Friday, November 23, 2018

About Those Fancy Work Parties

"Pin-striped-suit-wearing cookie pushers." "Shmoozers extraordinaire." "Professional partiers." We've all heard the diplomat stereotypes. Well, now that I'm over halfway through my first tour in this career, I hate to break it to you: these parties aren't what they seem. (Plus, if you're thinking about joining the Foreign Service for its reputed party value, I highly recommend you reconsider options in the private sector instead.)

When I do attend a social function the U.S. Embassy hosts as part of my job, it turns out to be a lot of actual work. How? Well, imagine you're at a party, except you have to show up early and stay late. Then, replace all your friends with important work contacts. Even if your friends from work are there, your responsibility is not to get distracted talking to them at the expense of the other guests. Then, talk to dozens of people and try to remember all their names and what they look like and where they work and who their spouses are. (The next time you see them, they'll probably remember everything about you and you'll smile awkwardly as you struggle to recall if you've ever seen them, let alone had a conversation.) Be on guard for compromising or overtly political questions, and hold the official U.S. government line on every issue regardless of your personal views.

At least there's food and drink available, right? Well, you may not get a chance to eat between working the room and being nervous about staining your clothes or using the wrong utensil, so you might wolf down a granola bar in the bathroom before the event starts or heat up a canned soup in the microwave when you get home (late on a weeknight). At the end of the night, when you've collected a massive pile of business cards, try not to think about how you'll have to go into the office to painstakingly enter them one by one into your contact management system and then follow up with the most relevant ones.

In other words, what I'm trying to say is that there's a huge difference between a reception or a party where you have to work and one you attend just for fun. My sense (admittedly from an entry-level perspective) is that if you're doing your job right as a diplomat, you're not kicking back and enjoying most receptions. You don't let your guard down, throw back too many drinks, or risk doing or saying anything that would reflect badly on the United States. Instead, you listen, reinforce the talking points, build relationships with key contacts, and make sure the guests are having a good time. And, honestly? I wouldn't have it any other way. We wouldn't be very good stewards of taxpayer dollars if we blew them all on a good time. We've got a job to do, so we should work hard at work parties and play hard on our own time.

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