If you’re allowed to bring a guest, bring someone who will enjoy meeting your colleagues and who will be discreet enough to remember the gossip you’ve shared while connecting the dots mentally, rather than out loud. On the way home—not while shaking said person’s hand—is the time for your guest to shout, “That was the guy who ran away with the head of ad sale’s wife? You are kidding!” As for spouses, they have to go and behave. Preferably charmingly.
Can I Drink?
Sure—as long as you drink very modestly and make your drink last a very long time. Some people self-impose a two-drink maximum. We all know that interesting, sometimes disastrous, things happen when office politics mixes with liberal quantities of alcohol. Far better to drink less and be one of the people who remembers the fool who re-created the Madonna-Britney smooch on the dance floor with the boss’s wife, instead of being one of the smoochers in question. Oh yes, and stay away from the karaoke machine. Chances are close to 100 percent that you do not sound like Whitney Houston. Save your “I’m Every Woman/ I Will Always Love You” medley for the shower.
What If Someone Says or Does Something That’s Totally Out?
Repeat: Alcohol and office politics are a dangerous mixture. Some people will ignore the two-drink maximum and visit the bar several times (’cause it’s free, right?) and then make all sorts of untoward remarks, some confessional (“You’re so lucky—I’ve always wished I had boobs like yours. What are you, a double-D?”); some proclamational (“You know, if all black people could be like you and your gal, the race problem would be fixed. I could talk to you guys all night.”). Pull out your “gotta-find-a-bathroom” card (drunks never argue with that), flee quickly and find a sober colleague to hang out with. You’ll have more fun anyway, because you can talk about all the drunk folks together.
Do I Have To Stay Till The End?
Usually, no. If you arrive at the end of drinks, stay for dinner and quietly slip away soon after, you’ve done your duty. (If people beg you to stay, you can always murmur something about needing to relieve the babysitter if you have children, or breakfast with out-of-town friends the next day.) Whenever you’re back in the office, remember to thank whoever was responsible for the evening.
Then pat yourself on the back for being a good employee and relax until next year. Because if the economy bounces back, you’ll probably have to do it again.
Karen Grigsby Batesis a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and the co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times (Doubleday, 2006).