Love or hate them, this time of year you’re likely slated to go to a few holiday cocktail parties. Be they for work or social, this annual ritual of booze and seasonal joy can be an unmitigated disaster, a wonderful joy or anywhere in between.
I’m personally fond of the corporate holiday events: walking the fine line between being a great big stick-in-the-mud and getting tanked up and propositioning the office manager, waiting for somebody from accounting to get naked and dance on the table, stealing the managing partner’s crÃ¨me brule. At a Christmas party I went to a few years ago, a former employee there as one of my coworker’s date tore apart a couch at the Ritz in Pasadena with a hunting knife. It was pretty spectacular.
One thing you can always count on at holiday cocktail parties is quality people-watching. There are a few types of party-goers that you’re almost certain to run across at each and every party you go to. As a public service, I’ll do brief profiles of several of the more prominent characters you’ll run across at these events.
These first two are rather obscure, but I’ve run in to them at three or four different events. They were also the first cocktail party people types I remember noticing, and sparked my interested in this particular brand of kookspotting.
The Aggressive Know-it-all
You always run in to people who believe that they know everything. That’s cool. More power to them. They’re useful for settling disputes, and you can learn a lot of interesting things from them. (Even if half of what they say is total BS.)
What makes them truly special is when unprovoked they challenge you to prove them wrong. One time I was at a James Bond-themes holiday cocktail party — why there was a theme above and beyond the holidays is beyond me — where one guest brought a grocery store cocktail set as a hostess gift. There was bourbon and sugar in the set, and our first specimen looked at it and asked “What can you make with bourbon and sugar?” A fair question indeed, and he had the answer. “The only thing is a mint julep. Am I wrong?”
He went on like this for the rest of the evening. “A flat tax would not be regressive. Am I wrong?” “Catholics can never eat fish on fridays. Am I wrong?” “Your hair looks terrible when it’s up like that. Am I wrong?” He got away with this unchallenged in every instance. It probably ruined his day.
What to talk to them about
The great up side to these folks is that they will talk to you about anything. The down side is that you probably don’t want to talk to them in the first place. If your simple goal is to be pleasant and socialize, the topic of conversation isn’t really important. Just smile, nod, and let them think that they’re the king of the intellectual world. Alternately, lure them in to your area of expertise and wait for an ill-placed “am I wrong?” If you’re forceful and solid when you pounce, you might just break them.
What to drink with them
Have an obscure cocktail up your sleeve, and make sure that its name gets mentioned. With any luck, our subject will swag at its ingredients and challenge the room to question him. This Is Where You Make Him Pay. Yes, it’s mean to prepare such traps, but it’s also fun.
They’re from the city where the party is being held, they’ve never lived anywhere else and they scarcely leave. Fiercely loyal to their home town, they’ll sing its praises all night long and will attack with tremendous fury if you dare speak ill of it.
This can be good and bad. If you’re in a cool town filled with cool people, you can hardly loose. They know everything that’s ever happened and can tell you all the cool stories. If you’re in a pretentious area, you’re in for a night of non-stop snobbery. This happened to me a few years back, when I heard one woman say “I’ve lived on the west side all my life” no less than ten times. She spent the entire evening talking smack about every other part of Los Angeles — including a great diatribe about how pedestrian the people in my part of town are. What’s worse is that she was loud, so I couldn’t really escape her.
What to talk to them about
If they’re cool, talk about their home town. Hear the stories, learn the culture, get the dirt. Did the town council really try to ban four-door cars back in the 80′s? Find out if the guy who runs that furniture shop on the edge of town really is the local weed hookup. If it’s a little crazy, they know it, and what could be more fun at a party?
If they’re a pain in the ass about their local pride, talk about the next town over. Even if you’ve never been there, it’s the greatest place on earth and this clown needs to hear about it.
What to drink with them
The dichotomy remains the same here: ask the cool local what people in their neck of the woods drink. Even if it’s crap, there’s probably a good story that goes along with it. With the jerk, I recommend Guinness. Go on and on and on about how Ireland is the greatest place on earth, and how noplace — noplace — could ever be as good. (note: this works less well in Ireland.)
More from the Holiday Cocktail Party Field Guide.