November 26, 2014
Top Three Ways to Change Awkward Conversation at the Dinner Table
Like basic cable subscriptions, the family you get is a non-negotiable package deal. This suffices for most of the year, but the holidays bring all the channels together in one house. At first, they gravitate. The ESPNs take over the couch and the ice chest. The Animal Planets huddle in the kitchen around the merlot (conveniently located by the oven). The Ridiculously Politicized News Channels hover over the onion dip waiting for someone to look at them funny. This détente remains secure until the turkey is carved and we all sit down to feed and, inevitably, talk. When the dialogue deteriorates into indelicate tribalism, here are some techniques you can use to defuse the situation, redirect the conversation and save everyone’s strength for dessert.
- Warm, fuzzy nostalgia. People love to recall how things used to be. From the tried-and-true “We Sure Had It Tough” to popular chestnuts like “Things Were Simpler Back Then” and “So-and-so Was So Cute,” talking about the past is a wonderful way to celebrate family through rosé-colored glasses. Ask the nearest storyteller for a walk down a Memory Lane where others can jump in and share their own recollections. This display of tradition and Confucian respect will not only improve the conversation but also position you for a favoritism bonus when elders begin their holiday shopping spree.
- Food talk. With so much effort that goes into the meal, there’s always someone who has an age-old system or a newfangled trick to cook a bird, mash a tuber or bake a pie. Praise is nice, but it’s better to steer the conversation with “What’s your secret?” The secret will not remain a secret—and the chorus of culinary one-upsmanship may carry you all the way to post-meal naptime.
- Sports. Even if you don’t care about who’s playing who in the thing, sports talk is a preferable alternative to who’s ruining the country. Try initiating a playful tease with a person known to support a frequently losing team. Then sit back and watch the underdogs engage in harmless banter with supporters of the well-funded dominant team. Then disengage at the earliest discreet opportunity, mosey over to the couch and watch grown men physically punish each other. Because it’s the holidays.