Office party dilemma: Have fun or have a job

There you are, standing awkwardly in a circle, nibbling on a pretzel, sipping cheap Chardonnay and making polite conversation.

Under your breath, you're still furiously reciting the well-rehearsed script: "I will not drink too much. I will not come on to my boss. I will not crack on my assistant. I will not tell anyone about Bob in accounting and the mysterious brown paper packages. I will not even let on about Rebecca and John's affair." You're almost word perfect.

But with every swallow, each good intention becomes a little hazier. You have to check your notes. But are you really to blame?

Going to this annual soiree often means sharing quality time with people who, up until now, you've shared only a photocopier with. And generally speaking, bonding over the frustrations of automatic stapling is about as close as you can handle.

So what to do? You drink. And, in time, you start to do other things starting with D. You Dance. You Drivel. You Drivel while Dancing. And then you have another Drink.

Magic things start to happen. People for whom you usually feel only thinly disguised contempt are beginning to take on another persona. You discover you've been wrong about the head of HR all this time. She's actually a madcap crazy funster who likes to water-ski, scuba dive, and go out raging. The hired DJ puts on KC & The Sunshine Band. Listeners start to groove. At this point, a little warning signal goes off in your head. To no avail.

The magic starts to work more wonders. The same person you accidentally touched this morning– and recoiled from– is now arousing strange sexual feelings within you. The one you wouldn't sleep with for a million dollars yesterday is starting to look alarmingly attractive– previously dismissed geekiness has become sensitivity, shyness, and engaging charm.

Whoa! Stop there! It's not too late, nothing's happened yet. And before you go any further, you should read our foolproof guide to what can (and usually does) happen at The Office Christmas Party.


Getting Too Close with the Boss

 Forget the joking, the flirting, the innuendo, even the slap and tickle– everyone knows what can all too swiftly follow. If you remember only one thing, remember there's a better-than-average chance a sober morning (and possibly work day) will follow tonight's celebrations. During this morning (and possibly every morning for the next 12 months), you are guaranteed to relive every agonizingly embarrassing moment– piece by piece. And if news spreads around the office– well, you may as well take your resume and start searching.

Perhaps there's something to be said for old-fashioned professional distance?


Over Indulging

 Along with toilet paper stuck to your shoe, drunken vomiting must be one of the most mortifying acts known to man. And that's ordinarily. Double that when it happens in front of colleagues. It's a little difficult to command respect from someone who last night saw you heaving in the corner. Almost beyond description is the horror you feel upon waking as memories flood in (see also "Getting Too Close With The Boss"). To be avoided at all costs.



What is the attraction of photocopiers at Christmas parties? And how does anyone make the nebulous connection between that cold machine and a bare body part? Appearing inoffensive in the corner, the behemoth must silently scream out to be put to good– and hilarious– use. The really funny thing is, no matter how early you get in next morning to destroy the evidence, a thoughtful colleague will have arrived before you and is usually gleefully waving the original just out of reach. If you're lucky, you'll find little reminders pasted everywhere; if you're unlucky, the switchboard will start to ring at 10am. To be on the safe side, try pulling the machine's plug before the bourbon flows– and pray you drink too much to remember to turn it back on.


Spilling the Beans

 Why is it that the secrets you've jealously guarded all year– the ones you've resisted all temptation, bribes, and questioning under torture to reveal– slip out without a pause at Christmas parties? Telling the Vice President about your sexual fantasies (or anyone else's in the office for that matter) does not really augur well for a promotion– especially when the VP is a non-drinker and has his assistant taking shorthand in the corner. However unbearable it is to keep it inside, try really, really hard.


Dancing on Tables

 Why does everyone pretend it's hip-hop and house they're into, when it's obvious that Donna Summer still holds the floor in reverberating dancing frenzies? The most hardened ravers can be seen thrashing about furiously to disco dance moves, but always swear they're picking it up as they go along. What the heck! Join in the fun– just beware the staff newsletter photographer. You may look silly in a drunken, smoky haze with the music going– but can you imagine being suspended in sober, silent mid-air forever, doing the eternal Bus Stop?


Ignoring Your Spouse/Partner

 "Partners Welcome" Not likely! You have your work life, you have your home life, and never the twain shall meet. However great Bob is, and however much you think your wife will love him, odds are you'll hate him when she's around, and she'll wonder how you can even share a partition with him. Why is this? Why is it that two people you have so much in common with have absolutely nothing to talk about? But since the presence of a partner is thought to reduce the risk of "Getting Too Close with the Boss," bring him/him her along.


Acting Like a Maniac

 You're at your funniest, wittiest, most eloquent and charming. That's your story, and you're sticking to it. Funnily enough, the non-drinkers may not see it quite that way. Tea-totalers are to be systematically ignored at Office Christmas Parties. Either that, or join them.


What's wrong with eating pretzels, politely chatting up the CEO, and being the only one capable of un-jamming the photocopier? Would you rather it was your picture caught in the machine– or your cubicle-mate staring aghast at the little secret you just spilled about you and that iguana that night in Tijuana?

The choice is entirely up to you. Just don't say you weren't warned.