Since it’s the festive season, at least in my part of the world, it seems appropriate to post about parties, but what follows is far from confined to Christmas, or the associated office party. It could just as well be a midsummer gathering of the neighbourhood or your great aunt’s 100th birthday (though my great aunt’s happened to fall on Christmas Day). People are basically the same, and if I use the appellation Dr below as I name my cast of characters, it is simply to avoid any gender implications. Most of these individuals’ characteristics are unisex; all these characters should be avoided if you want to enjoy the party. After all, there will be some ‘normal’ people present won’t there?
There are two variants of Dr WrongDecibelLevel: the one whose speaker level is set too high and the one whose is too low. Both are maddening. The former booms out their anecdotes so that the entire room can hear them willy-nilly; it’s cringe-making if you’ve just been discussing health issues and suddenly everyone hears ‘you poor thing, you mean you had shingles for months!‘ The latter whispers so that not even you, standing as close as you can, can hear more than one word in three or four. This latter makes it hard to hold up your side of the dialogue since rarely do you have any idea of what is going on. A perfectly rational sentence like
It has also been suggested in previous reports that women might be “less ambitious” in their applications and apply for more modest amounts of funding for their research
(a sentence I’ve taken at random from a recent article by Wellcome’s Jeremy Farrar regarding a recent apparent gender gap in funding) comes across as very different if you only hear the words in bold and try to extrapolate the thoughts behind this ‘It suggested women ambitious applications more funding‘. The conversation could go badly off the rails in this case, as you assume the opposite of the sentence’s intent is what has been said.
Dr Obsessive and Dr Bore
These two are closely related, the former possibly having a more focussed and specific topic on which to bore you. We all know a handful of Dr Obsessives. At a departmental party they might corner you to discuss their latest theories of three dimensional photonic band gap materials or their infallible method of extracting money from some funder. Dr Bore is more likely to focus on smaller matters: the iniquities of the assignment of car parking permits, or in a more domestic setting their very fine collection of porcelain thimbles or their latest trick to ensure the cat flap always only lets in the cat it’s meant to and not any waifs or strays from the neighbourhood. Either way, the chances are they are determined not to let you get a word in edgeways. If you want to snooze the night away or get completely sozzled then just standing there and letting the torrent of words flood over you may not be a bad way to proceed. You at least look like you’re being a good guest and maybe even convey an impression of enjoying yourself.
Dr Invasive has no idea of the size of your personal space. They stand too close, nose essentially to nose with you, leaving you barely space to lift your glass of cheap red to your lips. If you back slowly away, you will be followed. This isn’t a wise strategy as you’ll eventually find yourself backed against the wall unable to escape. Better to extricate yourself before this fate befalls you. Make a dash for it.
Oh dear, you certainly don’t want to end up nose to nose with this one. I don’t know if there is some scientific reason, associated with the relative shapes of palette, tongue, teeth and/or jaw that render the spittle particularly projectile, but some people do seem more prone to this failing than others. Sometimes it is simply associated with a degree of excitement in their communications, or possibly the timing of the sibilants in the sentence relative to when they last had a swig of their wine, but this person is one to make polite noises to and then run away from, unless they really, really are so interesting their conversation is worth the fluid assault.
At first sight this person is delightful company. They scintillate, are full of bonhomie and have an endless supply of amusing tales to tell. It may take you a while to realise this is Performance Art. They have no interest in you, your doings or those of your nearest and dearest. You could be a Nobel Prize winner and they would probably not even notice. The stories may be amusing but after a while they pall. If you meet this person several times you will soon realise that in fact you’ve heard all the stories before. Charming on first meeting; a bore by the third encounter.
This one is always on the lookout for a more important person to talk to. Perhaps more likely to be met in a professional setting, they are only interested in you in the absence of anyone better. Otherwise it’s a case of ‘oh look, there is Sir Harrumphing Harrington‘, who just happens to be Chair of the local NHS Trust or ‘must just say hello to Dame Jemima Puddleduck‘ well-known as CEO of the latest gazelle to open its doors in the neighbourhood. Either way it’s a case of ‘must dash old chap‘ and they’re off. One consequence of this behaviour is that they rarely make eye contact with you, since they are constantly horizon scanning for the next VIP entering the room whom they wish to intercept.
This character is full of minor gripes: be it about the frequency of rubbish collection (or lab waste disposal if in a laboratory situation) or the state of the pavements, peeling wallpaper and/or lack of paint marking out the designated parking bays (apply as appropriate to the type of party). Government bureaucracy is another favourite topic. You may agree with each of the issues raised, but you probably didn’t set out for the party wishing to discuss these topics for the nth year running. Unless of course you have come armed with your own list of gripes which you’re looking forward to sharing.
Now you are equipped with a handy identification guide, enjoy your parties…..