IF YOU are reading this, then you must have survived the office Christmas party.
It’s not the kind of luxury self-employed people like me have the privilege to attend. But if you happen to work for someone or some company, and they are doing reasonably well, then the Christmas party becomes a necessary evil if not to boost the boss’s ego.
However, no matter how hard they may try, people are not at their best behaviour at these functions. In fact, the antics of some will be the talk of the office for months to come.
I speak with some authority because of two reasons.
First, I have been employed at nine different institutions who invariably exercised the privilege of holding Christmas parties, and second, I have been exposed to all manner of party animals, a majority with dubious distinctions in gate-crashing.
We could smell good parties miles away. Some of us even used to keep a diary of functions being held within a 100 kilometre radius, a skill honed by the experts like Andrew ‘Nduru’ Mkhwananzi and Mr Johns of ama-Wednesday (imidlalo) fame. What I am about to reveal are contents of de-classified X files.
Last week, I attended my first office Christmas party since moving to Botswana. Let us call it a “workshop” party because these are engineering professionals we are talking about.
To be sure, I will confirm once again that I wasn’t drinking because as you might know by now, I no longer partake the evil waters. So there was plenty of juice and Coke for me and a couple of others — and we were in the vast minority.
There was enough booze to drown a whale. Intoxicants of every hue, shape, taste and size were available. The Batswana were in their element, never mind what their President feels or thinks. Yet by my standards, this was a quiet do — incomparable to those I had attended back home.
I left early. Of course one can never be sure what transpired after we left. Remember the expression: the freaks come out at night? Being a former freak, I can bet that things revved up a bit when the wine sunk in.
Back to the REAL Office Christmas party. This is the only occasion when workmates let their hair down and do the unthinkable. Critical in the whole equation is the availability of food, booze and music.
With references to parties that I have attended, organised or gate-crashed, I will let you in on the dark secrets.
The party starts innocently enough, with boring speeches and stuff. Then the food is served to ensure that people do not suffer the excruciating hang-over the morning after. It contains a lot of starch and beef, although the ladies prefer rice and chicken. The meat is braai-ed (barbecued) and prepared according to where one come from in Zimbabwe.
Those who come from the north and east of the country ‘gocha’ their meat. The meat is literally tossed into a blazing inferno that would require the Fire Brigade to be on standby. The charcoal that is rescued for the flames is then served to those with stomachs lined with asbestos.
Then we have those from the west and south ‘abosa’ their meat. Here the meat is turned over hot coals or charcoal and is taken out with traces of blood still dripping from it. Bayithanda ilegazi. It’s literally eating a cow alive. Let us call it cultural diversity.
With the food and dull speeches out of the way, the main business of the day begins. The music is nice and loud and nearly everyone hits the dance floor with a bit of assistance from National Breweries. You see, there are those of us who have never danced in their entire lives only to suddenly leap into the fray with such reckless abandon.
When the dancing got frenzied, this was when the bosses gave us the slip. They wouldn’t want to be judge and witnesses at the disciplinary hearings that would inevitably follow particularly raunchy parties.
I have always been amazed at the extremes some men go to hunt down their female colleagues. A male who has been consistently turned down by a particular female all year long suddenly believes his fortunes would turn for the better at the party, especially after dancing his socks off, albeit badly, to the Soul Brothers.
His male colleagues cringe with embarrassed terror watching as he is told to ‘F’ off point blank to the derisive laughter of womankind, the kind that condemns one to a life of perpetual solitude as a monk.
At this point, the rumour mill would have acquired enough sleaze to keep itself running on auto-pilot for the year to come. That would include the section manager being found in a compromising position with the ugly intern in the men’s toilet. Or how about the Managing Director’s PA who has had six too many enough to make her redecorate her lily white dress with a regurgitated version of the day’s menu?
It’s not often that I pat by back about something. I can safely, and still loudly blow my own trumpet, by claiming to have organised the biggest Christmas party ever while I was employed at Dunlop. Sadly, it was the aftermath that caught people’s attention.
The whole city was littered with bodies of Dunlop employees who in a vain attempt to reach their homes after trying to finish all the beer (which they couldn’t) must have decided to catch forty winks on the pavements. The city council had a tough time clearing up the human litter.
The worst parties will always be the ones at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). Apart from attempts at pleasing academics who felt they deserved a raise, their end of year parties were an exercise in futility.
You can’t throw a party with two fishes and five loaves of bread. Those in the know would deal with the anticipated booze drought by amassing as many pints as they could in the first minutes of the bar opening.
Most of the beasts slaughtered for the function had a tendency of disappearing before they found our tables. We never got to find out where the rest of the meat went, save to say that good meat usually speaks for itself (nyama inonaka inotaura yega).
I have to pause by paying tribute to my colleagues, the journalists who know how to sniff out a good party. Their beat is the corporate party circuit devoid of limitations to the amount of beer and food consumed. One doesn’t have to invite a journalist. They just appear (ngomazivelela) and they do it so unflappably that you would think that they are the ones who organised it in the first place.
One of the strategies of dealing with them, in my experience as a PR person who hosted them a few times, is to have a separate budget for them. It should be a floating budget that can be transferable to any night spot in the town.
In fact, this tactic has worked for me in instances where you set aside beer for gate crashers because they are a reality. For as long as there are parties, there will be gate crashers, and journalists.
By far one of the most difficult things to do on earth is to tell journalists the party is over, and it’s time to go home. They start quoting your company financial statement to prove that you can afford to give them more beers. Never mind the carpet of pints accumulated under their chairs. You will be skating on thin ice because there is the latent danger of your company making the headlines the very next day, and for the wrong reasons too.
As we count our losses and scandals after a good office party, we look forward to a Christmas with friends, relatives and the lurking enemy in the shadows.
A word of caution: you only live one life so look after yourselves. Drink responsibly and drive carefully because we want you back here next year.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!