Dinner party

E&M’s Lisa O’ Leary takes a satirical look at a true to life list of vetoed dinner party topics.

Do you like parties? I do. What about dinner parties with your boss? …..you hesitated. Why? Do you not behave the same way at a party as you do at your boss’s dinner party? Of course you don’t! That would be a world gone truly mad…and unemployed. In my case, probably very fired. No one at a work party wants to see you neck a tequila or throw down some questionable dance moves. Unless you’re the boss then by all means, neck that tequila!

However some work parties go the extra mile when it comes to building boundaries between leader and led. A close friend who works for a significantly influential figure that shall not be named – let’s just call them ‘Bobby’ – recently shared a list with me. Within this document, dear reader, Bobby bullet pointed a brief from Boss to Staff on ‘Topics You Cannot Discuss’ at the annual dinner soirée. No I am not making this up – just you wait, the good stuff is coming – don’t go jumping to the list!

My friend was nervous. This was his first time being invited to this annual event and he wanted to make a good impression. I argued that ‘good impression’ and ‘party’ don’t usually go in the same sentence but then again I’ve never received such an invitation so best not to heed my advice lest you be facedown before midnight singing ‘come on Eileen’ into an empty bottle of red wine. Nevertheless, we ran through the list together to debate the vetoed topics. 

The Weather 

Well, this was disappointing, I must say. How are any of us supposed to casually lead into ‘the role of A.I. and the future of the human race’ if you don’t first allow us to reference how ‘wet this season’s rain has been’ first? Honestly. Also, I thought people just loved to talk about the weather in general? No, it’s not Shakespeare but it is SAFE. I like feeling safe – do you? NEXT!  

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Fear not. For I have come up with a master plan to lure fellow party attendees into this no-go zone. While discussing ‘the role of A.I. and the future of the human race’ I shall casually take out my phone to reveal some already prepared photos of my adorable nephews and nieces. I will nonchalantly offer these to my fellow colleagues while stating ‘ah yes, and on the subject of the human race, here are some pictures of smaller humans. Here’s one on his first day of school. Here’s another with a bowl of spaghetti bolognese on her head. Isn’t humanity fascinating?’

Gif from giphy.com

As a flaming liberal I’ve already made this mistake. It never goes well. Case and point:

– “Healthcare for all sounds like a good idea”


– “Ah, so you support reproductive rights?”


… The end. 

Gif from giphy.com

Unless your plan is listening, probably best to stay away from this subject. Bobby was right to add this to the list. Bobby is only thinking of YOU. He’s saving your ass. Bobby’s actually not so bad…HOWEVER, if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of someone’s attempt to approach the subject simply stare at the floor and do not  move. I find this always works an absolute treat. The offender will either discreetly edge away from you terrified or, if they are bolder, ask if you are alright. Here, you can respond by saying “apologies, I thought I saw a spider on my foot”. You can then continue talking about spiders. They are not on the list. (Note: buy a book on spiders).

Gif from giphy.com

It seems obvious but avoiding the impulse to discuss work affairs with your colleagues outside of work is harder than it looks. I cannot count the amount of times I was on stage and half way through ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ at Karaoke night when I saw Karen from accounts and had to stop and ask “where’s my expenses Karen?!?”. It is an almost uncontrollable impulse but you must – you MUST control it! Bobby commands it! 

Gif from giphy.com

So there you have it. I have enlightened you with priceless wisdom. You are no longer at risk of making any classic, conversation-stopping faux-pas. You SHALL go to the ball Cinderella! If you are still nervous about attending a dinner party where your more familiar topics are off the table: stay silent. It’s ok to be ‘the quiet one’. Then, when someone eventually turns to you and loudly announces to the room ‘Lisa, you’ve not said a word all night’, start singing a well-rehearsed song from your saved repertoire. It doesn’t have to be good just LOUD. No one will bother you again. That’s a promise. 

Cover photo Ross Sokolovski (Unsplash) Unsplash license 

  • retro

    Lisa O' Leary is a freelance video producer and writer originally from Ireland, now living in Hamburg. She studied Multimedia Communications in Ireland and Human Rights Law & Film abroad.  She has a passion for impact storytelling and mostly produces video content for NGOs or documentaries.

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