My Big Fat Awkward Networking Story

So, I work for the government.

As you can imagine, it’s a huge organization. But it’s kind of a very small world. Like any workplace who you know is, well, everything. So by the time I finished my Masters, like any new grad, I was already ingrained with the whole “network, network, network” thing. People absolutely swore by it. Some of the advice I got was:

Go for coffees. With everyone.

When your team goes out to lunch, go. When another team in your branch goes out to lunch, go.

Socials? Go.

Holiday parties? GO.

You get the point.

So when my boss asked me last year if I was interested in representing my branch at an annual gala dinner, an “excellent networking opportunity”…

I went.

I put down my dietary restriction as kosher. And this is how my night went down.

As evening rolled around, I stepped into a grand and elegant downtown hotel banquet hall. Low and behold suited and ball-gowned individuals were strolling around sipping champagne. And I mean EVERY single one of them was sipping champagne.

To blend or not to blend? That is the question.

I approached the bar and asked for a sex on the beach, more kosher than champagne I figured. The bartender was so taken aback by my request that I quickly ditched the glass and figured better to walk around empty handed than with a mixed drink.

After lots of handshaking and some mingling, I took my assigned seat at a table among ten senior managers. Moments later, someone approached our table and asked for Ms. Sarit Steinfeld.

“That’s me…”

“Please follow me.”

I followed into the kitchen, like a school kid in trouble.

“We wanted to show you your kosher meal for tonight. As you can see, there has been no cross contamination. We’ll bring it to your table as soon as the first course is served.”

I stared. In front of me were three stacked aluminium trays wrapped in layers of foil and saran wrap. On top was an assortment of paper plates, napkins, and a plastic fork and knife.

I cringed.

“Is there any way you can take the food out of the package and bring me one course at a time?” I awkwardly begged.

“No can do.  We’re under strict orders not to tamper with the package. You’re the only one who can open it to remove the food.” (COR for the win).

And so, I returned to the table, anxiety rising along with dread. The food began to arrive and alas so did my quarantined goods. My china plate was swiftly taken away and replaced by a paper one.

As the others commenced eating the first course in style, I began to unravel the layers of foil. After much effort and a mountain of mess later, I finally found my appetizer. As I sat there, feeling the corner-of-the-eye stares from my tablemates, I seriously wondered what kind of self-control it took the other guests from asking “WTF kind of allergy condition do you have?”

Luckily, I live in Canada. So everyone stared. No one asked. And I didn’t volunteer.

Then I broke every classy rule in the book.

Yup. Piece by piece I disposed the foil and placed my other courses by my feet. Whenever I felt like eating more, although I had mostly lost my appetite, I dug clumsily in the dimly lit hall and felt under the table for what I thought was the salad, or was it the salmon? Sh*t. That was his foot. My apologies, sir!

While everyone commented on their juicy steak, I played with my cold food. The rest of the night I took small bites, smiled at all the right moments of people’s speeches, and literally bailed the second I could. And yes, I’m ashamed to say it, but whoever cleaned up that night had a surprise waiting for them under the table.

Needless to say, it was not my most glorious career moment. Good thing I’ve got time to learn how to look classy eating out of foil while rubbing elbows with distinguished bureaucrats.

In the meantime, when it comes to networking, I try to stick to coffee…

Till next time!

Sarit, the working yid






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