Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Hate Surprise Parties

I hate surprise parties.  All the time and effort and for what?  Ten seconds of watching the Guest of Honor reel back in shock and disbelief after a bunch of friends, relatives and associates leap from hallways and from behind furniture yelling, “SURPRISE!!”

All that, and then what happens?  A few minutes of laughing and talking about all the time and effort spent preparing for this moment, and how the Guest of Honor is still shuddering and trying to recover from the assault his “loved ones” perpetrated against him, and then it turns into an ordinary party!  A three to five  hour party.  Not much of a return on investment, is it?

Oh, sure, there will be a few moments when participants will remind everyone how the Guest of Honor should have seen his face when he walked through that door.  This is usually perpetuated by the ones who expended the most effort in the surprise – probably to try to milk even more appreciation for all the work they did.  Sometimes it makes you wonder who the party is really celebrating.

The Top 10 Reasons Why I HATE Surprise Parties:

10. They are a waste of time to prepare.
 9. The invitation list could be incomplete or flawed.
 8. Last minute plans can change with no way to contact the guests in time.
 7. The Guest of Honor may already know about or expect the party.
 6. The setup must be flawless.
 5. The actual surprise may be sloppy.
 4. It requires more work from the guests.
 3. It requires everyone to be in on the surprise.
 2. There may be a conflict the planners are unaware of.

And the Number One reason I HATE surprise parties:

 1. It is only as strong as the weakest ability to keep a secret.


Let’s look at these one-by-one.  Don’t have the time?  I’m not surprised.

10.  They are a waste of time to prepare.

All of the effort expended on orchestrating the surprise could have been spent planning a better party.

            9. The invitation list could be incomplete or flawed.

The party planners are not necessarily going to know all the people the Guest of Honor would like to have at his party.  There’s bound to be friends the planners forgot about, did not know how to contact, or simply have never met.  When these people find out about the big party, and they weren’t invited, it could cause a lot of relations to sour.  And a lot of apologies would be in order.

Also, what if there was a guest the honoree could not stand, “How could you have invited Phil??  I’ve always found Phil to be the biggest downer!” or two guests who have “issues” with each other?  “You could have invited Jane or Michelle, but you cannot invite Jane AND Michelle!”

8. Last minute plans can change with no way to contact the guests in time.

What if, for whatever reason, everything had to get started a half hour earlier and many of the guests cannot be reached?  Some may be arriving just as the Guest of Honor shows up.  Honoree: “What are YOU doing here?”  You: “We could ask you the same thing!”

7. The Guest of Honor may already know about or expect the party.

If it was your 30th birthday, or 40th anniversary, and absolutely nobody was talking of a get-together or asking if you had any plans, wouldn’t you be suspicious?  Or what if, on the way to the party, the unsuspecting Guest of Honor says, “Let’s drop in to have a few quick drinks with Bill and Francine.  We’re going right past their place anyway and we haven’t seen them in ages.”  When he starts to get angry with his wife’s refusal to make a change in the plans, she may have to let the cat out of the bag, lest some of the guests start leaving from impatience because there was no discrete way to call the house to let them know of the change in plans.  “Now be sure to act surprised.”

6. The setup must be flawless.

The “setup” – the plan to get the honoree away from or towards the party venue can be simple, or it can be complicated.  The more complex the plan, the more opportunities there are to foul things up.  “OK, now we gotta get Jim away for an hour, so you’re gonna tell him you’re taking him to the store to buy cigarettes.  But before you get there, you’re gonna run out of gas …”

Even simple plans can backfire.  “He always works till six on Fridays, so that will give us plenty of time to set up.”

5. The actual surprise may be sloppy.

When I turned 50, my family planned a surprise birthday party for me.  Everything was going along fine – right up to just seconds before the guests were to yell, “Surprise!”  It turns out that as I was rounding the corner, I spotted balloons and streamers before the guests saw me.  Two seconds later, “Surprise!!”  When they asked if I was surprised, I said, “I might have been, but I saw the balloons and streamers before I saw all of you.”  All that work – ruined with two seconds left on the clock.

