Yes indeed, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to miss the company Christmas party. I’m pretty sure that conventional wisdom says that missing the company Christmas party is a BAD idea. Luckily, I’m unfettered by any such niggling annoyance as wisdom of any kind so I always miss the Christmas party. In fact, I miss pretty much EVERY party related to my workplace. What’s more, I’ve been in the working world for ten years and I’ve gone to a company function outside normal working hours exactly once that I can recall.
Now that’s not to say I never go to any parties. I am regularly obliged to attend my wife’s Christmas parties and other wife or child-related events now and again but when it comes to people in my own work environment I’m a perpetual no-show. So much so in fact that people have begun to actually take notice. I’d really be interested to know what the exact impact of that is, if any.
What change would be wrought in my life, I sometimes wonder, if instead of missing the 37 social events that have taken place since I started working here, I’d shown up to every single one. The uninformed voters out there might well say something along the lines of, “Well, silly, you’d know your co-workers better and have lots more friends.” To this person, and with all due respect and good intentions, I respond with a hearty raspberry, “Pffttt.”
This is where the previous ‘party’ experience comes into play. Having been to a few of these events, I know the script pretty well.
Stage 1: Tattered arrives at the party early. Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m annoyingly punctual. If someone sets a time of 1, I’ll be there on the spot ready to go at 12:50 just in case your clock is wrong. I’d hate for anyone to have to wait just because their clock did not coincide identically with my own.
While we’re on the subject of punctuality, this is a good point at which to interject an amusing anecdote on the subject of being on time to parties. Many moons ago, a work associate invited me and my wife to a party at his home. The invitation clearly and distinctly said: 3:00pm. For the numerically impaired, that’s THREE in the afternoon. So my wife and I made arrangements, we find the domicile in question, we synchronize our chronometers and we arrive spot on 3pm ready to partake of the festivities. Annoyingly, the first words out of our hosts mouth were, “Heh, Tattered, should have known you’d be on time.” Yes, you may have guessed it, apparently the 3pm time was some sort of bizarre temporal decoy. It seems that some people engineer their invitations in such a way that the event actually begins 90 minutes after the announced time. I believe this has something to do with the concept of being ‘fashionably late.’ Whatever the cause, the result was that my wife and I suddenly found ourselves with an hour and a half to kill while our host took care of minor details such as showering and preparing the food. Even more annoying was the fact that most people did not actually start to arrive until 6:00 despite the fact that the party was to actually start at 4:30 (at least according to our host).
Stage 2: Guests arrive and periodically attempt to engage me in conversation. Admittedly, of all the steps, this is probably the most pleasant but sadly things never progress past the random small-talk phase. I’ll admit that in general people at work are very friendly and talkative. There are some that doggedly attempt to converse with me again and again. I respect them for their dedication to gregariousness. Sadly, I simply don’t appear to have the social skills necessary to reciprocate properly and sustain a conversation. My only real defense in these situations is to respond with wit and enigmatic comments. Unfortunately, it’s the type of wit that leaves half the hearers laughing and the other half wondering what in the hell I’m talking about. Comedy does not a sustainable conversation make; conversation requires something to which a person can actually respond and exchange ideas about. Sadly, most of the time my comments don’t lead people down any of the well-trodden conversational paths that most indulge in. Call me small-minded but I don’t have anything to say about the big game, I didn’t see that movie you’re talking about and know nothing about cars. That pretty much kills 95% of the available male-to-male conversations. Don’t even get me started on the other gender.
Stage 3: I call this the ‘kill me now’ phase. This is the point after which all the small-talk kamikazes have broken off their attack and found other harbors to raid and I’m trying desperately to look interested in something, ANYTHING in the room. Typically, the party-goers have broken into groups of 3-5 people and are actively discussing some topic or other. I don’t typically feel it appropriate to go and glom on to someone else’s conversation and since everyone else is engaged, I can hardly start my own. I have found though that talking at length to a candlestick about the unique cell wall proteins found in sub-tropical species of Spirea inspires conversation elsewhere in the room.
The real root of the problem, I think, is just plain social ignorance. My parents raised me for one thing and one thing only, to sit in my room and shut the hell up. We didn’t actually do ‘stuff’ when I was growing up so I never learned those key social skills like, “converse with people” and “don’t just blab the absolute truth as you see it on your blog.” At this stage in my life though, I’m not sure exactly how to learn these skills without some obnoxiously painful moments.
Obviously, avoiding social functions, like the Christmas party, is not helping. To do a thing you must first attempt a thing. I’m not honestly sure what my life would be like if human interaction came to me as easily as I see it happen for others. I’m frankly mystified at times at the easy exchanges that people have with each other. I’ve never gotten it and I probably never will completely but it’s apparent that hiding from it is not the solution.
Before any of that though, I have to decide if it’s really a problem. If I do build relationships with these people, what have I really gained? Will I do my job any better? No. Will I like my job any better? No, well maybe, but I don’t consider the social interactions these people represent as part of the job. Will the company be any better off? Possibly. Most upsettingly though, it does seem that the way to really rise in a company has little do with your actual work. As long as I retain my current enigmatic persona, I have no doubt that I will forever remain a 2nd Class Turd in the deepest bowels of the company as I am now.