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Q:  I just began working at a bank and there is talk of a Christmas party. I’m kind of shy and would rather not go. Does it really matter if I go?

A: An office party (Christmas or otherwise) is more than just a social gathering to eat cake and have a few laughs with your co-workers. It is part of a company culture and human resources policy practices that has to do with rewarding employers employees for a job well done. It is also about building a team spirit atmosphere, and you have been invited because they want you there as a team member.

While you wouldn’t lose your job for not attending a party, it could be a bad career move to ignore the invitation — especially if you regularly turn down such invitations. It gives the impression of being anti-social and not a team player, which could hurt any future career advancement. As well, if you don’t bother showing up it might indicate that you are inconsiderate and unappreciative, since your company has spent money and time organizing the event and you didn’t even bother acknowledging its generosity.

It is difficult to attend parties if you are shy — and especially if you are struggling with a new culture and language — but try to remember that many people (whether they appear to or not, and regardless of how well they speak the language) feel shy at parties. So my advice is to put on your best party face, smile and be attentive to other people by asking friendly questions such as “How are you doing tonight? Are you having a good time?” It will make you feel less anxious by focusing on others instead of on yourself.

Also, if you are invited to other parties, business related or otherwise, do make it a point to go; it will expand both your social and professional networks and give you the opportunity to learn more about Canada’s social practices.

Q: Can you give some advice as to how to act at an office get-together? Being new to Canada, I am not sure what is acceptable behaviour.

A: Generally, there are a few good rules to follow at the office party. Here are some key ones you will want to pay attention to:

The best conversationalist is usually someone who is interested in the other person. Ask questions about the other person but not about the job. Be careful to not be overly friendly or too personal. Polite, friendly and nonintrusive is the name of the game.

If the invitation includes inviting your wife or girlfriend (as it usually does), by all means do so — but leave the kids at home.

Watch the alcohol consumption. There is an expression that is worth remembering at an office party where alcohol is flowing freely: “Loose lips sink ships.” Since these parties can go on for several hours, one can be tempted to consume too much and say (or do) things one will regret in the morning. At best, you can make a consummate fool of yourself. At worst, you can jeopardize your career because you will be seen as someone who is lacking in discretion, good judgment and character — in other words, someone who doesn’t know how to handle themselves very well in social situations. Make sure it isn’t you! Intersperse your liquor with a glass of water or a soda.

Smokers: freshen up! Laws are in place that ban smoking from public buildings or otherwise have clear restrictions on where you can and cannot smoke. If you smoke, always abide by these rules – not just because the company could get fined but also because smoke fumes can be very offensive to nonsmokers. After puffing, use a mint and try to splash your face with water to get rid of the smoke scent. This kills at least two birds with one stone if you’ve been snacking on chips and garlic dip.

Mingle, don’t be single: Do not stand in one corner all night long with your partner or by yourself or you will end up missing out on opportunities. This is a great time for you to mingle with your co-workers, their spouses and people from other divisions of the company. Make it a point to thank your immediate boss and the company president/CEO if they are present, before you leave.

Drink with caution, but don’t drive. Last but not least, if you are going to drink, do not drive. Either have a designated driver (someone who isn’t drinking) or take a taxi. At best, you can wreck your reputation for being a sensible person; at worst, you could get involved in a serious accident and destroy lives.

Keep these etiquette tips in mind, but don’t forget to relax and have a great time! You’ll find that wherever you are in the world, people are not so different — especially when they’re relaxed and having fun.