Workplace or professional rituals
June 14, 2008 1:27 AM   Subscribe

What rituals do you have in your profession or job? A friend's son - who works in the construction industry - told me about "topping-out parties" once a building's top floor and roof structure have been completed. Now I'm curious about what other professions do. Not so interested in religious rituals though.

As an example, I recall a BBC documentary on shipbuilding, and a ritual that takes place in the bowels of the ship once the lower hull has been completed. And of course there is the ship-naming ritual with the bottle of champagne.

I'm interested not only in graduation rituals (such as graduates from a military academy throwing their hats up into the air) but also things either celebrating something - like the topping-out party, with the company lifting entire trees (!) in pots, via crane, up onto the roof for the party - or rituals performed as part of a job, such as a massage or alternative therapies practitioner "centring" him/herself prior to working with a client.

So, what rituals are there at YOUR workplace?
posted by flutable to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Well, when I worked in film there would be wrap-parties, which is when primary shooting of the film was finished. We didn't follow any ritual beyond getting absolutely slaughtered.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:58 AM on June 14, 2008

The radiation floor at the hospital I work at has a bell people ring when they complete their last course of radiation.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:27 AM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: @ dog food sugar: I've also heard that at Microsoft, when a major new version of software is finally signed off, prior to distribution, that someone rings a ship's bell in one of the buildings at the Redmond campus. Interesting!
posted by flutable at 3:51 AM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: Well, many traders in the financial markets are fairly superstitious.

In the early 90's I was working for Deutsche Bank's Government Securities desk in New York. One morning I got to the trading floor maybe two hours late, arriving at roughly 9:15AM.

Exiting the elevator I passed by one of the traders who speciality was an area called "On the Run"1 securities.

I said "Hi!" and he said "Goodbye". When I got to my desk I casually asked my boss at the time what was up with Mead, mentioning that he had his coat on, and it looked like he was going home. One important point about traders: you simply DO NOT LEAVE your desk when the market is open as you might lose money. So something was definitely up. And to be honest, I was snooping about as there had been some very, very nasty divorces recently. My sense for sleaze on full scale alert, and I wanted to see what gossip I could pick up on.

"He made his money and he's gone home" came the snarly reply from my boss Pat, who viewed trading as war, and, as he was losing money big time that year (and would soon be fired) was always in a bad mood.

"Hmmm?" I pondered his statement but not understanding. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"He made a million bucks this morning and whenever he makes a million bucks he goes home." Pat smacked his Bloomberg terminal a couple of times, trying to get bond prices to move his way. "It doesn't matter when he just goes home" Pat explained as he punched a trading ticket.

Which sorta made sense to me. He'd already made a million bucks. Why ruin a great day?

So this traders particular ritual was 'I go home for the day as soon as I make one million dollars'.


1 The US Treasury periodically auctions off Bill, Notes and Bonds to fund the Government's operations. For example, every month a two year note is auctioned.

The most recently auctioned note is called "On The Run", and, for various technical reasons, these notes will trade somewhat differently than older notes. This trader specialised in trading "On the Run" securities.

posted by Mutant at 3:52 AM on June 14, 2008 [7 favorites]

What I like is how most construction crews mount a small pine tree on the of the tops of high buildings once they've topped out under construction. Don't know where that comes from but the pine tree suggests it's some old pagan god whose ass needeth kissing.
posted by three blind mice at 4:24 AM on June 14, 2008

Lots of rituals and superstitions in the theater: saying "break a leg" instead of good luck, not saying the name of "that play"/"the Scottish play" (Macbeth), leaving a ghostlight on, etc.
posted by bassjump at 5:01 AM on June 14, 2008

Many small business owners frame their first dollar earned at a new business. I remember being with my Dad when he opened a store, and trying to work out what to do when someone paid with a twenty. I don't know what people do when the first purchase is with a credit card.
posted by saffry at 5:51 AM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: I'm working in a psychiatric hospital, closed ward.
Every time we've restrained or used force against a violent patient, everybody lines up to wash hands at the sink, whether they actually touched the patient or not.
Talk about ritual...
posted by Thug at 5:56 AM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think I've just outed myself as an old fart!
The ritual of "hammering out" was still in use in journalism in the UK when I started!

