How to sound cultured at an office Christmas party

Posted on 5th December 2015 by Thomas W. Hodgkinson
Thomas W. Hodgkinson, co-writer of the clever little book How to Sound Cultured, shares his short-cuts to sounding wise and witty at a social gathering

Booze. Forced hilarity. People of both genders trying to grope you behind the water cooler. 

But that's just daily life in the office. What about the dreaded Office Christmas Party, which although it comes but once a year, is almost impossible to bear? Here's a tip for getting through it – The Cultured Game. An innocent game with yourself to see how many impressive-sounding cultural names you can drop into the conversation before anyone realises what you're up to. 


Dress for the occasion

Get a head start on your game and pick out something blue to wear to the party. If someone compliments you on it, you could reply ‘Thanks, I’m going through my Blue Period’. If their eyes don’t immediately light up with recognition, you can add ‘…like Picasso.’

Dear Santa

When talking about your Christmas wish list, you can get philosophical with French thinker Baudrillard and ask ‘Do I really want it? Or, do I just crave the social status it denotes?’

Music Mastery

Everyone banging on about the new Adele record and want something original to say? Praise brilliant song writing by describing them as ‘the greatest lyric poet since Sappho’.

Cultural Putdown

If someone is raving about the latest trendy play, you could mention that according to Jean Anouilh, a playwright himself ironically, the bourgeoisie go to the theatre to primarily demonstrate how cultured they are. Sassy hair flip and exit optional.

Let's Get Political

If a work friend has taken a swerve to the political right, you might call on Eugene Ionesco’s classic metaphor and comment, ‘I’m a bit worried you’re going to go the whole way and turn into a rhinoceros’.

The Sound of Silence

If there’s an awkward pause in conversation, you can declare, “Beautiful! It’s just like one of John Cage’s silent symphonies!” Cage was an American avant-garde composer, best remembered for a work entitled 4’33”, which consisted of nothing but the sound of the audience shuffling their feet.

Just One More

While helping yourself to another glass of wine, you might remark ‘I’m considering taking up drinking full-time, like Raymond Carver’. Name sound familiar? His short story is the one Michael Keaton’s character adapts into a play in Birdman.

Let's Dance

If you’re clumsy on the dance floor (who isn’t after 4 glasses of wine?) you can suggest to your dancing partner that you all don blindfolds and pretend you’re taking part in a sight-impaired performance of Pina Bausch’s Café Muller. Much classier than the Conga.


Not of the dairy variety mind – if anyone is getting too snap happy with their camera, warn against a Sontagian erosion of memory. In On Photography (1977) she argued we rely too much on photos for our memory of events. She has a point there.

Speech Time!

If you are so lucky as to be called upon to speak at your end of year do, you can pre-empt your comments with a nod to literature. Start your speech with ‘I’ll keep it short. This isn’t a Virginia Woolf novel after all’.

For more top cultural quips and insights, take a look at How To Sound Cultured: Master the 250 Names that Intellectuals Love to Drop Into Conversation by Thomas W. Hodgkinson and Hubert Van Den Burgh. 


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