Gentle Reader, the holiday parties are already upon us – I was reminded, at just such an event, that a guide to conversation might be helpful. Some might not shy away from entering a screaming match over the pie with their nearest and dearest –
Don’t discuss religion or politics. Yes, that’s an old, old adage – so for heaven’s sake, don’t. It’s in bad taste with family or with strangers. Shared blood doesn’t mean shared politics – and when you’re mingling with strangers, you might miss out on a great new friend because you got into the soup over some passing scandal. Stop it.
As for religion, you might all have gathered around a Christmas tree, but that doesn’t mean you all believe the same things – Aunt Sally’s an atheist and Cousin Jenny’s a Mormon! Just bite your tongue and have some eggnog, and the evening will go much more smoothly.
Do discuss TV and films. Assuming you don’t primarily watch indie documentaries, discussing films with your relations should be relatively safe. Stick to the latest blockbusters – everybody loves explosions! – or what’s been on Netflix lately, and you should be just fine.
Just make sure it’s non-controversial. Because your drunk Uncle is going to do his best to steer your innocent chat about Doctor Who right back into the waiting jaws of What’s Wrong With This Country and Your-Heathen-Sister’s-Pagan-Lesbian-Wedding.
Don’t discuss anyone’s futures – you know, career plans, relationship prospects, getting into or going back to college – anything of that sort. It’s often a source of stress and frustration to younger folks, and can be a source of competition and jealousy. It’s also a source of one-upmanship and lies. The future can also be a frightening prospect for older folks, as they may not have much of it left.
Do discuss the past. Family stories and talking about the good old days when everyone was alive and happy, sharing wonderful memories – and even, when the kids are old enough, salacious old gossip and family secrets – these can be the key to making new memories. Be careful, though – if someone brings up the time that their sister shoved them into a birdcage when they were four, things might get a little heated again.
Don’t bring up anything you know will antagonize your relatives. If you keep asking what your son and his boyfriend get up to in the bedroom, they’re going to get annoyed.
Do your best to deflect disasters in the making. When, for example, your brother-in-law loudly insists that he should be able to carry a machine gun onto school property when picking up his son from that pit of liberal indoctrination, divert him by bringing up your own hobbies! You’ll be bonding in no time.
I really hope that these tips help you and your in-laws, relations, and various hangers-on to manage to get along for the length of a simple meal, Gentle Reader. With love from my family to yours – happy holidays, kittens. Make it a good one, and play nicely with one another.