It was specifically for the printers (in newspapers) - and even though there was no longer the requisite machinery grease used in the print works (it was webb offset by then), I was working on a paper in the 1980s when they ran a picture of a young printer being "hammered out" in the local news section.

To my best recollection, the lad was pictured grinning happily after being soaked in something like machine oil - but my memory says it was less noxious -with shreds of paper stuck all over him!

I do remember him being paraded sheepishly through the newsroom in all his shredded paper and muck glory while the journalists banged their disgusting coffee mugs on the desk!

In the old days of newspaper printing - before my time - the master printers had hammers to literally knock the cold type into place - and to occasionally deface the type if, say, the paper's lawyer ran down to the print works at the last moment to say a story was libel!

Googling gives this:

'Where I grew up, there was a large newspaper printing works about a mile away and right beside a busy road. Every year there'd be a couple of printers apprentices who'd qualify and finish their apprenticeships or "hammering out" as it's called. The initiation ceremony involved stripping them naked, covering them in grease in various mystical designs and then tying them to the streetlight outside the factory for the passing car drivers to honk their horns at! Then when they walked on to the factory floor everybody would bang their hammers on their desks to show he was a qualified member of staff.. but with greased bollocks' [UK]
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:15 AM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I work in the Biotech division of a major pharmaceutical company, and we celebrate drug approval and manufacturing milestones with "giveaways" to our staff. We've had everything from gym bags featuring the company logo to sweatshirts, coffee mugs, and even little fire extinguishers for home (for reaching a safety milestone of no lost-time injuries). It's relatively inexpensive and well received, especially since it's a neat alternative to the "forced office celebration" where everyone piles into a conference room for cake and a speech.
posted by galimatias at 6:19 AM on June 14, 2008

At one of the IT consulting firms I worked at, any major screwup was marked by the presentation of a stuffed stunk.
posted by toastchee at 6:30 AM on June 14, 2008

I once worked for a ground handling company, and whenever the marketing team signed a new client, they'd ring a bell placed near the door. This was a made-up tradition, though, and mostly people (even those ringing the bell) thought it was sort of ridiculous and centainly annoying.

College students in Portugal have a graduation ceremony that's called the "queima das fitas" ("burning of the ribbons"). Each college has a colour ribbon (for instace, med is yellow) and students hand out ribbons to friends and family so they sign them (usually with a little write-up as well). Then, at the ceremony (which includes a catholic mass, by the way, but that you can skip), the ribbons can be blessed by the priest (or not), and then they are burnt at the end. To be honest, though, I chose not to do it, so there might be some details I'm missing. The "burning of the ribbons" also includes huge parties with concerts and loads and loads of boozing. It's like a 3 day thing.
posted by neblina_matinal at 6:52 AM on June 14, 2008

In the US Navy, there is a tradition called "stepping the mast," in which they place items of significance beneath the step or bottom of the ship's mast/island/superstructure during construction. Goes back to 18th century. For example, in the case of CVN 77, the ship's captain (an aviator) placed his wings beneath the ship's "island" right before they dropped it on the deck and secured it in place. George Bush (sr) also placed his wings beneath the island, since he was a Navy aviator long ago and the ship was named for him.
posted by pandanom at 8:10 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Navy celebrates Crossing the Line. (equator)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:32 AM on June 14, 2008

My job is rather special, in that we're a group of students who get dressed in military uniform circa 1867 and march around and do drill/artillery/music performances to match the era. As you might guess, we have LOTS of traditions, including:

-rain dances when it's about to rain
-a certain object which is "stolen" by the drill squad periodically
-wild parties every wednesday (and monday, and most saturdays, and some thursdays)
-songs which proclaim our sub-unit's superiority over other sub unites
-certain words which we say before artillery firing for "good luck" but the words depend on the day
-a tradition called "IT" in which we all yell at the end of the day... that's basically the only way to describe it.

