The One Party You Don’t Want An Invite To: The German Work Christmas Party

Fun and games at the German Work Christmas Party.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British work Christmas party typically involves two things; alcohol and sexual shenanigans between people who shouldn’t be having them. So I had high hopes of finally seeing some Germans shed their inhibitions and – dare I say it – lose control when I was invited to a German work Christmas party last year.

How wrong I was.

The first thing that should have told me this was that I was invited at all. For I am just the partner of someone else who works for this company. Partners, at a work Christmas party? These annoying specimens don’t even get a look in at the English work Christmas party. There are two reasons for this: One is that companies claim they can’t afford to invite partners of employees anymore, particularly after the credit crunch (which never existed in mega-rich Bavaria).  The second and real reason is that there’s no way Fred in accounts could finally get his dirty way with Jane from Human Resources if his wife was there, could he?

The second thing that screamed “this is going to be The Worst Christmas Party Ever” is that there were CHILDREN there. Honestly. Children at a work Christmas party. At that point I guessed there wasn’t going to be any cocaine or strippers either then. Oh God.

All work Christmas parties vary in England. I have been to ones in pubs, clubs, bars, the work canteen, you name it. But in all cases everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, women in slutty, ill-fitting dresses dance to bad music and there is plenty to gossip and laugh about the next day.

English women on their way to the work Christmas party.

When we arrived at the Worst Christmas Party Ever however, there was no music. A small group of people were stood awkwardly around a table in the boss’ showroom, which had been stylishly turned into a pretty winter wonderland. That’s right – no traffic light-style disco lights here.

Whoop whoop!

None of the women were in slutty dresses either. Instead they were wearing Jack Wolfskin t-shirts tucked neatly into khaki-style trousers. And there was to be no dancing around handbags tonight – for these lot had brought their rucksacks. We were going on a hike afterwards or something? I manually adjusted the hem on my little dress by yanking it down a bit, and wished I had at least put a vest top on under the laciness of my dress and over my bra. Then I prayed there would be no hike.

German women on their way to the work Christmas party

The Worst Christmas Party Ever consisted of the boss, Ludwig, a successful young family man with long floppy hair and one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. Then there was his wife along with their two young children who clearly didn’t want to be there either. Then there was Gert, my partner’s colleague and his wife, both aged in their fifties. Gert is from the former communist East Germany, so you can forgive him for being a bit weird. Then there was the apprentice, Stefan, who stank of B.O. and had the social skills of an ape. Then there was the straight-laced secretary, Hilda, who had brought her nine-year-old daughter along. This was going to be a long night.

Sensing this too, the boss’ children suddenly started acting ill and their mother had to leave and take them home. The rest of us sat down to eat a beautiful meal prepared perfectly by some local caterers, albeit in the quietest and most awkward surroundings ever. It didn’t help that my German at this stage was at the same level of the average German two-year-old’s, which made it very hard to join in any conversation that did dare to take place. No one seemed to speak English because, well, this is rural Bavaria where people speak a funny form of German. As many expats will know, you often feel like a deaf mute in these situations.

One thing that did shatter the awkward silence however was the secretary’s daughter sat next to me. She ate and ate as though she had never seen food before. She pigged out so much that her podgy little stomach couldn’t handle anymore, and she started – wait for it – farting. As she was sat next to me though no one could really tell who had let out the farts, despite my obvious ‘you just farted!’ glances I threw hastily in her direction. She just sat there seemingly oblivious to her torrential gas situation. The little bitch.

After the most excruciatingly long few hours of my life, the Worst Christmas Party Ever was finally over. No one got that drunk, no one fell over, no one made a fool of themselves to YMCA on the dance floor, and on one shagged someone they shouldn’t have. But in typical German style the food and hospitality was amazing and no one lost their dignity, jobs, or knickers down some cold alleyway somewhere on the way home. Boring!

Unfortunately the following day everyone who had been at the Worst Christmas Party Ever came down with a vomiting virus so severe we were all chucking our guts up for two days. The little girls who had been taken home ill by their mum got it from school first, then their mother must have picked it up from them before passing it on to all of us by handling our cutlery before we ate.

And that’s why kids really shouldn’t be at Christmas parties. One because they are farty and annoying, and two because they carry disease-ridden germs most of the time.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It was very nice of the boss to invite us and feed us all with such lovely food. But I really hope we don’t get an invite again this year.

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A Bavarian Pole Party Fit for a…..Pole

The story of the Bavarian maypole has to be my favourite Bavarian tradition yet. For the blue and white poles you see dotted around this part of Germany aren’t just any old chunks of decorated tree. They are practically Bavarian royalty.

Each village in our rural parts has one of these poles proudly standing somewhere central and stretching high – very high – into the sky. You usually see them somewhere central, like outside the local Rathaus (town hall) or by the main green. As you can see in this picture, even the guinea pigs at Munich Zoo have one.

They are made from a tree cut down from one of the many nearby forests, and then decorated with the emblems of local trades people, like the butcher, the baker, and the candle-stick maker. Every few years they are replaced by a new pole, which is usually hoisted up on May Day during a party involving lots of beer, men in lederhosen, and women in dirndls. It’s a very proud moment for the villagers, because it’s taken a lot for that pole to go from tree trunk to the biggest erection in the village.

The Royal pole would usually have spent the days or even weeks leading up to May Day being guarded at a top secret location by the local villagers. Sometimes it’s hidden in an old barn, or somewhere big enough to hold this bloody huge tree trunk. Not the easiest thing to conceal in say, someone’s lounge, is it?  The pole is guarded with the villagers’ lives because it is completely legal for rival villagers with nothing better to do to steal the pole before it is put up. Yes, really. Despite being a land known for its rules and religion, the Germans bend the ‘thou shalt not steal’ commandment when it comes to the Royal Poles, allowing a kind of pole theft- free-for-all. Respect.

In fact, this did actually happen this year in a town not far from us. In the dark of the night one town’s pole was pinched by the folk of a neighbouring town, who managed to locate it with the help of secret servicemen and then override its alarm system. Yep, some of these poles have an alarm system. For a village to have its pole stolen under its very eyes is a huge embarrassment. The said pole was eventually returned, along with crates of beer for the thieves and their red-faced victims to enjoy together.

On the Royal Pole’s big day, its appearance is given the final once over before it is released from its secret hiding place into the big wide world. It is then usually paraded around on the back of a truck or by horse as part of a celebratory procession, a bit like a blushing carnival queen. The men of the village then precariously hoist it into position, often using long bits of wood. This can take hours. During that time lots of beer is consumed by the lads with the life of the pole – and many of their neighbours watching – in their sweaty, beery hands.

This is a nerve-wracking time. Not because the huge tree trunk could fall down and seriously injure someone. But because, more importantly, some poles have been known to break and then those buggers from the other villages can come along, point at the broken trunk, and laugh out loud at their competitors’ agony.

Once the pole is finally in place, the party really gets started, and even more beer is consumed.

This tradition in Bavaria goes back to the 12th century, and it clearly hasn’t changed much since. But of course in the end it’s all a bit of fun, and a great excuse for Bavarians to bolster their great community spirit and have a few beers at the same time. Prost!