Posted by: patenttranslator | March 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Joyeux Anniversaire, or Živijó?

Do you like the “Happy Birthday Song”? I can’t stand it. It’s one of those annoying little tunes that I can’t get out of my head once it’s in there, like mice in your house.

“For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” is a really good English ditty. I think that is the proper English word for it. I liked the song especially in “Some Like It Hot” when a bunch of drunk Chicago gangsters smoking long cigars were singing it just before another gangster in white suit from the competition jumped with a machine gun out of a huge cake and started shooting everything in sight.

I am so grateful to Marilyn Monroe that she did not sing it in that movie! At least I don’t remember her singing it, although I sure remember “I Wanna Be Loved By You, Boo Boo Be Do” (how could I forget).

Unfortunately, the “Happy Birthday Song” is sung now in many countries on birthdays, usually in English, although sometime also in other languages. In Japan, they sing it in English, probably because you only need to know 5 (five) English words to be able to sing it in English, and 5 is the average number of English words that most Japanese people can handle.

In France they probably mostly sing it translated into French because I remember it from several French movies that way (Joyeux Anniversaire, Joyeux Anniversaire, Chère …..). You would probably need to remember only 3 French words to be able to sing it in French. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Every time when this stupid song has been sung to me in English (by my wife and kids), I felt really embarrassed. I am not quite sure why, but I think it must be because this damn song is so phony!

Especially when it is sung in English by people in foreign countries who don’t really speak English at all … I mean, I can’t think of anything more fake than that.

Why do they need to imitate Hollywood all the time? I found out that this stupid song is about a hundred years old, but I think that people in other countries learned it mostly because of the influence of Hollywood.

This song is now almost as popular as the word “cool”. I don’t have anything against young people using the word “cool” in French and in German, especially since the word sounds so different in French and German pronunciation. The “oo” sound is longer in French and the “l” sound is different. It is now a German word, written as “kool”, and it is a very  short “oo” in German.

I just don’t understand why these people keep singing that annoying “Happy Birthday Song”.

The Slavs (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenian,Croats, et al.) have their own happy birthday song, which is called “Živijó, Živijó”, and it goes like this: Živijó, živijó, živijó, živijó, živijó … mnoga ljeta, mnoga ljeta, ljeta, živijó!”.

This song can be used not only to for birthdays. You can sing it basically any time to show that you are happy to be alive and enjoying wine or your liquor. The words mean, I think, something like” “May we life a long life, long life, long life … many years, many years, long life”.

When I Googled it, I saw that there are two theories about the origin of this song. According to one theory, it is an old Slavic song (a Slavic ditty?) and it goes back to Old Slavonic, or the original Old Slavic language before the modern Slavic languages (Russian, Czech, Polish, Slovenian, Croatian, etc.) came into existence. I don’t think that this theory is based on reality, because that would mean that the song is more than a thousand years old.

According to another theory, this song is originally Slovenian or Croatian and it was brought to other Slavic countries after soldiers during World War I learned it in what would later become Yugoslavia.

Whether the words of this song are in Old Slavonic or Slovenian, the song is understandable to every Slav, from Poland and Russia to Slovenia and Bulgaria. That’s a lot of vodka and slivovice!

The last time when I sang this song, and you are only supposed to sing it only when you are raising a glass filled with vodka or slivovice, was probably in 1980.

I hope the Slavs are still singing the “Živijó” song and not imitating everybody else with that stupid “Happy Birthday To You” song, but I don’t really know whether this is still the case.

They too may be now showing off their knowledge of 5 English words, as they too are now infected by Hollywood like most people on this fake and phony planet.



  1. Nowadays, everybody thinks he or she should have his of her own blog. There is one problem: most people don’t have much (I just swallowed the word “anything”) to say.


  2. I don’t know about you, but I have a blog because I think that I have something to say.

    But maybe not to you.


  3. Dare I wish you a happy birthday, Steve?


    • I would try instead ‘Živijó’, just to be on the safe side


    • Either way is fine with me as long as you don’t sing that annoying song.

      But it’s not my birthday.


      • Well, ‘Živijó’ anyway. But you shouldn’t make these things public. People may feel tempted to ‘torment’ you with the song when the time comes 😉


  4. You’ll be (un)happy to know that we have a Portuguese version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which includes at least two extra sets of verses (I have heard a 3rd one but it may have been made up by some creative enthusiast). Small children tend to blow out the candles before the end of the song because it is so long they never know when it has ended. Older children do it just for fun. And adults tend to speed it up as quickly as possible to finally get to the cake.


  5. Ok, thanks for letting me know, although I think I would prefer a Portuguese version of Živijó’, with liquor glasses raised high.


  6. Ah, Steve, when I saw you posted this delicious reflection, I thought you must have your birthday. And there, my “suspicion” is confirmed.

    Hoch sollst du leben, hoch sollst du leben, drei Mal hoch!

    Don’t forget your Pflaumenschnaps when I sing this for you.


    • Danke, Wenjer, but it’s really not my birthday.

      My posts are often misunderstood. But it’s my fault.

      I mostly wanted to write about the pernicious influence of Hollywood on other countries.


      • Nevertheless, hoch sollst du leben!

        Hollywood influence or Bollywood influence, well, who knows what will come next. The Russians here in Taiwan say “cool,” too. It sounds cute. I like hearing them saying that.

        I will be meeting a German, a Spaniard and an Afghani tomorrow for happy hours on a Easter holiday. I wish I could find some Becherovka in the pub there in Taipei. I’ll will drink for you on a not birthday.