There's many more, but I really can't go into too much detail because the traditions are "secret"
posted by Planet F at 9:00 AM on June 14, 2008

We used to have closing parties at the magazine I worked for, every time the whole thing was shipped we'd drink. Apparently, they used to do that at my current magazine (only it was when they got the advances back), but the boss is a dick and everyone hates him, so he banned the parties.
posted by klangklangston at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2008

At my company, when a sale is made, the salespeople all go out and get hammered on the company dime, while the technical people remain at the office trying to make the turd deal they just sold possible. True story...
posted by gjc at 9:21 AM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is the Broadway tradition of the Gypsy Robe. It's a tradition that's been around for quite a while. The members of the chorus gather in a circle on stage and the one with the most seniority/credits is presented with a robe and crowned king/queen of the Broadway Gypsies. The robe passes from show to show and along the way is decorated with mementos from other shows.
posted by brookeb at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2008

I once worked for a company that would play a wedding song (I can't remember if it was the Wedding March, Trumpet Voluntary or the Bridal Chorus) every time they cemented a partnership with a client. They were pretty major deals, so I think it happened once every few months or so. They also gave out boomerangs to people who had left the company but eventually returned.

Despite all of the cuteness, including a host of other lovely stuff, it was an absolutely craptastic place to work day-to-day. Any place that has to tout all of its little non-job quirks instead of their great people and great working conditions should raise a red flag.
posted by Madamina at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2008

I used to work in a restaurant where after the shift meeting all the servers would chant (in an only semi-ironic fashion) "Big money, big money, no whammies!" It was years before I realized this was taken from the TV game show "Press Your Luck".

Also, in a lot of restaurants that are closed Sunday/Monday, Saturday night is "heavy clean", when management would recruit kitchen and floor staff to stay late and do the detail cleaning that often gets overlooked. This generally involves several hours of back-breaking floor-scrubbing followed by the mysterious draining of much of the bar's draft beer.

And then there were the hazing rituals for new servers, especially people who'd never worked in a restaurant before. We'd send them on a snipe hunt to borrow a "bacon stretcher" from a neighboring restaurant (who we'd call and alert beforehand, so they could send the hapless n00b on to a different restaurant, who'd do the same, etc). Or we'd ask them to "empty the hot water out of the coffee maker" and see how long it took them to realize that the coffee maker was, in fact, hooked to a water line. Shamefully wasteful, but hilarious.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:07 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a vague memory, that in one or all of the US Armed Forces, they have what is called a wetting down party when someone gets promoted. Maybe someone with military experience can fill in the details.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:38 AM on June 14, 2008

At my public library, several of the staff, me included, keep the "p-slips" that we write the call number/title of the books we are looking for our patrons. Each patron has their own p-slip , usually with multiple call numbers. It is interesting at the end of a busy shift to see how many p-slips we have accumulated. It explains where all the time goes!
posted by saucysault at 12:24 PM on June 14, 2008

Something similar to Jody Tresidder's ritual was used in Scottish engineering shops on serving your time. Engineer's blue was used instead, which would take days or weeks to wash off.
posted by scruss at 12:44 PM on June 14, 2008

If I remember correctly, I heard Jeff Bezos say that when Amazon launched, a bell rang when each purchase was made.

Netscape had something similar:

We sat in the conference room and hooked up the big TV to one of the Indys, so that we could sit around in the dark and watch the FTP download logs scroll by. jg hacked up an impromptu script that played the sound of a cannon shot each time a download successfully completed. We sat in the dark and cheered, listening to the explosions.
posted by zippy at 12:49 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a very nice tradition for graduating Ph.D.'s in Germany.

