If I ever say to you that I really hate staff parties, but I can’t remember why, just mention this story and I’ll remember.
Two Christmases ago, I was working at a café located inside a hospital. It was anything but ideal, but there were a few things that made it bearable for me.
The main thing was, because we were a small staff, there was a lot of love and camaraderie between everyone. I mean, I’ve worked in a restaurant with a staff so big that I didn’t even know everyone’s name, so it was kind of nice to be closer.
We were the kind of place that knew everyone’s birthday and someone (usually me, incidentally) would be sent to get a personalized cake for everyone to eat all day. When the holidays rolled around, as it were, we organized a staff Christmas party.
The infamous staff party
It was pretty much the same setup that I’ve done at previous jobs: we each pull someone’s name from a pile, and we only have to buy a gift for that one person. That way, everyone gets something but no one has to go broke buying twenty gifts. Simple, right?
When the party day rolled around, we decided to meet at a local, pretty nice restaurant where we could exchange our gifts and have dinner too.
The start of it all was very nice, but honestly, I was filled with dread the whole time. That’s just because, well, I’m me.
Social gatherings are worse than being murdered for me and, usually, I just ditch. But I had dutifully pulled a name and purchased my gift, and not showing up and then awkwardly presenting my gift after the fact would have been ten times worse, so, I went this time.
The start of it all was very normal and bearable. Everyone wanted to order something to eat first, which was cool, and I was successfully making myself almost completely invisible (really, I do this). Everyone talked around me, but nobody talked to me (Yes!).
Until, of course, it came time to hand out gifts. I knew there would be some attention on me at this point because I would have to give and receive my gift sometime and there’s some unwritten rule in heaven that says everyone must stare at you while you do that. Seriously, I even hate the gift-giving part during Christmas with my own family for this very reason. Stop watching me!
Anyway, the gift-swapping started. Because this was a group of primarily girls (apparently this wasn’t too much of a “guy thing”), most of the gifts consisted of clothing, jewelry, and the occasional perfume.
I quickly gave my gift, received a small thank you, and the focused shifted away from me again. Whew, not too shabby. I only had to get through receiving a gift and saying my thanks, and then I could finish eating and say it was getting late, I had to work tomorrow of course, etc.
At this point, I saw that the girl who had pulled my name was a woman I will call Tina.
Tina was actually our newest staff member and hadn’t been around very long, so I really knew nothing about her. As it turns out, she was sitting on the other side of the table and down from me, so our exchanges had to interrupt pretty much everyone. How fitting.
She gave me an apologetic look
She passed me over a card and gave me an apologetic look, saying she hadn’t known what to get me.
I relaxed then, sympathizing with her. I wouldn’t have known what to get her either, and this is the problem that usually arises with coworkers exchanging gifts. You know each other but you don’t really know each other, you know?
Anyway, I opened the card and figured she probably just got me a Walmart gift card (which, hey, is fine by me).
Well, she did get me a gift card. For $10. At Burger King.
I remember feeling a little surprised and a bit odd. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I have no expectations when it comes to getting gifts. I’d be just as happy with getting nothing. The day off work is enough of a Christmas present for me.
Still, I felt a bit confused by her gift, but I remembered that she knew nothing about me and probably could think of nothing else, so I smiled and tried to thank her over the noise.
She said, “You clearly like to eat…”
When I did, she raised her voice back so she could respond.
“I mean,” she gestured to my body, “you clearly like to eat. That’s all I know.”
Uh, what?! My words caught in my throat at that point, and I nodded at her and smiled as she went back to the other conversation.
And then my brain raced. Ohmygod. She shouted that I “clearly like to eat.” In front of everyone. What does that mean? Why is it me who likes to eat? I mean, doesn’t everyone like to eat?
The truth is, I was chubby and I knew it. Tina, on the other hand, was tall and thin. Did that affect her decision-making process when picking me out a gift? I wasn’t sure.
Everyone else around me took a wild guess in buying a gift, and the most desperate “I-have-no-idea-what-to-buy” gift I saw besides mine was bath products. This, by the way, is an awesome gift.
At some point, Tina looked and me and the only thing she saw was food. A lot of it. And not just any food. Fast food. The kind that does nothing for you but yet you can’t stop eating.
In case you couldn’t tell, I had/have serious body issues. I hated my weight, but, I kind of thought that no one noticed except me. I mean, I don’t go around checking out other people’s butts and trying to guess what they weigh.
But this exact moment taught me something: other people had noticed. Maybe not in the same way that I had but, still, they noticed. And it made me want to crawl under a table and stay hidden forever.
Here is the thing that made all of this so much worse: Tina wasn’t being malicious. She wasn’t trying to be cruel or insulting with her gift. Crappy food was literally the only thing she could think of when she looked at me.
That hurt. It hurt so badly that I wanted to cry right there, but I forced myself not to because that would just bring on a whole batch of attention that would exacerbate everything. I just wanted to run. I wanted to get up and leave and fall into my bed at home.
Unfortunately, I had to make myself wait and stay calm. I had ordered food and had to flag down the waiter to bring my bill so I could go ahead and pay. After that, I had to say a long-ish goodbye so it didn’t look like anything was wrong.
I was sure they were all snickering behind my back
And then, finally, I ran away. I called my husband, who was only my boyfriend at the time, and cried as I told him what happened. He soothed me, but I was humiliated beyond belief. I was completely sure that I didn’t want to see anyone again, and that they were all snickering behind my back.
Well, I did see everyone again, because I kind of had to go back to work. And no one, blessedly, mentioned anything about it. Truthfully, they probably didn’t think twice about it.
And that was it. An anti-climactic ending for a single Christmas party that crushed me. And, I’m almost certain, nobody else ever knew that.
If you’re wondering if I actually used the gift card, the answer is yes, I did. I wasn’t going to make Tina waste her money, and I figured I had nothing to lose. Or nothing to gain. Something like that.
Am I over it now? Yeah, I am. It’s not the greatest memory I have, but I have moved on to a new job and a new town now, so the embarrassment has quelled over time.
Still, I hated staff parties before, but this one really took the, uh, Whopper. And yet, I still continue to attend them because, somehow, you’re seen as a snobby jerk if you skip them.
For your Christmas wish, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask that nothing like that ever happens to anyone again. And if you’re thinking of sending me a Christmas gift, just for the record, I don’t like Burger King.
More About Kayla
Kayla Mueller is a fiction author and freelance copywriter. She spends most of her days either writing or thinking about what to write. She has three children, two little felines and one little canine, with her patient husband. Despite being an adult, she can never be bothered to put her dirty clothes in the hamper. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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