Drinking in the office

I was prompted by one of those ‘do you remember when’ conversations with a friend from my Moscow days to reflect on the different approaches it is possible to have to office parties, drinking, and having fun; not that I would claim to be that good at any of them.

When I first arrived to work in Moscow in the mid 1990’s the firm I worked for already had an established habit of having the fairly frequent birthday drinks or celebratory get togethers in the largest of the office’s meeting rooms.

The senior managers of the office were Brits from the ‘let’s all go to the pub on a Friday’ tradition.  I think partying in the office was a solution to the problem that there were not that many places nearby that were pleasant to drink in, or which it was possible to persuade the younger team members, especially the young women to go.

The system had quickly become well established; a couple of the junior members of the department and one of the firm’s drivers would go out to the kiosks and come back with imported beer, fruit juice, shampanski (usually sweet, warm and very difficult to open), vodka, chocolates and fruit (oranges or bananas), if they could find any.  They would arrange the spoils of the shopping excursion in a semi circle on the conference table; there would be plastic cups and paper plates for the fruit.

One of my English colleagues mentioned, not long after he arrived, that in the UK we often had wine too, as well as a few savoury things, perhaps, ‘maybe nuts?’ he suggested.  And thereafter there were always Georgian wine (not recommended) and nuts of unpredictable variety, peanuts, sometimes salted, sometimes raw, other times plain cob nuts or hazelnuts, arranged neatly on a paper plate.

The drinks would be timed to start at 6ish, but there was always a slow start.  The Brits would stay at their desks to finish their work before turning off their computers, packing up their desks and then plunging into the party.  Many of the Russians would leave their desks at the appointed hour, go for 15 minutes, drink one glass of shampanski, eat a handful of chocolates and then return to their desks.  We were lucky to overlap.

There would always be wine left at the end of the evening; I concluded that no-one liked wine.

I often found myself sipping my warm shampanski while chatting to one of my colleagues who would throw their head back, down a shot of vodka in one and follow it with a swift beer chaser.  At the time I think it was still relatively rare to find the mixers like tonic or cola with which they might otherwise have diluted the vodka.

When it came time to organise my leaving do, I recall announcing that, as a final last hoorah, I would have some decent wine to drink.  As I’d never seen anyone else even try the Georgian wine that had been left at the end of most parties, I only bought 6 bottles of averagely decent French wine, and also stocked up on the usual shampanski, beer and vodka.

Turns out it was only Georgian wine that no-one liked.

To make sure I had something to drink, I spent the evening holding my plastic cup in one hand and a bottle of the wine in the other.

‘Is that real wine?’ people asked holding out their glasses for a top up.

It’s a description of ancient history now.

The story of the dustbins of Pimms in the park by the river will have to wait for another day….

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