Germany & the Office Christmas Party
After my first few months living in Germany I found a job teaching English. I can’t say if I was any good at it, but my classes seemed well attended and a few times a week I would visit various professionals to teach. As Christmas came closer, I began to ask about what people had planned. The topic of the office party came up and a participant asked me what office Christmas parties were like in the UK. I thought back to all the British office parties I had attended in the past and attempted to give an accurate overview:
“Terrible Christmas songs and small talk proceed a buffet consisting of items sourced from some forgotten supermarkets freezer section. Once the buffet has been picked clean, the monosyllabic office recluse, drunk on alcopops, will dance on a table with a tie wrapped around his head “Rambo” style, while Barry from accounting encourages everyone to photo copy their arses.”
Shivering at the remembrance, I continued:
“The horror of witnessing all of this is only slightly deadened by the copious amounts of cheap wine that we have been plied, quaffed from a Styrofoam cup with little Santa Clauses printed on. However, the wine soon runs out and the only other option is to head to a pub. The invite may have said office Christmas party, but it will quickly descends into a bacchanalia worthy of Caligula himself once the remnants of the office, still capable of drinking, continue to a club. After that, well it’s anyone’s guess.”
“If everyone is drunk, what happens when they go to work the next morning?” someone asked. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
“Sorry, I’m not sure I know what you mean.” I replied. “When is your Christmas party?”.
“Tuesday” they said.
It turns out that despite having effectively invented Christmas and created an entire culture based on beer purity, many Germans choose not to celebrate Christmas by getting inhumanly drunk at the office party. I know, I was as surprised as you. Granted it may be a Bavarian quirk, but the majority of people I have spoken to attend well meaning office gatherings, where folks have a quiet beer or two, eat dinner together and possibly listen to a speech from the boss. What’s more, they often choose to have the party on a weekday. This is odd, given that the only reason British party organisers would choose a weekday would be because of the chaos that occurred the year before. Choosing a weekday party in the UK is a way of mitigating drunkenness, in Germany it’s simply practical. Friday evenings and weekends are generally reserved for private time, not for work, party or otherwise.
Since learning how office parties are conducted here, I have been able to call upon the many different “Office party survival guides” or “10 worst office Christmas party mistakes” articles for my English classes that are usually written around this time. Participants are continually mystified by the idea of people photocopying their genitalia for comedic effect or that the British have developed complex strategies to avoid terrible conversations. The “Two Drinker” is a particular favourite, which requires a person to carry two drinks, either to use as an excuse when the conversation sours or to simply drink in case the drinks table is busy. British social awkwardness has some benefits, I suppose.
While German office parties are comparably sedate to their British counterparts, it doesn’t mean they are entirely sombre affairs. I hear stories of people having one too many or someone will point out a colleague who packed away more Weißbier than the others, but I have yet to hear some of the horror stories many British people have encountered. For example, Gunter may have drunk a few more beers, but at no point did he take off his trousers in a crowded pub, stand on a chair and swing them around his head. Marie may have some Dutch courage, but she won’t choose to corner her manager and harangue herself out of a job. Both I have seen in some form or another at a British office party. The question is: Why do the British have to drink so much?
I could claim it’s the weather, but I would only be lying to myself. In reality the British have a novel way of celebrating any event, that is to get drunk. It is the best accompaniment to Birthdays, weddings, christenings, getting home from work early or Wednesdays. It is what we do, and we have been doing for centuries, whether that’s the general drunkenness of Henry VIII’s court, the Gin mania of the 18th Century or Churchill’s breakfast whisky. The reason that so many British office parties end so terribly, is exactly the reason most people attend: the chance to drink cheap booze on the company dime. This simple incentive draws everyone in, until they realise too late that it was a trap and they are being press ganged into singing Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney. Alcohol is the quickest way to create a festive atmosphere, especially among the socially repressed.
Of course, this alcohol fuelled personality shift inevitably leads to trouble. Should anyone doubt the levels of madness that can be reached by a group of employees out on the Christmas do, I will refer you to the city of Newcastle on the last Friday before Christmas. This hallowed day is referred to by locals, bar staff and most importantly the Police as “Black Eye Friday” (BEF). BEF is the day where workers of all types choose to hold their Christmas parties, flooding the city with keyboard jockeys, corporate tools and Susans from HR all with one intention: to get hammered. The resulting clashes may not guarantee a black eye, but undoubtedly the potential is there and thus the name.
The question is, which party is better? Well, on the face of it, the obvious choice would be the German Christmas party. Sure, you can’t get too drunk, but at least there will be no cringe worthy antics requiring a meeting with the head of personnel and a written warning. Then again, how do you know it’s Christmas if you haven’t had at least a verbal warning from your team leader about damage caused to the photocopier? I will be back in Newcastle for BEF this year and I plan on adding some much needed German decorum to proceedings. That’s right, no black sambuca for me, just beer and maybe a vodka or six.