Lukewarm champagne and tepid speeches – the office Christmas party

In the course of my working life I have participated in many – and different – office/company Christmas parties: with tea and cookies in the office, with pizza and games in the canteen, at the sausage stand at the Christmas market, in a specially rented small theatre (including performance) and at the big ball in an “exclusive location”. The number of guests has varied between 5 and several hundred, and as far as dress was concerned, anything from jeans to evening gowns.

But one thing all Christmas parties had in common was of course the speech by the management. Often this address has weighed on the shoulders of the selected (or coerced) managers since the previous October. And it also entails different strategies, depending on whether the previous fiscal year was successful or not.

In the first case it is important to make sure that the speaker does not overdo his or her bragging – otherwise the staff will arrive in January and demand salary increases. And who wants that? In the second case, one should not overdo the sackcloth and ashes in the speech, or the Christmas party could degenerate into a depressive mass booze-up – which is not the point of the matter either.

That’s why, after less successful fiscal years, managers tend to stay on the safe side and orient themselves towards politicians after lost elections or football coaches after a lost match. They then say that “as it is still too early to make a final assessment it will now be necessary to thoroughly analyse the root causes.” That’s always an option and at least it doesn’t completely ruin the party.

Not all managers are born speakers, and I’ve seen bets being made on which deputy might have written the witty speech this time. But there are also certain risks involved in using an in-house ghostwriter, because if you have to react spontaneously, Dieter Hildebrandt’s beautiful quote “You can only speak off the cuff if there’s something on it” applies.

At larger parties, the speeches often take place between the courses of the 5-course menu. Since serving + eating + listening + clapping can take several hours in total, the choice of suitable table companions is not to be underestimated!

Once the speeches are over, the more informal part of the evening usually begins, more or less merry or contemplative, depending on the corporate culture.

So far I have only experienced games at an office Christmas party in the Netherlands – with small groups of up to 20 people. Everyone has to bring 3 small gifts (one of their possessions or a second hand one, one home-made and one newly purchased, which may not cost more than 3 euros) and make them unrecognisable by means of elaborate packaging.

These presents land in the middle of a circle of chairs. In turn each person rolls a large foam cube. If you throw a 6, you can choose a gift, unpack it and place it under your chair. Once all the gifts have been distributed, task cards are drawn for each 6 thrown. These cards say “You may take a gift of your choice from your neighbour to the left”, “Give one of your gifts to your third neighbour on the left” or “The oldest, youngest, largest, smallest may take a gift away from any person,” and so on. The possibilities are endless! I still vividly remember the evening when the passionate pursuit of the customer service manager and the facility colleague of a pink make-up bag degenerated into an exciting head-to-head race – which was an enthusiastic talking point for weeks.

At the end of the evening you sometimes end up with some very surprising things. But then again you can sell them – according to Dutch custom – at the flea market on the next King’s Day.

I wish you all a wonderful office Christmas party!

Original text: BBR
English translation: BCO


Author: bbr

Hello, I am Beate Brinkman, the bbr.harlekin. I am editor and author for Harlekin.Blog e.V. and my “main job” is support coordinator in an international IT company. So far I have worked in German, Dutch, American and Indian companies and have acquired a great deal of experience of multicultural cooperation. I have been living in the Netherlands as a German for many years and have discovered that the cultural differences between Germans and Dutch alone could fill entire books. For professional and private reasons, I am particularly interested in multicultural (mis)understanding. Whether it’s about food, language, official conference calls or the organisation of funerals – when the cultures of several countries collide, things get lively. And that leads to sometimes unpleasant, often very funny, but always instructive situations.

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