Office parties have a reputation of being a little — okay, a lot — on the awkward side. To borrow a line from Tina Fey’s cinematic masterpiece Mean Girls, these after-hours gatherings are like “seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.” Once the attorneys loosen their ties and take down their hair, things stop being polite and start getting real. The line between work and play gets a bit hazy, but one thing is clear: Mild embarrassment is always in the forecast.
For one Thursday a month, my law firm would hold a social immediately following the 5 o’clock workday. Essentially, a social is the watered-down, Natty Light equivalent of what the rest of the world refers to as a party. Human Resources would send out an email several days in advance, inviting all company employees to come together in the name of mediocre hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.
Eating while chit-chatting with co-workers has fostered some humbling moments. One highly regarded attorney snacked on fresh fruit as he told me about how he dated a pre-Clueless Brittany Murphy in middle school. Midway through the conversation, I noticed some pesky black seeds and a thin layer of red strawberry coating his front teeth. I started slowly moving my tongue back and forth over my teeth with the hope he would catch on and subconsciously begin to mimic my behavior. Soon after, I surrendered, realizing he was oblivious to my charade — that was my cue to politely excuse myself from the conversation.
It’s easy for me to be high-and-mighty and poke fun at the innocent blunders of my co-workers. But that’s not to say I was the picture of flawless office party etiquette.
Not even close.
Early in the summer, the law firm held one of its socials to coincide with the arrival of the new summer associates — law students who work May through August to gain law office experience. The addition of attractive, new employees is always a juicy topic for conversation.
Some of the secretaries and I took it upon ourselves to start an impromptu game of “do, date, or die” that began with the three male summer associates and ended up including every other male and female employee.
For those unfamiliar with this beloved American pastime, one person begins by choosing three people at random. The three people can be whomever — celebrities, friends, co-workers, fascist dictators or any combination thereof. Then the other players select one person of the three they would like to sleep with, one they’d like to date, and the third, often by default, who must make like John Tucker and die.
This is admittedly not an appropriate game to play in the workplace. If you do decide to go against your better judgment and play it, be sure to exercise a little discretion and a hushful tone.
The secretaries and I, however, failed to follow these words of obvious wisdom. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the summer associates heard everything we said. And I mean everything, including: the probable impotence of an elderly lawyer, the in-office exchange of sexual favors between co-workers and the deadly flatulence of the firm’s least favorite attorney. Even the most incompetent lawyer could successfully prosecute us for tactlessness on the basis of defamation of character.
Another crucial, yet often unclear, matter of propriety is when you should make the great escape. If the social starts at 5 p.m., most people will leave around 6:30 or 7 p.m. at the latest, which gives them enough time to have a drink or two and then sober up before calling it a night.
Those play-by-the-rules employees are the ones you’re rarely sad to see go.
After the wet blankets head home, things begin to get interesting. Attorneys start misbehaving. Some take shots of Patron, some talk about tattoos in unmentionable areas and others argue over the correct equation for a stripper name (first pet’s name plus the street you grew up on vs. birthstone plus favorite ice cream flavor).
Even if the conversation takes a turn for the naughtier, it’s still a chance to bond with a group of people you probably spend more time with than your own family. Got a little something wedged between your teeth? Don’t fret — while it may be hard to look at, it can be endearing. All of a sudden, that hotshot attorney no longer seems like your big, bad intellectual superior.
Exposed the Playboy bunny ink on your hip? Chances are you’re not the only one in the room who has made a fool of himself after one too many appletinis.
All jokes aside, office socials are an opportunity to get to know things about people that wouldn’t necessarily come up in a promotional meeting or over a business lunch with the boss.
Sure, the dialogue can border on inappropriate, but when that immodesty is mutual, it often becomes “your little secret.” So when you pass each other the next morning on the way to the coffeemaker, you nod and give each other a knowing smile.
In the case of uptight vs. down-for-whatever, it is the judgment of this column that any and all disorderly conduct charges should be dropped in the event you choose to let loose instead of playing it safe.
Kelsey Borresen is a junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit,” runs Mondays.