The birthday party at the Indian office is truly perplexing. A bunch of folks typically contribute a certain amount of money and buy some cake, coke and chips (the standard spread). Often, a bunch of birthdays are celebrated together, so the recipients of the felicitations awkwardly line up during the designated time; meanwhile, the more enthusiastic celebrants begin a chorus of "Happy birthday to you." Then comes the painfully awkward moment when it must be decided who holds the knife and cuts the cake -- it usually ends up being a woman in the group. Which is okay, chivalry and all that. If it's a bunch of guys, they will all hold the knife together and cut the cake.
What is it about being a woman that automatically makes them volunteer to serve cake, and what is it about being a man that makes them stand aside?
Who gets the first piece?
Once the cake is cut, it must be decided who gets the first piece. It's usually de rigueur for the cake-cutter to pop a bit into someone else's mouth. If you're a woman, don't even think about giving a piece of cake to a male colleague -- that would be crazy! Look for a female friend and if you can't find one, eat it yourself. If you're a guy, then you have to now become a ninja warrior... can you successfully block all those cake attacks?
The smear campaign
If it's a man's birthday, a bunch of guys will take a chunk of cake and smear it on his face. Act like this is normal. The rules are a bit different for women. There are three options: a) the cake can be smeared by another woman or b) a brother-like friend of the birthday girl, or c) there is no smearing done at all.
Will there be any kicking involved?
How fun this is turning out to be -- let's find someone to kick the birthday guy. Yup, the birthday bumps. I still don't know how or why these practices have evolved and why we continue to do them. Why kick anyone at all? No idea. Anyway, since there is kicking involved, let's see. If the team is close-knit the kicking is bound to happen, but if not, civility is likely to reign (thankfully). If you're a woman, you're safe (yay for women!).
Who serves the cake?
Now comes the part that I vehemently object to is the serving of the cake/coke/chips. You will notice a strange force move through the group, and almost automatically the men will move to the outer ring and stand aside while the women will take over the serving of the cake and setting the plates and pouring out the coke. The sheer sight of this throws me every single time. What is it about being a woman that automatically makes them volunteer to serve cake, and what is it about being a man that makes them stand aside and not help?
What would you do?
In my case, I have either asked more men to join in the serving and I intentionally stand back, not serving, but I would say the more useful thing to do might be to bring up the question and talk about it. Maybe next time that is what I will do. Have you noticed this in your workplaces? Have you tried to bring about a change in these situations?