12 October 2007

high times

One of the staples of any Iceland resident's social calendar is árshátíð, the annual company party. This is not an awkward Office-style gig where you buy a couplea cheap paper tablecloths, a jug of booze (if your company even deems it appropriate to have alcohol), and some deviled eggs, but rather an all-out extravaganza of those guys you only see in jeans and socks-n-tevas wearing ties and suits, and the ladies shake out the ball gowns, shimmery eye shadow, and impractical shoes.

Apparently the usual season for árshátíð ("year's-high-time" if translated literally) is in the spring but my company has always been dangerous and different and gone for the September celebration. The first year I was in Iceland the gala happened 4 days into my new job and was held in Poland. As a way to arrive in your new job, a free trip to Warsaw is not too bad, but it set a pretty high standard for future events.

This year, like last year, it was a more local event in a function hall big enough to hold the some-200 people that make up the Icelandic portion of the company. Just like events in college, the pre-party was an essential part, where everyone stood about, felt a little awkward in their fancydress clothes and tried not to talk about work. Then off to cocktail hour where they lubed us up with glasses of champagne so everyone was feeling festive as they were ushered into the main hall. Pre-dinner everyone got a number for door prizes, which, since I work in high-tech, was all printers and other gadgets.

The dinner itself was hosted by a Personality, some actor who gets a little extra coin for coming up and being amusing between courses at grand dinners. Since we are talking Iceland here, there was also a participatory singing portion of the evening. As I am sure I have mentioned before, Icelanders+alcohol+time=singing. After dinner it was dancing, drinks, and proper mingling. I discovered that a French guy I met at a party last year is the husband of someone I work with, I met lots of wives of the guys I work with, I got to see face-to-face all these people from the northern office who are almost exclusively MSN/Skype relationships.

The first time I heard that it was a Big Fun Deal to party down with your boss I was a little skeptical, since at my last job I almost never socialized with the people I worked with, but it's a different story here. Maybe it's because people here are so often kind of buttoned-up that it's fun to see what happens when they start to become chatty, or because it's a close community and the lines between work and play are a little more blurred as a result.

Part of why these things are so extravagant is that a portion of the money that pays for them actually comes from the staff, in the form of a small monthly deduction from your paycheck. It's used for árshátíð, the equally essential and Icelandic óvissuferð (secret trip), and the third element of the work socializing Triple Crown, the jólahlaðborð, or Christmas Buffet. It might seem odd that your own money goes to this kind of thing but it does make for a closer work environment, which for the most part is a great thing. I am not sure if it is allowed or even possible to opt out of this bit of money being taken out anyway, so might as well enjoy it!


Djaddi said...

Yup, they like their work parties here!

Although I've found ending up downtown after a work party and hanging out solo with your very drunk boss for a few hours can be a bit awkward...

cK said...

I used to have a boss we could meet for happy hour without any fear of awkwardness or reprisal. Then she stepped down because she disliked management and wanted to do the regular work again. And then the happy hours stopped, both outside and inside the office. I left.

The Icelandic office trips are strange, indeed. But it is neat people can and will do these things. Offices that can stave off the jadedness of workplace politics and actually see one another as normal people are really quite nice.

tsduff said...

I think I like the Icelandic work environment better than this corporate seperate stuff here. It seems as though people view each other as people, not antagonists or enemies in Iceland. Nice to imagine. Work party? HERE? ha ha ha, it will never happen.


True like T said, it seems like a great environment. We do have work parties in India too but I wouldn't mention it in the same vicinity as what you just blogged.. Me thinks its great and even if its outa ur own moolah the chilled out evening seems worth it!

Here its only mostly about the free drinks :(

Ágústa said...

I'm a new reader, an Icelandic one and as such pretty obsesessed about what foreigners think about us. As having lived abroad too, your blog is a great view from the outside in, I enjoy your writing very much.

Anonymous said...

I think this is fairly common throughout Scandinavia. Although I'm surprised you had to pay anything. I'm more familiar with parties being subsidised by the govt or the unions. Somehow they struggle through it and live through the embarrassments on the following day at work (or the day after if it's been strenuous party). I'm not much for them - I go if I have to but I try to not have to.

Love the language. The globs of consonants can throw one but given a few seconds to stop and look it becomes intelligible.

You write with such clarity of mind. Like the Icelandic air.


ECS said...

djaddi: this is one of the true occupational hazards of working in Iceland, I think. The only hint of what lay ahead that I got was when I was asked if I'd ever been in a choir during my job interview. Although the guy who asked me insists it's not true, I am certain they were making sure I would fit in with the Singing Atmosphere!

ck: it is really fun, except when major changes are afoot and the whole family thing has to be rearranged. I'd still rather it the Icelandic way though.

tsduff: There's still plenty of corporate boo-ha, and Icelandic companies seem to be particularly susceptible to management fads. They still know how to throw a pretty fun party.

xxv...more letters than I can handle at this hour! This kind of party is only the occasional event, so it's not like we're hanging out like this every week by any means!

ágústa: the classic "how do you like Iceland"! Is the perspective what you would have expected from a foreigner here?

scandinavian R: the paying is not like we directly are doling out at the door- it's a staff fun-account, used for all the events of the year, and is then partly subsidized by that, partly by the company.

I think maybe I haven't been here long enough and been to enough of them to find it dull. There are still so many weird and unexpected traditions to discover. What country are you from?

sofiane said...

bonsoir tt le monde ces la vies sofiane

Auður said...

You are actually not legally required to pay into the staff funds but you will find yourself sitting at home when your fellow co-workers are out there having fun if you don't. Or you know, you can choose the events you want to participate in and pay the whole thing from your own pocket and have your co-workers look at you like the party-pooper that you would be. I don't know how it is in other countries as I have a limited experience of working abroad but here the office is much more than just your office. One of the reason might be that half of the office is either related to you, related to someone related to you or you know someone who's related to them. Not to mention the social ties like friend of a friend, friend's ex-something and friend of a friend's brother or sister.