Usually we alternate years, as partners to be in charge of the office Christmas party. Because of all we had going on in December, Shawn's law partner and his wife, very kindly offered to be in charge of the office Christmas party--even though they had been in charge the previous year. I was very grateful.
For the past 5 years, the party has been held at the new law office, been a catered dinner in the conference room, and we--as the partners--have personally paid for the dinner, as well as donated gifts (about $400) for a white elephant gift exchange. (This is in addition to the Christmas bonuses that employees receive based on the number of years they have been with the firm.)
This year it worked better for our partner, who was in charge of the event, to hold it on a night that Shawn "helps" Santa. They decided to have the party early--dinner was scheduled at 6:00pm--so that there would be no conflict with the appearance at 8:30pm. The party was held at their beautiful new home, and they cooked the dinner themselves--instead of having it catered. An extremely generous gesture. When we asked what we could do to help we were told not to bring anything and to "just come and enjoy".
When we arrived at 6:05pm no one else was there.
We chatted until 6:15 when I asked if we had possibly misunderstood the dinner time. I was told that it started at 6:00pm, but perhaps people were fashionably late. (Does that mean we were unfashionably early? I live in a little Utah town, so help me out. Were we, as the partners, supposed to come later? Or earlier to help? I assumed we should be on time to greet our mutual guests...??)
As people arrived around 6:30, they brought appetizers and desserts. This was a little awkward for us. Should we have brought something even though when asked we were told not to bring anything? Should I have insisted on being in charge of at least the dessert? In retrospect I guess we should have done something, however we didn't know that others were being asked to bring dishes, and again I had a lot on my plate this month.
After chatting, enjoying the appetizers and mingling, we sat down to dinner. When I offered to help serve dinner, I was told to go sit with Shawn. Okay, I thought, they probably have this all worked out. I was probably being sensitive, and needed to just enjoy.
After eating a wonderful, well thought out dinner, we chatted with the people at our table and then the group moved into the kitchen where the couple who brought dessert, put it in the oven. As we waited for the dessert, I picked up the chargers that had been used for dinner and began to wash them, chatting with the other guests as I worked. After I had finished with the first couple, I was told by the hostess to "seriously stop". I was embarrassed and stopped. (I wondered again if I had crossed some party etiquette line? We were all in the kitchen. Standing around while the other couple worked to prepare dessert.) I slowly slinked off from the group of 9 or so to the side room to join Shawn and chat with the couple he was talking travel to.
As I am leaving the kitchen I overhear an employee ask the hostess if we were going to play the white elephant game. Upon hearing the response of no, the employee replies "Oh good. I didn't like playing, and everyone always returns the prizes anyway." Really? I thought. Why had no one said anything in the past 10+ years about disliking playing a game as a group?
After eating dessert, Shawn noticed the time and left to change clothes for his appearance. Since it takes a good 15 minutes to change, I chose to remain in the party area, instead of in the car, thinking that this was more social and friendly. However, after answering the question "Where is Shawn? Did he have to leave early again?" I noted the disapproval, and excused myself. Thanking Shawn's partner and wife for a wonderful dinner and the employees for bringing delicious appetizers and desserts, I retreated and waited for Shawn in the car.
Overall this evening left me feeling very dissatisfied. Not only had we personally spent money for food, but also the employees didn't seem grateful in the least. Not one person, of the 16 that attended did I hear say thank you--to Shawn or his partner. When I asked Shawn later, he said that no one had. Possibly all the thank yous were given to Shawn's partner and wife who so graciously held, coordinated and hosted the party? But seriously, not one for Shawn? Come on people! Shawn is at least half of the reason that every employee at that firm still has a job, the same salary, and Christmas bonuses. If nothing else that should be deserving of a thank you, right?
Help me out. Did I commit some party faux pas here? Was I supposed to show up on time? Or late? Should I have brought something even though I was told not to? Should we continue to spend our personal money and time on a party that employees don't seem to care about? We could find other ways to spend that money. Maybe adopt a family for Christmas? Or donate to the food bank?
Help me! Am I overreacting? Or does the sum of the actions and reactions seem odd to you as well?