It was my first. In Quebec we call them "5 à 7", known to the rest of North America as "Happy Hour". The grand gathering of suits, a young professional association, had an air that was anything but professional.
The invitation I'd accepted from my supervisor was supposed to enable networking and introduce me to likeminded start-ups with similar goals. Hosted in a section of the city I prefer to mock than mingle with, the evening left me foreign in my own land. As the Anglophone minority, the rift was further complicated by my status as an "assistant", which my supervisor mistakenly replaced with the title "intern". My cringe was surely visible to the naked eye, but she, a young professional herself, was blinded by newly acquired status and several glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.
The bouchées were mildly appetizing and provided a welcome reprieve from actively averting my eyes from sex-starved twenty- and thirty-somethings. My co-worker and officemate, a charismatic woman in her very early forties, claimed to be starving and so sampled many a bouchée. On the advice of her homeopath, or perhaps it was her naturopath---the two are at odds---who diagnosed her with a gluten allergy, she gracefully selected small crackers from the server's tray, licked off the topping and stashed the wet crackers on an abandoned table. I giggled in delight at her fantastic lack of giving-a-shit.
The only man I engaged at the schmooze-fest was introduced to me as an "up-and-coming business journalist". I realized the pun when his girlfriend rang his cell phone to check on him, and he promptly reassured me that she is "very open-minded". The conversation droned with his business terminology and my feigned interest.
The dinner to follow featured a motley crew of personalities at the table, all belonging to women from my department. All beautiful, all blonde, none as I'd expected. The inexperienced waitress assigned to us opened our wine in a manner that made me fear for her safety. Slipping twice as she sliced the foil, I wondered if it was her first or third time opening for an audience. She strangled the neck of the bottle, twisting as she drilled in the corkscrew, then hauled the cork with a deafening "pop!" like someone's drunk cousin at a wedding.
As the Shiraz women distinguished themselves from the Sauvignon Blanc women, confessions began to roll from red carpet tongues. Gossip and opinions flitted about like the women at the Dior promo booth. Sex dominated, and professionalism never entered the room.
As bottles were drained, the evening came to a close. I kissed-kissed my companions and clicked away in my heels, still feeling like a foreigner in my own city. As it was early enough, I promptly exchanged my satin-sashed pants and strappy shoes for jeans and Converse, and headed to my friend's home for a beer, bearing perfumed gifts from Dior.