        Quota reached for today. Time to sleep. Take care!


  7. Доброго времени суток, Steve! I’m very sad to say that but in Russia we don’t sing this “Живи…” song at birthday parties or any other events. I’m 33 years old, I’ve been to many russian cities (currently living in Saint-Petersburg) and to be honest I’ve never heard this song before. I feel ashamed about that… Probably I need to ask my parents whether they sang it or not. Unfortunately I can’t ask my grandparents anymore… too late…
    Yes, “Happy birthday…” is very popular in Russia… (globalization??…) but I suppose that majority of people don’t sing anything at all.


  8. But you understand the Zivio song perfectly, right?

    I know that the Southern Slavs sing it, and Czechs and Slovaks too.

    I wonder whether they sing it in Poland.


    • Poles sing “Stolat” – “100 years” – thanks for the post, very useful – just now composing a little ditty for our local Visegrad Group PDX – – combining birthday songs in Czech, Polish and Hungarian, to sing by kids from Polish, Czech and Hungarian schools for Tomas Svoboda on his 75th anniversary –


      • Yes, it means live, live, live, many years, many years, live, live, live.

        About as complicated as Happy birthday to you.


  9. Sure. I understood it, when I heard. The words are simple and very common in Slavic world. When it’s written, it’s also understandable, but not from the first reading.
    At the same time, if anybody talks to me in Czech or Slovak, I’ll understand just some words that sound the same, may be I’ll catch the general idea… not more then that…


    • Yes, I know.

      I was an exchange student in Russia in the seventies.

      When Russian students (boys) were imitating the way Czech girls talk to each other (the way hear it through their Russian ears), they were funnier than Jim Carrey.


  10. We got fed up too and wrote our very own Happy Birthday thang, ”Gens du pays” by Gilles Vigneault. Just substitute the name of homever birthday it is when the lyrics hit the chorus ”gens du pays”.
    The rest of the time the song is not used as a ‘Birthday ditty, it is a non-official national anthem.


  11. Happy Birthday Steve! In Russia we now sing a song from “Crocodile Gena” cartoon. I think it’s much better than “Happy birthday to you”.


  12. My today’s two cents: in my neck of the woods (Montevideo, Uruguay) we have a sort of tongue-in-cheek birthday-salutation mimicking the “happy-birthday” thing, which consists of a comic mispronunciation of the line, “apio verde chu iu” (where “apio verde” sounds alike to happy birthday but actually the words mean “green celery”, and “chu iu” is just a comic or exaggerated mispronunciation of “to you”). It’s sort of an intertextual reference to the birthday song which is mostly sung in birthday parties in translation “feliz cumpleaños a ti” (and this truly sounds awful, but what can you do, but follow the tide ….). There’s also the other one, “Many happy returns” – which may merit another of your posts, Steve. May I wish you Happy Easter without incurring in your wrath? LOL.


  13. Belated best wishes, and many happy returns (and I mean happy returns in other manifestations not just happy memories).

    Well, I___ don’t line the Happy BTY either. It’s a horrible, empty song.

    I have never heard it before that it might originate from a Slavic ditty. Thanks for mentioning this. But there’s another song, Guthrie’s “Where have all the flowers gone”, that I think comes from an old Slovenian folk song with the same title, “Kam so šle vse rožice”. The first line has the exact same words and melody as “Where have all the flowers gone”. I read somewhere that Guthrie was inspired by an Ukrainian folk song but I think in the New World these things were easily mixed up, and yes, that it was originally a Slovenian song. I hardly know anyone these days who still knows this song. As a child, a friend once gave me an old tattered song book for a present after she heard me sing at a school event, and I spent hours on end singing all those songs when I was alone at home …
    For the rest, yes, what is this world coming to? A couple of years ago, a group of Slovenian children were asked (or even invited to an event with this purpose) to sing a Slovenian song in London and they sang “My Bonnie is over the ocean”. My cheeks burned with shame reading the article! (and I am a qualified English teacher – in fact was, in previous life, before I realised life was too short for commuting)…


  14. Thank you for your comment.

    I thought “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” originally a Ukrainian song.

    If you Google it, you should be able to find the words in Ukrainian.

    But who knows, maybe it was originally a Slovenian song.




  16. Hi, the Happy Birthday song is not a fake, Hollywood creation. It started in the late 1800’s by two school teachers (sisters I think) who originally sang to their students as they entered the classroom. But the song went: Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good morning to all. It’s a nice way to welcome the children. The happy birthday lyrics showed up about 20 years later but I’m not sure on that history.
    I wanted to find a Slovak authentic song for a birthday and was sorry to find the American version with Slovak lyrics on many sites! That’s not what I wanted. I guess the worlds a small place.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hey there!

    I’ve just had a weekend in East Slovakia (Presov) for a friend’s 40th birthday celebration.

    Zivio got me under a huge surprise as I was expecting the usual Happy Birthday.

    Vodka, slivovica and becherovka were in abundance all night long!

    Cheers and na zdravie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that must have been some hangover in the morning. In Czech (and Slovak too, I believe), the slang word for hangover is “kocovina”, which is related to the German word “kotzen” meaning to throw up.


  18. It is just older generation that still sings Živijo. At least where I come from, which is Slovakia. I laught a lot about Jakubec though. He is like the second most terrible person Slovak showbusiness ever had. Anyways, I like your article. And last thing, we mostly sing happy birthday and I hate it too.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: