Thanksgiving dinner: a conversational guide

Happy Thanksgiving. Today is the day we  gather with our families to eat and give thanks. And as long as there are families, there will be people with wrong opinions.  All too easily family dinners can be breeding grounds for nasty arguments.

We’ve all heard not to bring up politics or religion and I’ve read a few articles lately about conversation topics to avoid during family dinners. Katie has a great post over about that over at Sass & Balderdash. Slate has a great guide to winning political arguments with your family.

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But I’ve read fewer articles about what TO talk about over dinner. Here are some suggestions for safe (boring) dinner topics.

  • The food. “These sweet potatoes are fantastic, Mom. Could you please pass the peas?” People love food but it generally doesn’t inspire such strong emotion that they’ll get into a fist fight over which was better,  pumpkin pie or pecan pie. Talk about that great cookie recipe you found on Pinterest or that new restaurant that just opened a block from your house. Be careful, though to avoid talking about diets. Especially avoid talking about things you’re eating or not eating because of personal beliefs. It seems innocent to bring up that you only eat organic now, or that you’ve sworn off meat after seeing a documentary about animal abuse in the industry, but that will just cause trouble.
  • The weather. You can’t go wrong with weather talk. We can basically all agree that it’s too cold outside during the winter and that it gets too hot during the summer.  Sunshine is good, rain is mostly annoying. And weather affects everyone so we care about it by default. Be careful, though, not to let weather talk turn into talk about climate change. Was the recent hurricane in the Philippines because of global warming? It’s best to not even talk about it.
  • Your trip home. This could be anything about your flight, drive, or bus road to your house. I’m visiting family in a small, Eastern Kentucky town an hour away from home.  My trip talk is usually a discussion of how many white-tailed deer I passed on the way in. They’re everywhere. But if you’re traveling farther, did the TSA agent get a little too frisky or make an inappropriate comment during your random pat down? Did you sit next to a screaming toddler on the plane? Be careful, though or your talk of the TSA could turn into talk of the NSA, and then we’re back to political arguments.
  • Nothing at all. Some times it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Are you a fan of the Affordable Care Act sitting in a room full of republicans? Bite your tongue and resist the urge to bring up the thousands of low income working adults who will have access to medical care because of health care reform. Maybe even agree with them just to make peace. “Yes, mom, we can all agree that website is a disaster. Do you think they’ll ever get it fixed?” Do you hate the idea of government forcing people to buy insurance, resist the urge to talk about the constitution and liberty. You’re never going to convince them anyway.

What advice do you have for surviving family dinners without getting into an argument?

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