I have 295 Facebook friends. Most of them are real and dear friends in so much as it is possible to be real and dear simultaneously.
It appears as if almost all of them have chosen to identify their birthdates. What it means is that practically every few days there is a birthday reminder. It also means that Facebook etiquette demands that I wish them all, which in turn, obligates me to say something charmingly original to each. Not that they are going to compare notes and check if my greetings are the same for everyone. However, I do make an effort to craft a different greeting for each one of them. Lately though, I must confess to sticking to a particular one. Since I don’t kiss and tell, I won’t tell you what it is.
I am an assembly line producer of feelings tailored for specific occasions. So I do have a stock of them. Despite that I do occasionally run into a dead end. Every time I receive a birthday reminder from Facebook, I feel buttonholed. It is as if some Facebook algorithm is mocking me, saying, “Well, did you remember any of these? If not, why are you pretending to be a friend?”
I marvel at those who have thousands of friends and seriously wonder whether they keep track of each one of their birthdays and, if so, how they greet them. Perhaps I am old fashioned but I have this habit of saying hi and asking how they are doing to each one of my Facebook friends every few days. The logic is simple; if one has chosen to send and accept a friends request, the least one can do is occasionally greet each other. Why is one a friend otherwise? You are a bystander which is fine but let there a separate category.
I do tend to be impulsive when I am on Facebook and see little green dots against the list of my friends in the right hand side margin. I make it a point to say “a quick hi”, which is mostly quick but often extends into a long chat. So far one has been lucky enough to be greeted right back. I am yet to be rebuffed.
Shireesh Kanekar, a real and dear friend, great Marathi writer, standup comic and fellow journalist, once memorably described my approach towards people saying, “Mayank Chhaya sab ki chaddi mein ghus jata hai”. This literally translates as “Mayank Chhaya gets inside everybody’s pants” but his drift was that I can get instantly friendly towards everyone. There is some truth to it. I do get preemptively friendly, even on Facebook.
In my defense, I never act familiar and always ask if I am intruding. Somehow though even that can come across as if I am so eager to strike up a friendship when the reality is much more nuanced. As I said earlier, I believe if you have chosen to befriend someone anywhere, including on Facebook, it is natural to say hi from time to time. I don’t see much point in being friends with those who never once say hi of their own volition. Unfortunately, I am too polite to let them know specifically. I have never unfriended anyone, nor have been unfriended by anyone. Yet. It is possible that some of them have come tantalizingly close to doing so.
Coming back to Facebook birthday reminders, I am often confused whether people identify their birthdays because they do specifically want to be wished. Or is it just one of those things which is simply there because it is there? I have chosen not to enter my birthdate as a courtesy to fellow Facebookers. From time to time I do get those app requests saying they want to add my birthday to their list. I never respond to those because they seemed to be automatically generated.
If I had that kind of time (Actually, I do) I would write a quick book on Facebook etiquette. Among the top five peeves would be if someone says hi to you on chat, have the courtesy to return the greetings. Do not make it appear as if you are too busy with other more beloved friends. That begs the question—should their be graded friendship on Facebook? I personally approach Facebook friendship with the lowest possible expectations. Say hi and ask all well and move on. If the other person chooses to engage more, do so by all means. Otherwise it is good enough to be only greeted back. For me a Gujarati maxim best describes how you should conduct Facebook friendship. It goes, “Ras na chatkan hoy, kunda na hoy’ (Relish is to be relished and not drunk by the bucketful).
As for birthdays, I do try to be inventive in my greetings even with those with whom I have just a passing acquaintance. Birthdays are not about the greeter but the greeted. It is important to remember that. So try and say something heartfelt and charming. You may not have the temperament like mine as so picturesquely described by Shireesh but you can certainly try.