A Holiday Guide to Sounding Dumber at Cocktail Parties

“Virus Department Christmas Party”
Image: Wellcome Collection

It’s mandatory fun season, and that means large swaths of the world will soon collectively stand around, sweating drink in hand, smiling and nodding at near-strangers while desperately hoping they both look like they are listening and sound the way a person who is not an idiot sounds. This poor fool even wrote to the New York Times for tips on how to sound smarter at something called a “cocktail party.”

I say that this person is a fool, not because I question their intelligence level, but because I question their commitment to sounding smart (and also to attending these so-called “cocktail parties”). Pretending to be dumb in front of people who do not know that you are not dumb is one of life’s great pleasures. Not only does it prevent most people from introducing boring topics, like whatever thing they read just enough of in the Atlantic to sound smart at people, but it also helps determine who the assholes are. Nice people are nice even when they think the person they are speaking to is an idiot. Often even nicer! So as a person who has sounded much dumber than I really am literally every time my mouth has allowed words to escape, here is a holiday guide to coming off as an absolute moron at whatever these “cocktail parties” are.

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  • Pretend you’re too young to know what cocktail parties are. Ask if it’s a boomer thing, like something they did on Mad Men.
  • Last week, I asked my best friend, who has known me for one-third of my life, if lemons and limes are the same thing, like, if lemons are just ripe limes. He looked at me with his mouth fully open for several seconds before informing me that the question was the dumbest shit I’d ever said, even counting the time I asked him if rice was pasta while we were high. So try one or both of those.
  • Speak with a Southern accent. Because my hometown in Louisiana is not incredibly welcoming to those who think abortion and gay people should be allowed and never fully understood why flag burning was ever a crime, I have spent much of my life exiled to more liberal realms. The second East and West Coasters hear the thick accent I can’t seem to shake, they immediately assume I also have difficulty reading. Let them! Fake a thick drawl this holiday season. Outside the South, no one knows what a real accent sounds like, as countless movies and television shows have proven. If you happen to be in the South, make it even southerner than the person with whom you are speaking. Southern people love to judge others based on their dumb accents nearly as much as everyone else seems to. Foghorn Leghorn it up! Watch Daniel Craig in Knives Out for inspo!
  • Shorten words already perfectly acceptable length words, like inspiration: Brb gotta take a mome to Insta this tablescape inspo
  • Find a white man under forty, get him to mention David Foster Wallace, say “Wait, that guy in the book movie with Marshall from How I Met Your Mother? That was a true story?” Run like hell from the resultant explanation.
  • Know that the majority of dumb holiday utterances will be completely serendipitous. You will inevitably ask about the absence of a co-worker’s wife only to remember two seconds later that she left him two weeks ago for his twin brother. Lean into that awkwardness. Forget everything you know about everyone. Forget everything you know about how conversations work. Babble stream-of-consciousness musings about murders you like, your dream of one day owning a Victorian-era speculum, your fear of outer space, that time you shit yourself on a waterslide. Not only do you now have a clear sense of which people are boring, usually nearly all of them, but the three remaining people are your best friends now. Proceed to get as drunk as you want, nestled cozily in the knowledge that it is not possible to embarrass yourself any more than you already have.

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