Thanksgiving dinner is a great time to go home and eat your weight in turkey. Depending on where you’re celebrating, you may need to prepare. Thanksgiving conversations can be light, but can also become heated with debate. You want to be yourself but also want to stay on the side of caution. No one wants to be part of an argument. You’re there to have fun and fun you shall have!
If you’ve been dragged along to a Thanksgiving dinner where the people there are not your family, small talk is a vital tool that you need to have on your social utility belt. If you’re at your own family’s dinner, then it can be a good way to fill awkward silences that are created by a relative saying something inappropriate or idiotic.
Small talk can include many things. Some examples of small talk: the weather, anything that is directly visible to you, compliments, what the trip there was like, etc. How are you? It was a long trip up. The weather was terrible. The roads were horrible. Is that a new scarf? Work is going well. Are we all still not talking about that?
Small talk is the shallow end of the pool. Everyone can wade in it. No one has to drown.
Reading A Room
Knowing how to read nonverbals and body language are invaluable assets that you normally acquire the hard way. If one looks uncomfortable when someone uses an outdated term, they all are. You can tell that no one wants to talk about something when they all look away, purse their lips, cross their arms, or start to subconsciously turn away from the speaker.
If you see people playing with their hair, fingers, jewelry, etc., they’re nervous or uncomfortable and trying to self-sooth.
“To be interesting, be interested.” ― Dale Carnegie,
Ask genuine questions about others’ interests. Some things that people generally like talking about are their pets, kids, and themselves. The more you get people to talk about themselves, the less legwork you’ll have to do.
Try To Be Down To Earth
The only way to have fun at a Thanksgiving dinner where everyone is cold or unwelcoming is to be real. People tend to notice who’s doing this in a room full of snobs. If you grew up as an only child and your significant other has lots of siblings, then you might be confused while you get relentlessly ragged on. It’s a sport. You’re being roasted. Be cool about it. It’s not personal. They would like you to reply in kind—that’s how it works!
Alas, some people just aren’t going to like you, no matter how interesting and nice you are. Like your future in-laws, for instance. If you mess up too bad, you might not ever have to go back.
Know Who Is What Generation
Pew Research defines the difference between each generation as follows: Silent (1928–45), Boomers (1946–64), Gen X (1965–80), Millenials (1981–96), and Gen Z (1997–present). But, no age group fits into a neat, little box.
Some supercentenarians are going to be either prejudiced, racist, sexist, LGTBQ+phobic, xenophobic, or a combo of -ists and phobias. The rule of thumb is, the farther from the city, the more this seems to be true. Elders will also take jabs at Millenials. Try to let these slide. Millennials are the first generation to be smarter than all the previous ones combined (the internet and overeducation). You know they’re wrong. You could show them 50 corroborating sources to prove it. But, why bother?
There’s no way around it. Like us, Boomers are products of their generation. The further back you go, the worse it gets. In 100 years, the most progressive liberal might look like a conservative bigot.
So, when your adorable grandma says something prejudiced, you can correct her—but, understand going in, it might be a lost cause.
Everyone is biased. You included. If you think you aren’t, then you’re a part of the problem. So going into a political discussion, thinking you are absolutely correct, is very stupid.
Voter turnout can dip below 50%. The ones who do not vote, they want no part and know very little about politics. What little they do ostensibly know is that their vote doesn’t count. It will most likely be brought up. There’s really no way to move on without running into a heated, partisan conflict.
What Counts As Politics?
Everyone—regardless of how hard they hit the polls—has an opinion. So, what counts as “politics?” Minimum wage, healthcare, welfare programs, the environment, equal opportunity, minorities’ rights, abortion, immigration, drug laws, gun control, capital punishment, “enhanced interrogation,” the U.S.’s undeclared wars, the Isreali-Palestinian conflict, foreign aid, departments of the government (doesn’t matter which one), the police, the military, football, the “war” on Christmas, literally anything the Supreme Court has ever ruled on, etc.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” —Noam Chomsky.
Take the opposite of Chomsky’s advice when at the dinner table. Have a lively discussion about a palatable subject.
Saying grace over food is fine. If you don’t participate in the incantations, you may be asked why. As you work backward through the generations, it gets more and more religious. The religious people who grew up with the Red Scare/Cold War are generally going to see atheists as a direct threat to their way of life.
At family gatherings, you can claim to be agnostic, spiritual, or simply not religious. If it feels like that may be too much for the octogenarians in the room, just tell them what religion your family indoctrinated you into. If you can avoid discussing religion, regardless of which one, do so at all costs. Even stating that you follow a different belief system is sometimes seen as an affront.
There’s always a black sheep in the family who cannot fathom why everyone has to be so mumpsimus. Many people feel that religion is a core part of their identity. If you criticize their beliefs, they feel that you are attacking one of the things that makes them who they are. Instead of trying to correct people’s unsubstantiated belief systems, listen to them.
If religion gets brought up, be openminded, don’t proselytize, and come to a solid realization—you will not reason with faith. Faith is belief despite evidence to the contrary or is a lack of evidence. “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into,” said Jonathon Swift. If the topic gets to religion, the only thing you’re doing, at that point, is arguing for the sake of arguing.