I only know about the natural sciences; law students and physicians don't do it and I do not know about other faculties. But there is a very nice ritual when you get your Ph. D. in Germany: Shortly before the graduation ceremony, your work group constructs your doctoral cap (mortarboard) for you. Some groups have boring traditions, where you just sign a doctoral cap that gets passed from graduate to graduate and is kept by the group or professor between ceremonies.

Most groups have more elaborate traditions though. In our group we meet for beers and pizza and built the mortarboard out of cardboard and felt. The tassle is constucted by hand out of wool, it's essentially like the dust puppy from The head of the graduate-to-be will have been measured, but this is no help since most of the time the hat will be too big and sit on the ears of the wearer. It is said that the pain this causes symbolizes the hardship of acquiring youre Ph.D. :-)
The hat must not be worn by any non Ph.D.'s since this is bad luck for them and only post-docs my try it on to see how it looks. These mortarboards are not puny cloth things but solid and big constructions more like a upside down Lincoln style stove pipe hat.

This hat will get quite heavy because it not only gets decorated with photos taken during your studies or obtained from friends and family, but it will also be adorned with toys and self-made sculptures and constructs that represent memorable moments during your research.
For chemists this might be the molecule that had to be synthesized. Most of the space on the square is taken up to immortalize the most embarrasing moments of the research process:
Break a faucet and flood the lab? You will probably find the broken faucet or a model of it on top of your hat. Said something silly, funny and or sexist? Youll find a printout of it on your hat. etc.

The photos are not always flattering either, but the most vile ones get glued to the inside, so that they will not be easily seen, because the intention of the hat is to slightly embarrass the newly minted Herr/Frau Doktor and not to mortify him/her. Although not well-liked group members have to beware and the ugliest thing that can be done to a graduate by the research group is to not construct a hat for him/her.

After the graduation ceremony coffee and cake will be served to the friends and family of the graduate and here is where the best part starts. The graduate has to explain the meaning behind the photos, sayings and sculptures in front of relatives. This is great fun because often the references on the hat are quite obscure and somtimes totally different stories come to light in addition to the intended ones. Often the parents of the graduate will discover a whole new facet of the graduates`s personality. ("You were drunk, how often?" etc. :-) But it is all in good fun.

Here are some examples of graduation caps from google image search. The last few links show some particularly nice examples.
posted by mmkhd at 1:42 PM on June 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

As a bartender we rang a bell upon receiving a really nice tip.
posted by JujuB at 1:43 PM on June 14, 2008

Tandem Computers (bought by Compaq and then tucked into HP) came up with 'Non-Stop' computers, with redundancy built in to the hardware and software of each system; these things just hardly ever go down.

Upon celebrating any major software upgrade release, they had huge parties (often off-site, maybe at a water theme park or whatever), and gifts of varying values and description given to major players in the release. They would print up t-shirts with the release name upon them, and everyone would get one; on any given day you'd see employees wearing t-shirts from past releases. Total hokum, it seemed to me, but it did build team spirit among many of the employees -- they WANTED these t-shirts, wore them proudly.

One of the first things I did leaving there was give my collection of lame-ass t-shirts to a detox/drug and alcohol rehabilitation center (many people show up in these places with hardly any clothing) as they were high quality shirts, though I still sortof think that anyone who would wear one would probably get drunk and/or start smoking crack.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2008

Graduation rituals? My alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, has a weekend full. There is the senior canoe sing, where drunken seniors try to make patterns with their torch-decorated canoes while other seniors on shore sing songs (which they may or may not know the words to). The year I graduated, unfortunately, no one capsized. I wouldn't be surprised if this hasn't been toned down a bit since my day.

Then there is the Laurel Parade, chock full of yet more obscure meanings. First a bagpipe band, then the alums who are reuning, from oldest (in classic cars) to newest (marching) carrying signs with silly statistics about the class ("67% of us voted for Jimmy Carter." "48% of us play bridge."). Then come the seniors, carrying a laurel wreath. Everyone except the pipers wears white, each class has some object they wear in their class colour.

