For a Stress-Free Thanksgiving, Etiquette Is Key

Being nice during a family holiday is sometimes easier said than done. Enter the etiquette experts!

A drama-free Thanksgiving may not be on the menu for you this year. According to a recent survey, you should anticipate arguments, someone getting on your nerves and a whole mess of stress. In an survey, 65 percent of the respondents predict that a family disagreement will take place. Sixty-eight percent believe that someone — maybe more than one person — will get on their nerves, and almost half feel that this holiday is just going to be full of stress.

So what’s the solution? Just encourage everyone to practice proper etiquette. That sounds easy, but the level of difficulty heightens with, well, the level of ignorance your family brings to the feast. But I believe it’s worth a try.

Etiquette and family expert Devi Titus, author of The Table Experience, thinks we should all approach Thanksgiving with a selfless attitude. “Actually try to make this year’s experience special for someone else,” she says. Event planner Jamal King of STEPS Event Planning also advocates holiday etiquette. Even when we know something isn’t proper, he says, we often do it anyway. That can lead to unnecessary stress.

With the help of Titus and King, I’ve compiled some specific etiquette advice that will help bring extra joy to your holiday table.

Bringing Your Own Food

What if you don’t like your mother-in-law’s cooking, you like your collards cooked with smoked turkey or you don’t eat meat? Titus and King agree that you shouldn’t bring your own food unless you were asked to. It can be especially difficult if you’re trying to eat a little healthier, King acknowledged, adding that “it’s unfortunate, but we as black people don’t tell people what we are putting in our food, so there’s probably going to be something that’s not good for us [in the meal]. If that’s a concern, eat before you get there.”

Titus says that medical issues, such as allergies, would be the only reason for you to call ahead to alert the host to your condition and dietary restrictions. Otherwise, eat before you come or keep quiet.  

Inviting or Being a Guest

You always take a chance when you expose that someone special in your life to your family too soon. Seeing your Aunt Niecie’s striptease right before she serves dinner could leave your boyfriend or girlfriend with the wrong impression. King suggests giving your friend the rundown of who everyone is and what their personalities are like.

If you are a stranger attending a significant other’s family dinner for the first time, Titus recommends being careful with your conversation. “Don’t dominate the conversation,” she says. “Don’t talk too much about yourself. Show a genuine interest in others by asking questions.” 

Bringing the Dog

This one is personal. I take my dog, Sugar-Shane, everywhere. My family is eating at my cousin’s house for the first time this year. Sugar could stay in the hotel room, but I would be much happier if I could bring him. Titus and King were caught a bit off guard by this one, but they did say that I could bring Sugar if I got permission from the host.

“You must be emotionally prepared for the dog to be rejected,” says Titus. I’m not. And if I am allowed to bring him, I have to keep him on the periphery, King says, in case other guests are allergic. Basically, I’ll be banished to some corner to eat so my dog doesn’t disturb anyone else. I’m not crazy about this bit of advice!