Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Curious Culture of Office Parties

As regular readers may have guessed, we have complex love/hate relationships with almost every element of our work lives. Scratch that, every element of our lives, period. You might think the older we get, the more we would see those fifty shades of gray...but you’d be very wrong. It’s more like the older we get, the faster we vacillate between loving and hating with equal fervor. Is this adulthood, guys? We doubt it. To be fair, it’s not like we have been living and working with paradigms of maturity for the past twenty something years.

Two of the major players on our list of “Things We Can’t Live With or Without” are ‘free food’ and ‘co-workers making asses out of themselves.’ As you may have guessed, we may not have the healthiest of bonds with food (Thanks, Mom), and while our office mates’ constant fuckassery may be amusing, it isn’t making our work days any easier or doing anything great for our overall nerves. These two elements are, of course, combined in an unholy union during those horrifying and yet glorious spectacles known across the land as office parties.

Would that our office parties could match this level of dysfunction.
Unfortunately, instead of reveling in gorgeous clothes, awkward office romance, and after hours punch bowls full of the liquor with which our office is well stocked year round, we get something that looks more like this:

Sans smiles.
As if the holidays aren’t already fraught with diet killers and food enablers around every corner, offices are rife with So-and-So’s FAMOUS cookies/brownies/cupcakes/mac and cheese/potatoes/four course dinner. You know what’s not on that list? Salad. Don’t get us wrong, we’re as delighted as can be when we discover that Spacey Secretary has a big bowl of festive York mints on her desk, but the constant stream of free food is a blessing and curse. Knowing our coworkers as you do (because surely you’ve read up on them!), you won’t be shocked to learn that they have plenty to say about our growing (or shrinking) waistlines.

Eating habits aside, we make a point to show up to every office gathering possible, from birthdays and anniversaries (with the company and each other) to volunteer gatherings and building redesigns. Spent Supervisor avoids them like the plague, and maybe we would as well after spending 10 years with these guys, but the novelty has certainly not worn off on us. We also know that the real stories lie not in the food, but in the conglomeration of all the different kinds of office crazy in a confined celebratory setting.

We always grab seats in a corner, giving ourselves as wide of a view as possible (and preventing sneak attacks from Time Thieves), whip out our notebooks, and watch the awfully awkward office banter on non-work topics unfold. Since most members of each department hate each other (unless they are temporarily allied in their complaints of a different department’s low quality of work/disrespect for deadlines/general smarmy disposition), a unique set of cliques form. These small groups consist of: overly-religious loudmouths, people who have been at the company forever, aggressive knitters, smokers, carpoolers from the east, “foodies” (allergic to gluten/allergic to dairy/health nut/faux health nut/vegetarian/faux vegetarian/elaborate baker), confused newbies, and people who really are just there for food.

“Of course not, Mother, I’m only here for the food.”
Scattered throughout are the completely oblivious nice folks, like Spacey Secretary, who have never really figured out the rules of these parties and formed a table of their own, and are thus each trapped trying to make pleasant conversation on their table’s topic (“Well, I don’t have any patterns to share, but I did crochet an orange hat way back when for my high school boyfriend!”). No Boundaries tramples around the room forcing everyone to try their dish, which you’ll never believe was made with [surprising food substitute]/a recipe [dead relative] found on a box/a marriage ruiner, launching torpedoes of tolerance and planting mines of multiculturalism.

Perhaps the highlight of our year (at least when it comes to this particular topic), is the office Christmas party. Obviously we’re still thinking about it six months later...that’s how spectacular it is. Anya stumbled upon the party unexpectedly one year, and her shock and awe drove Paul to join her the next. This party has all of the makings of true office bullshit. Potluck? Check. During work hours? Check. No alcohol allowed? Check. Parody Christmas carols? Double motha fuckin check. Yes, we don’t just have carolers here...we have a freakish mashup of Dr. Seuss, Weird Al Yankovic, and Jingle Bells, sung aloud, by co-workers, in the middle of a totally sober afternoon. We experience these things so you don’t have to.

Exemplar of sophisticated humor.


  1. This post on curious culture of office parties was way too interesting to read. You made it even more fun with these random photographs. You know I am also planning to throw an indoor dinner for my employees and have already booked the corporate events Chicago venue for that. Hope everything goes as planned.