When you have a number of things to surprise someone with, you can either flood them with that, or present it to them in a staggered manner. And based on recent experience with both forms, on both ends of the divide, I get the feeling that staggered surprises are superior and more effective than flooded surprises.
A year and half back, for my then girlfriend’s (now wife) birthday, I had got a bunch of things. There were clothes, food, a collage and even this laptop I’m writing this post on. And as soon as I entered the girlfriend’s house that day, I started producing these one by one. Before she could react to any of the gifts, I had produced another, and there was a flood. In hindsight, I thought the value of some of the things I’d got her were lost because I didn’t give her enough time to appreciate them while she was still surprised.
She played it differently at my birthday yesterday. Again, there was a bunch of things she had lined up. So at midnight yesterday, she says happy birthday and hands me a kurta. I try it out, and as soon as I’ve finished appreciating it (took a while) she makes me take it off, and gives me another. This way, over the course of the next ten minutes, she gives me five kurtas. And then a leather bag. And a box of tea. And some fancy paper to scribble on.
Giving gifts in a trickle, I think, works because of the expectations it sets. When Pinky produced the first Kurta, the natural thought in my head was, “oh she’s got me a kurta for my birthday”. I had expected one kurta. And when she slowly produced the next, I was surprised. You don’t generally expect someone to get you five kurtas, so each one she produced was met with a fair bit of surprise. The trickle had set my expectations low, and so the degree of surprise was high.
Pinky wasn’t done yet. She had solicited “happy birthday videos” from a number of my friends, from various stages of my life. Due to a personal tragedy (her grandfather passed away on Saturday) she hadn’t had time to put them together in a montage, but that helped her stagger-surprise me again. She first played videos from relatives, and after I had thought that was all to it, she played videos from friends. One by one. Not pushing expectations too high, and continually surprising me.
It was to play out similarly at the surprise party she had organized for me last night (after all the gifts and video messages, the last thing I had expected was a party). I had been told we’d be going out for dinner, when two of my oldest friends (I’ve known them for 25 years now) arrived. “Maybe she’s called my oldest friends to join us for dinner”, I thought. After a while they were followed by a friend from college who lives in the US now. I was truly shocked. He and his wife had dropped in while on their way to a wedding, I was told. I had no idea a party was on.
And then some quizzing friends appeared. And then some most recent colleagues (remember I don’t have any “current” colleagues). And Pinky, who had disappeared a while back, materialized with a cake. Soon enormous quantities of food appeared. I was already drinking by then and it was surreal. The best birthday ever, for sure. No, really! I don’t know if I would have been as happy had the surprises not been staggered.
PS: Ashwin and Vyshnavi responded to Pinky’s call for “happy birthday videos” with this one. It’s total kickass.