            4. It requires more work from the guests.

First of all, as a guest, if you have a question anytime in the weeks before the party, you can’t call the hostess, lest the Honoree is within hearing range.  And with CallerID, he might ask, “Why did MY boss want to speak with YOU?”

Secondly, you have to arrive before a certain time.  If you get off work at 6:00 and everyone is supposed to be situated before 7:30, it might give you a fifteen minute window to come home, shower, and dress for the party to get there in time – if there’s no traffic.  And if you do show up a few minutes late, you don’t know if you can go in without somehow ruining the surprise, or worse, be walking in as the honoree is getting out of his car.

And third, when you get there, you can’t park close to the house.  So you may find it necessary to walk several blocks in your good shoes on an icy street with no sidewalk.  “How come Steve and Diane didn’t come to the party?”  “Haven’t you heard?  She had to take him to the hospital because he slipped on the ice and broke his back.”

            3. It requires everyone to be in on the surprise.

Whether or not you are in on the setup, and no matter how you may feel about surprise parties, or lying,  circumstances may come up for you to have to lie to keep up the charade.  “Uhhh, I’m actually going hunting with my father-in-law that weekend.”  Or, “No, I don’t know if anyone’s planning a get-together for you.”
           
            2. There may be a conflict the planners are unaware of.

Imagine this.  All the friends of a couple are planning this great surprise anniversary party that falls on a  Saturday.  A few days before, the husband surprises his wife with two non-refundable tickets to Maui.  He’s been planning this for weeks.  She happens to tell a friend, and that friend asks, “When do you leave?”  She says, “Our flight leaves this Friday!”  The friend says, “Uhhh – Friday??”  Surprise!

Or how about this?  Jerry’s wife and all the people they socialize with plan this huge surprise gala for his 40th birthday.  What they don’t know, however, is that all Jerry’s colleagues at work are also planning a surprise party – you guessed it – on the same date.  The charade falls apart when the two individual setups collide, which is usually within an hour of each party’s start time.  “Jerry,” a colleague begins, “let’s go Chinese for lunch today.”  “No can do,” says Jerry, “My wife is supposed to be meeting me for lunch at Giuliani’s.”  I hope Jerry’s co-workers enjoy their party for which there is no guest of honor – even though the company president was invited.  Surprise!

1. It is only as strong as the weakest ability to keep a secret.

This one is a biggie.  Several years ago, a surprise party was planned for my niece.  A few days before the event, we were all at a restaurant.  I asked my brother-in-law a question, the answer of which would have raised suspicion from my niece.  He whispered a caution to me, and we all hoped she had not heard what I had asked.  Plus I felt like a fool for not having made the connection before I asked the question.
           

My Parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary Non-Surprise Party

When my parents’ 50th anniversary was coming up, my wife and I decided to throw them a big party.  My wife said, “Do you think we should make it a surprise party?”  I said, “No way!  I HATE surprise parties.”  So I told my mother we were planning this party, and would she please supply a list of people she and Dad would want to attend, and their contact information.  About a week later, she sent me a list of people, two-thirds of whom I had never even heard of.  But they were friends, associates, and acquaintances my parents had acquired over the years.  So now I had a list of dozens of people my parents would really enjoy having a very special party for a special occasion – AND their addresses and phone numbers.

Many of the invitees asked if it was a surprise party.  I said, “No, they already know about it, so you don’t need to worry about what you say or who you say it in front of.  It’s just a party.”  We threw a magnificent party which lasted several hours.  Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time, and many of the guests were grateful for the opportunity to visit with other guests they hadn’t seen in years. 

All this without the ten seconds of amusement from watching the Guests of Honor jump out of their skins from everyone leaping out and shouting at them.

My mother told me people talked about that party for weeks after.

That didn’t surprise me.

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