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Surviving Small Talk with Her Family This Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving at her family’s house is an important one. In order to make a good first impression, you have to be prepared for anything (or anyone) that comes your way. Truth is, the person you’ll talk to most is the person who ends up sitting next to you (other than your partner). Here’s a winning strategy for each prospect.

Photo: Antonis Achilleos

Hundreds of years ago, at the very first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims swapped awkward pleasantries with Native Americans, trying to avoid a war. You must do the same. Use this conversation battle plan to conquer your first dreaded “family dinner” with your potential future in-laws (gulp), no matter who’s seated at your side.

Skeptical Brother
This one’s a catch-22. If you’re less successful than him career-wise, he’s disapproving; more successful, he’s jealous. But he can be turned. Ask questions, treat him with respect, laugh with him, show him you’re a fun guy to be around (but not too fun).
Don’t say: “You see the rack on that Colts cheerleader?”
Safe topics: Fantasy football, movies, his job (not yours)

Hot Cousin
No peeks at cleavage. No glancing at her legs. Lie to yourself: Pretend that she’s an ugly troll. (Tip: Don’t call her one.) Say nothing that even flirts with being flirtatious.
Don’t say: “Your…these…turkey breasts…are so tender…and…juicy.”
Safe topics: Anything asexual.

Timmy the Toddler
Being a good sport with Timmy -- stacking Legos, playing peek-a-boo, that kind of junk -- will rack up serious points and trick him into liking you. The payoff: Your girlfriend’s family will think you’re the perfect mix of playful and responsible…and would make a great dad someday. Oh. Wait. This could backfire.
Don’t say: “Holy sh#t, you’re f#$king awesome at coloring.”
Safe topics: Bibs, Tonka trucks, the miracle of walking

Un-PC Grandpa
Religious jokes. Helen Keller jokes. He drops slurs you didn’t even know existed.
Don’t join in the ribbing, but never let your horror show. Remember, your girlfriend loves this kooky bastard.
Don’t say: “Sir, I believe the correct term is ‘little person.’”
Safe topics: Golf, weather, oatmeal

Bitter (Single) Sister
She’s single, sarcastic, and snipe-y -- not to mention a total man-hater (especially since you and her sister are holidaying together and she hasn’t been asked out in months). Take the high road. Let any insults roll off your back. Nod and smile. Yeah, you might lose this battle, but in the end, you’ll win the war (plus she’ll simmer the day she meets a guy who thinks her death stare is cute).
Don’t say: “Could you pass the carrots, then stab yourself in the kidney?”
Safe topics: Family vacations, TV, music

Zany Aunt
She spends two hours trying to convince you to adopt an ostrich. She does yoga at the dinner table between courses. She wears a beret, even though the heat is cranked up to 75 degrees. Your move is simple: Ask her questions, nod, smile, and let her ramble.
Don’t say: “Conspiracy theorists are all total nut jobs.”
Safe topics: Dream analysis, the lotus position

Propose-to-My-Daughter-Already Mom
Beware the innocent-sounding questions about “your future.” She’s really just sniffing out when you’re buying a ring (and popping the question). Think twice before talking about upcoming vacations, job promotions, or housing situations. Keep it light. Compliment her cooking, even if it sucks.
Don’t say: “Ma’am, I’d like to ask your permission...[long, hopeful pause]...to use your bathroom.”
Safe topics: Food, how to get stains out of the tablecloth, your girlfriend’s childhood anecdotes

Overprotective Dad
It’s not that he hates you, per se, it’s just that he wants to butcher your face, tear off your legs, and feed your corpse to a mob of wild pigs every time he sees you touch his daughter (and by touch we mean putting your arm around her, not feeling her up). Be respectful. Hold the door. Show both deference and spine.
Don’t say: “I gotta hand it to you, sir, your daughter’s quite the firecracker (wink).”
Safe topics: Nothing. Watch yourself.

Jeff Wilser is the editor of ThePlunge.com and the author of The Maxims of Manhood.

-- Jeff Wilser

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