Every family has their own quirks. By now, you not only know what your own family's eccentricities are, but they are probably so ingrained within you that you don't even realize they're idiosyncratic. That's part of what makes spending the holidays with your family so fun: you know them and you love them. But when you're spending Thanksgiving with someone else's family, you don't have the benefit of knowing exactly what kind of craziness you're walking in to.
Maybe you're spending the holiday with your in-laws for the fourth time; maybe you're tagging along with a best friend; or maybe you're going to your SO's family's place for the first time. No matter who you're going with, having Thanksgiving with a different family is a little uncomfortable and potentially stressful. Knowing how to be a polite guest and how to survive the madness is the only thing that's going to get you through. Here's 9 ways to survive it.
1. Bring Something
You are a grown ass woman, and you should never go to a party empty handed. Wine is the obvious choice (and no one will ever complain about more booze), but for an even classier move, call your hostess a couple of weeks prior to the holiday and ask what you can bring. Offer to cook your signature appetizer or bake a delectable dessert. If she says nothing, then go ahead and bring a bottle of Pinot Grigio.
2. Ask For A Family Cram Session
On your way to the holiday, ask your SO, friend or whoever's holiday you're crashing to help you brush up on family facts. Having a general idea of what your walking in to will make the process of being an outsider a lot easier. Know what topics to avoid with what person (i.e. don't ask Aunt Marge about her husband, she's going through her 4th divorce) and know who shares your love of Scandal and will be down to dish about Olivia Pope's best looks.
It's also a good idea to have a basic understanding of personality types. Some people are warm and friendly and some people...well, aren't. Try and figure out who is going to want to actually get to know you, and who will want to stick to a quick cordial exchange of formalities.
3. Prep A Speech
Although you don't want to sound rehearsed, you can be pretty sure that everyone at the party is going to ask you certain questions. "What do you do?" "How did you meet [insert friend's name here]?" "Why aren't you with your own family?"
These questions are seemingly benign, but if you don't know what you're going to say you may find yourself caught off-guard, unsure of how to answer or rambling on about your entire job history. So before you recite your resume to your boyfriend's grandma, take the time to think about answers to these questions that are short and simple but still informative. If they want to know more, they'll keep asking.
And — in the same vein — have some questions up your own sleeve. Know what you want to ask to get to know these people. Anything is fair game from the standard "Tell me about your kids," to some more unexpected but fun questions, like "What was the best vacation you ever took?" Just be sure to keep it light and easy.
4. Watch It On The Wine
Thanksgiving is a holiday all about indulgence, but if you're spending the day with someone else's family consider overdoing it on the eating and not the drinking. Getting a little silly might be fun with your own relatives, but it's never a good way to make a first impression. You don't want to slip up and say anything you wouldn't want to remember stating the next morning. Wine also has a tendency to leave you feeling sleepy, and when you're constantly talking to new people you need your energy.
This is not to say you can't enjoy a glass or two of Chardonnay throughout the celebration. Just make sure you are never at a point where you are more intoxicated than the rest of the guests. After you leave, you can totally go home and get your buzz on.
5. Don't Disagree (Out Loud, At Least)
At family gatherings, it's not unusual for people to talk about political standpoints or religious views. If you're visiting with a family who lies on the opposite end of the spectrum as you, it's better to keep your disagreement to yourself. Even if you enjoy a good, light-hearted ideological debate, some people can get very offended by a differing opinion. Play it safe, and stay out of a conversation you don't agree with.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should openly lie about what you're feeling. Be true to you. Keeping quiet is probably the best choice, but if you feel you are being pushed to engage, find a polite way to excuse yourself. Help in the kitchen or go to the restroom until the conversation has subsided.
6. The Same Goes For The Food
If you're a vegetarian and there's no tofurkey on the spread, don't make a fuss about it. You don't want to make your hosts feel bad. Enjoy the side dishes — they're the best part anway.
If the food is bad, please, do not say so. Not even a whisper to the friend or partner you came with. Insulting your host is the number one way to not get an invite back the following year and to leave a really bad taste in their mouths. So even if there is a physical bad taste in your mouth, don't say it. If anyone asks why you're being so peckish, just tell them you overdid it on the appetizers.
7. Offer To Help
Throughout the day, keep checking in with your host to see if he or she needs any assistance. Just because you ask once doesn't mean you're done for the day — Thanksgiving is a labor intensive holiday, and tasks come up intermittently. Help with food, setting the table, or wrangling the kids for dinnertime.
Sometimes, it's even better to just do it instead of asking first. When the host starts to clear the plates, just stand up and begin doing the same. It's the thought that counts, and chances are he or she will tell you to sit down and enjoy yourself. This is especially true if you're really hoping to make a good impression on the family (aka it's your SO's parents).
8. Find A Reason To Have Some Alone Time
Visiting with someone else's family can get exhausting. It's important to have a reason to take a breather from being "on" and get a moment to yourself. When you feel you need a respite from the festivities, tell everyone you're going to step outside and call your own family. Even if you aren't actually making the call, it gives you a legitimate reason to get some fresh air and a chance to take a deep breath.
9. Say Thank You
This should go without saying, but make sure you thank your host for having you to their home celebrate the holiday. Chances are it was a stressful day for them, and it is very kind that they asked you to be a part of it.
You can even take it one step further and send a thank you note — email or snail mail will do just fine — after the holiday, thanking them again for hosting you. It's a classy move, and it will show them that you really are grateful for the invite. Surefire way to get invited again next year.