Hello U.S.A. | Birthday Success?

How do birthdays work here? How does social life work here? Confused? Allow me to explain:

This past Friday, I decided to have a joint birthday dinner with one of my friends. It would be the first birthday away from home and family, so it was a nice sentiment to celebrate the occasion for the both of us together. We decided on the restaurant the day before we were due to have dinner with our group of friends, so I called to make reservations about 18 hours ahead of time.

“You want to make a reservation… for tomorrow?” asks the lady on the phone.

“Yes…?” I replied. I don’t know why she was dragging this on.


“Yes… the day after today…”

“But it’s tomorrow.”

“Yes, and today is today.”

This highly stimulating conversation went on for another five or so minutes before the woman agreed to book our reservations. She then went on to explain to me that here, in the United States, people make reservations a little earlier for larger parties of people. Lesson learnt:  make reservations early, but if you make them late you only get a little scowl from the other end of the line.

So all is well until the actual day arrives. I receive texts from my friends asking me how we were supposed to get to the restaurant. I didn’t realize that we were expected to travel together to the restaurant as opposed to just meeting there. I quickly acted to arrange a time for us to meet at the Joey and then travel together to the restaurant.  Lesson learnt: provide means of transportation when hosting events.

When we arrive in Davis Square, instead of taking the T, we decide to walk. In the cold, windy, grumpy, moody weather, we trudge along. It was a nice way to watch the darkness settle and also to get our appetites ready. I whip out my phone for Google Maps and end up directing the group past the restaurant to the edge of the street until it’s pointed out to me that I’m going the wrong way. We spend five more minutes trying to get my iPhone to start working again, and we reach the restaurant about 10 minutes late. Lesson learnt: Leave 10 minutes earlier so as to not make a fool of yourself.

Now we’re in the restaurant, we’re eating great food, and we’re having a pretty good time. My friend and I completely forget about the cake when we’re asked about it. We aren’t really sure what to do until we’re surprised with one beautiful, heavenly, and absolutely delicious cake. Lesson learnt: Be ready with backup cake if needed.

Now it’s time to pay for the meal. My friend and I offer to treat everyone and we encounter a group howl of a resounding “NO.” Back home, whenever someone invited you for a meal on a birthday, they were expected to treat us all. In the U.S., from what I was told that night, it is the friends who treat the birthday person. I find this custom a little strange since you, the birthday person, are inviting everyone to something you are hosting to share this special day. Lesson learnt: Being invited means being responsible for treating –  so paying.

I am so grateful for the friends I’ve made here, the experiences I’ve had, and for the great birthday weekend. It is incredibly difficult being away from home on your birthday, but it’s also nice seeing how warm and kind people are. I’ve basically learned the ropes behind hosting a birthday dinner here in the U.S., so next year hopefully it all goes a little more smoothly. Till then, I’m happy to be at Tufts.