For better or worse, the Mad Men era is long gone. On-the-job cocktails and the office hijinks that often accompany them are verboten in these litigious, politically correct times. Yet one thing hasn't changed since Don Draper's more-or-less-consequence-free saucing: "People need to blow off steam after work," says actor George Wendt, best known for playing the curmudgeonly and ever-present barfly Norm on Cheers. These days, the only appropriate window for liquor-fueled co-worker co-mingling is the margarita-and-nacho-heavy ritual we call happy hour.
This poorly lit pastime, however, is usually fraught with tension. "There's often an undercurrent of sexuality, fueled by ethyl alcohol," says body language expert David Givens, author of Your Body at Work. "You're drinking and eating in the pleasurable rest-and-digest mode. Emotions become exaggerated." Especially when the wrong person gets control of the jukebox.
What are your nonverbal cues saying about you? Bloomberg Businessweek recently observed 100 happy hour patrons in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. We categorized their habits, which were then decoded by our panel of experts: Wendt; Givens; Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body Is Saying; Patti Wood, co-author of Paid to Speak; and Patrick Lydon, a bartender at New York City's 119-year-old Old Town Bar. Next time think twice before you start dangling your shoe as you swivel on that bar stool—unless you really don't want to go home alone.
Weird But Less Common Happy Hour Behavior:
Beer-bottleneck-chest-tapping men: Givens - "It's like a gorilla's chest-beating. You're showing off your big, male, knobby hand."
Big group fist-pumping to John (née Cougar) Mellencamp's Small Town: Navarro - "Some songs are very tribal."
A group of drunkards huddled together, but not around a table: Lydon - "They almost create a bonfire."
One woman with two pints and no friends: Lydon - "She has a drinking problem."