When everyone gets to the grave of the founder (yes, it is in the middle of campus and collects for sale signs), the alums stop and form two columns, then the seniors march between, being cheered by the alums (this is the true moment of graduation, something I was completely unprepared for despite having seen it at least 8 times). The seniors then sing "Bread and Roses", weave the chain around the grave and it is over.

Then there is the regular graduation ceremony, which is standard and boring except for a few embroidered gowns that get handed down and added to every year.
posted by QIbHom at 3:32 PM on June 14, 2008

In theatre, we often have cast parties after opening night or closing night. Opening night is more common in professional theatre while closing night seems to be the tradition in most community theatres.

Also, this isn't so much a tradition as it is a law, but in equity shows the cast gets together and votes on a deputy, or a member of the cast who is responsible for talking to the director or stage manager if the cast has any mutual concerns. The deputy is also responsible for organizing the opening night presents.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:34 PM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: When I worked in archeology, we had a ritual for when we finished all the fieldwork on a site.

The head of the project would get a stack of new quarters minted that year, and we would toss one into each of the excavation pits as we refilled them. I'm not sure that's a "profession" thing, though, as much as it was a tradition within the company.
posted by gemmy at 5:56 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

When a rowing team wins a race, the tradition is that after they get their boat out of the water, they pick up their coxswain and throw him/her off the dock into the water. This is feasible because the coxswain is usually much smaller than them, and desired because their coxswain has been nervously and/or angrily encouraging them throughout the race.

If you search Youtube for coxswain toss, you'll see some examples, like this one.

If you find yourself watching the finals of a rowing race in the Olympics this summer, they might possibly show this at the end.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:37 PM on June 14, 2008

In a lot of military courses, especially the tougher ones, when you finally get pinned, it's common for the person doing the pinning to punch it once it's on the uniform of the recipient, driving the sharp prongs into the skin.

It's also common for people who get promoted to throw a party that costs the difference in one month's pay.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:46 PM on June 14, 2008

At Princeton, there are a set of gates (FitzRandolph Gate) that open out into Nassau Street (off campus) in front of the oldest building on campus and the university's ceremonial centre, Nassau Hall. These gates used to be locked, but were opened, I believe, sometime during the 1970s. There is a superstition that, if you walk out of the gate (in is okay, but pushing it), you will never graduate, and most people follow it. At Commencement, your final action at the school is to walk out of the gate and into the world.

I'll admit it, I cried. :)

Other traditions, this time for theatre, include the recitation of "Ducks" before the first performance of a show, and there are a few techie traditions. But if I told you more, I'd have to kill you.
posted by ilana at 8:59 PM on June 14, 2008

I had a good friend that used to be one of the Senior Game Designers at Atari Games (arcade/coin-op division). They had a tradition that when a game was finalized and shipped out; every member of the main design team was gifted with a full-size arcade console of that game as well. Last time I visited him back out in California in the early 90's, he practically had a mini video arcade in his garage with at least 4-5 machines there, and another 4 in the den!
posted by Jade Dragon at 12:05 AM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

At Burning Man, when the sun dips below the mountains for the end of a day/start of a night, everyone hoots, howls, cheers, and bangs on things. Night == party time.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 7:56 PM on June 15, 2008

I work at a newspaper in a city with a high murder rate. The old night city editor would ring a bell every time there was a homicide.
posted by Airhen at 9:36 PM on June 15, 2008

At my work, someone in sales rings a gong for every X amount of money they close. I think it's 1 gong for anything up to 20k, then +1 for each 10k after that.

On Wednesdays at 4:20 we have Wagon Wednesdays where someone pulls a red wagon to each department section and we get to pick snacks from it.
posted by nakedsushi at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2008

Old question, I know:

At the theater I work at, we have opening night ice cream. Everyone in on the tech and artistic staff comes down and eats a bowl.

In my union, when an apprentice class graduates, the graduating class is responsible for the evening's bar bill for the entire local.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:00 PM on April 25, 2009

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