Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Date of Birth – A Cultural Shock




There was some problem in my cell phone and I was contacting the customer service through telephone, and in Australia the owner of the sim had to sort out the problems himself/herself and proxy calls are not accepted at all.
I said, “Hello, Is it yes optus customer service”
“Hello, yes it is. Can I do anything for you?”
“Yes, I have recharged my cell and I somehow did not get the balance credited”
“Ok, what is your cell Number?”
I gave the number.
“What is your date of birth?”
“My date of birth? ummmmm …. Wait…ummmm 17 umm Jan umm……”
“I am sorry! I am afraid that you may have to come personally to our office to sort out the problem with full proof of your identity.” And she hung up the phone.

I was wondering what had happened? I realized later that it was because of me fumbling while I was mentioning my date of birth. In their culture it is taken for granted that a person will never forget their date of birth. The date of birth is supposed to me on the tip of their tongue and the fingers, but not here in Bhutan. Asking for the date of birth is the way of confirming that the person that is speaking to them is the person that has got the sim registered in his name. I fumbled while telling my date of birth thus it was seen by them that it was not me. I did forget my date of birth.

In Bhutan we normally do not celebrate the birthdays. The trend is changing due to the western education and with the influence of the western cultures. The Bhutanese birthday is common for all that is on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar known as ‘losar’. Unlucky is the child who is born at the end of the lunar calendar because the child will become a year older right after ‘losar’.  Some parents who must have taken effort to record the date of birth had been recorded as per the lunar calendar. The recordings in the official census form are done as per the normal calendar. Now with educated parents, the trends are changing and changing for a good.

After that incident I made it a point to mug up the date of birth that is there in my passport and never to fumble while mentioning that. It had helped me a lot in many interviews that I had later. I sacrifices few dollars for the Yes Optus and got myself a new sim card. Oh, the date of birth? No problem. Whether it is correct or not, I knew it by heart!

After coming back I have seen that in many official documents, my date of birth did not match. Till the time I m here in Bhutan, it will be the one that is there in my citizenship ID card, and should I go abroad, it will be the one that is there in my passport. Correct date of birth has never been an issue here, before the computers were used for documentation if you knew your ‘lo’ (lunar zodiac sign) that was enough. That is what Bhutanese stick to as their birthday - the ‘lo’.  The older generations here, will be able to calculate the correct age using their fingers if they know the ‘lo’ (error +-1 year).