanning yourself with your hand and looking faint.
- Act out an over-the-top verison of being embarrassed, e.g., mouthing "Oh my God, no" and crawling under the table."
- Make a joking display of being impatient, like miming looking at a watch or doing the "Hurry up" spinning finger gesture.
- Get up and do a quick, silly little dance for the length of the song.
- Get up and act out being an orchestra conductor.
Do something silly if you genuinely feel like it and think you can pull off the humor. Don't feel you have to do any of these things though. Smiling, being a good sport, and getting through the moment with a minimum of fuss is fine.