Entertaining

Oh, Behave

How to act like a decent human being this Thanksgiving
Illustration: Alex Schorndorf/Tasting Table
Thanksgiving Etiquette Guide

This November, Tasting Table is going to party like it's 2015. Join us.

Thanksgiving is upon us yet again. When I was a kid, I loved getting together with my large extended family to celebrate, but as I get older, it gets harder and harder. It seems like we all need a refresher on the etiquette of Thanksgiving.

Know your hostess

Everyone hosts a special meal in his or her own particular (and peculiar) way. At my house, I insist we eat on paper plates, because life's too short to wash dishes. My husband requires everyone to take off their shoes, so don't bother wearing adorable shoes that tie your whole look together, because you'll need to leave them at the door.

You might not like the way this hostess hosts, but you accepted the invitation, and now it's time to fall in line—or order takeout. Is she a professional baker? Then leave the store-bought pies at home. Is he a wine snob? He's not going to appreciate that cheap-ass bottle of Pinot you grabbed at the gas station on the way over to dinner. Is she an overachiever whose table setting looks like something out of a magazine shoot? You'd better not even think of bringing your mashed potatoes in Tupperware.

Arrive on time

When I'm hosting Thanksgiving, I'm laid back about most things. I don't care if Aunt Mabel brought her homemade stuffing, because Uncle Bernard hates the box kind that I make. I don't mind when Cousin Betsy shows up with her sort-of boyfriend, and at the last minute, I have to add another place at my table. Who cares that they barely know one another, and he can't remember my name, even though he's devouring my boxed stuffing like he hasn't eaten in days? I don't care. Really. I don't care. (OK, maybe I care a little. It's just that we all think Betsy can do better than this dude.)

Anyway, back to how laid back I am. I am so laid back that Uncle Marvin can eat his dinner in front of the television, Cousin Martha can breast-feed at the table and Aunt Ruby can dig around in my pantry for mac 'n' cheese to make for her picky grandkids. I don't care!

However. I do care about one thing.

When I invite you to my home, and I tell you that we're eating lunch at 1, that means you need to be at my house, with the dish you've been assigned, hot and ready to eat at 1. Do not roll into my home at 1:05 and announce your green bean casserole needs just 15 minutes in the oven (I'm looking at you, Aunt Iris). Do not show up at 1:15 and act surprised and perturbed that we're already eating (and the hubs is probably on his second plate by then). Everyone else managed to get here by the designated time, so why can't you? Also, I have young children and a husband who eat on a schedule. If they are not eating at the time I told them they could eat, they become hangry and impossible to live with. I don't have to live with my Aunt Iris, but I have to live with my husband and my kids.

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Be helpful

Help set the table, keep the kids occupied and out of the way, make drinks for the guests, take coats, wipe down counters, make the beds, clean the floorboards, dust the ceiling fans—oops, I got a little carried away there. I figured since you were being helpful, my ceiling fans could really use a good dusting.

What I'm trying to say is just do something. Sure, I offered to host 25 people in my home, but I didn't expect to do it alone. Make yourself useful. There is nothing worse than seeing a bunch of lumps on my couch clucking about Betsy's "boyfriend" while I'm killing myself to get cranberries out of a can. If you're unsure about what to do, open your mouth and ask. I'll be happy to give you a duster and point you toward my ceiling fans.

Keep the conversation light

There's nothing worse than everyone sitting around a table talking politely about the beautiful weather we're having or which stores we're going to hit at midnight when Black Friday starts. ("Whichever ones have five-dollar Crock-Pots" is the right answer, because I can always use another Crock-Pot.)

Actually, that's not true. There are many worse conversations than that.

Thanksgiving brings together a group of people who share blood ties, but not necessarily worldviews. You've got three—and sometimes four—generations all together, and there are many topics that don't cross those borders. Now isn't the time to ask if anyone would like to debate the pros and cons of vaccinations or know more about which xenophobic blowhard or socialist psychopath you plan to vote for in the next election or if everyone has taken Jesus as their lord and savior.

Stick to the weather—it's hot, it's cold, it's going to be a long winter, it's going to be a short winter—kids' activities—"We're sooooo busy with Jaxon's ping-pong tournaments, and Aighmey's been taking a class devoted to the care and raising of alpacas. Fascinating animals."—the food—you are: famished/stuffed/starving/swearing off dieting today/etc.—and then back to the weather again.

Be thankful

The whole reason we're sitting around a table together and stuffing ourselves silly is because for some reason we like one another, so be thankful that we can celebrate together. We might have our differences of opinion and we might argue and bicker sometimes, but we're lucky to have one another.

We're lucky to have a safe place where we can gather together and eat three different kinds of stuffing, because everyone has strong feelings about stuffing.

We're lucky that the children who are spilling grape juice everywhere are happy and healthy.

We're lucky that we have family and friends who love us enough that they want to spend the day with us.

We're even lucky that Betsy found someone. Her boyfriend isn't that bad. Maybe next year he'll get an official invitation.

Jen Mann is best known for her blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She is also the author of New York Times best seller People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges, which was a finalist for a 2014 Goodreads Readers' Choice Award. Her latest book is Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat.

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