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 iVillage.com 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!
In a black household, it is as certain as collard greens during Thanksgiving: The food is going to be blessed. If prayer isn't your thing, Titus, who is a Christian, says keep it to yourself. It is also rude, she points out, to bow your head silently at the table and pray to yourself. "That is the opposite of what Christ himself would do," she says. "You submit to your environment."
She also suggests that it's rude for anyone but the host to suggest blessing the food, unless it is just a family dynamic. If a guest does jump in and do that, Titus says, the host should graciously "relinquish and save the guest the embarrassment."
Helping With the Dishes
I don't mind helping with the dishes, but having every guest crowded in the kitchen for the big cleanup doesn't really work. But Titus says that we should offer to help, no matter what. "Assist in clearing the table, then ask for an assignment," she advises.
So what if you get stuck with a task like cleaning a grill that's a sticky mess after the featured bird was prepared there? It may not be fair, but both of our experts say that good etiquette means getting it done with a smile on your face. Immediately after, you can start planning alternative dinner arrangements for next year!
Using Cell Phones or Social Media
I'm actually looking forward to tweeting a play-by-play during my family's gathering this year. Titus, however, warns that this would be a huge faux pas and that cell phones and PDAs should be turned off at the table. If you must check your messages after dinner? "Go to a private area," she says, "and never check while you are having a conversation with someone standing in front of you."
Deciding on After-Dinner Entertainment
Hopefully you have more than one TV, because the men will want to watch football, and the women will want to see a movie. Titus suggests doing both together. "The women can sit and watch football with the men, and in turn, the men can sit and watch a movie that the women choose." But "no bootleg movies," King says. I agree. Unless it's the new Harry Potter.
The bottom line is that common courtesy and common sense can go a long way when we come together for the holidays. Give it a try. This could be the year of no stress, no hurt feelings and no one being taken away in handcuffs. Happy Thanksgiving.