In the United States, sending birthday greetings to business colleagues is often considered a nice gesture. What harm could ever come of such a seemingly thoughtful recognition? However, when doing business internationally, that greeting may not be understood nor welcomed.
In Vietnam, celebrating individual birthdays is rare. Since the occasion is not a Vietnamese custom, only a few urban people, influenced by Western customs, celebrate birthdays. Vietnamese tradition is that the actual day of birth is not to be acknowledged. Rather, 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. However, this is not Japanese custom and the practice only began after World War II. They 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, many people consider celebrating a birthday to be haram, something that has been forbidden in Islam by God. While there is nothing in the Quran that specifically prohibits such a custom, some Muslims believe recognizing birthdays are against the Shariat law. Their reason: A birthday means the person’s life has decreased, not increased, so it is not a thing to celebrate.
Some other religions do not celebrate birthdays. 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 administrators keep notes regarding every person’s birthday and decorate that person’s work area on the 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 co-workers 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 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 celebration. A name day is the day for which that person’s name comes from, usually a saint. For example, the name day for Peter is July 12th.