I attended a business cocktail party a few nights ago. It was held at a beautiful special events facility that I didn’t even know existed. I learned that many weddings are held there, which when I returned home and got my bearings helped explain where many of the fireworks displays we see out our bedroom window originate. My, how the locals love their fireworks!
The format of the shindig ran quite differently from similar functions I’ve attended in the States. My first clue was when my Cuencano friend and I arrived and no cocktails were being served at the cocktail party. H-m-m-m----.
A good number of people were milling around chatting, but even more were sitting in rows of chairs on the back side of the cavernous room. “I wonder what’s going on over there?” I asked. “There’s going to be a presentation,” I was told. “You mean there are two different groups here?” I naively inquired.
No, those of us standing were beckoned to join the other already seated guests as the principals of the firm mounted a stage to give a 30 minute or so power point presentation about their company. The four of them passed a microphone around and shared with us, mostly in Spanish, what appeared to be a summation of how the firm started, what it does, and where it is headed.
My still limited language skills prevented me from understanding a lot of what was being said, but I think it could be summed up as, “We’re a swell company that appreciates your business and we’ll continue to work hard for you in the future.”
Towards the end of the presentation servers came down the aisles passing out flutes of champagne. Just as when I attended a Catholic mass as a boy and closely watched the faithful to know when to kneel, I paid attention to the Cuencanos to see what was next.
They were all sitting there holding their champagne and not drinking, which brought up another religious memory from the old days of the deacons in my church distributing the little glasses of unsweetened grape juice during communion. Thankfully none of those bland little wafers followed this time.
As I suspected, we were waiting to share a toast together. Some of the other gringos in attendance weren't as observant and were seen prematurely sipping away. Oops. After the toast the real party started. The servers carrying the ever-present silver trays came around with various tasty morsels throughout the rest of the evening. There was no “open bar;” after a second round of champagne the servers delivered a choice of either rum and coke or scotch and something clear—water or soda. I’m not a scotch guy so I didn’t find out which.
I asked my friend if this format of a formal presentation followed by the party was typical of business functions in Ecuador. He said, “Of course. How else would the company be able to present itself?” I responded that all the 200+ guests were already clients of the company and the presentation seemed to be geared more to prospective customers than existing ones. He was surprised that in the States the company’s members would simply mingle and socialize to promote goodwill.
Like the recent elevator story, another example of cultural differences. No right or wrong to either approach. Just different. OK. Elevator etiquette. Check. Business cocktail party. Check. God knows how many to go???