Unlike most advice columnists (and the singer Sade), I am not a Smooth Operator. Foot-in-mouth is a familiar position for me. And if I did not write the Social Q's advice column (and new book) for the Styles section of The New York Times, I would surely need to read it.
So, as we land on Thanksgiving, that roller derby of holidays, on which so many extended families and misfit friends gather for marathon dining (and flare-ups of fury), what better hostess gift than to share my Top Tips for Avoiding Thanksgiving Meltdowns -- each learned the hard way.
Thanksgiving Tip # 1: Keep your Trap Shut!
I know it feels as if you could fly to China (and back) faster than it takes to get through some Thanksgiving dinners -- particularly if you're seated next to your nosey Aunt Sophie or your cousin's abrasive fiancé (courtesy of Match.com). But it's just one meal. Really!
If someone makes a comment that rubs you the wrong way -- recalling your (four) adolescent summers at Band Camp, or noting that, at 42, you're probably already run out of time to get married and have kids -- try to let it go. Take it from me, the Sugar Ray Leonard of the Thanksgiving table, the fight is rarely worth the fall-out. And you only have to make it through the pumpkin pie.
Change the subject, instead: "So what did you think of Ricki Lake's Viennese waltz on Dancing with the Stars?" Everyone at the table will appreciate your diplomacy. You may even be recruited by the U.N.
Thanksgiving Tip # 2: Don't Screw with the Chef !
Most of us are not used to cooking meals for small armies. So, hosting Thanksgiving dinner can make us tense. And last-minute surprises will drive us around the bend. Good guests know this (even though I never imagined that simply bringing my mother's chestnut stuffing -- unannounced -- could cause such a fracas).
So, do not pull a Paula Deen and bring a bacon-wrapped turkey to your host's place without asking. (Major exception: Wine is always welcome.) Nor should you announce your dietary restrictions at the table: "I've just become a militant vegan, and cannot sit by while you eat turkey -- not even the giblets."
Call your host beforehand with your offerings and dietary restrictions. But before you dial, remember: it's just one meal. You will not starve if you simply play along. And you can eat whatever you like as soon as you get home.
Thanksgiving Tip # 3: Good Hosts are NOT Arab Spring Dictators !
Thanks to Hallmark cards, and endlessly heart-warming TV specials, we hosts can often feel the heat to produce perfect Thanksgivings. This can make us controlling. News flash: Perfect holidays only happen on Walton's Mountain.
So, hosts: Try to roll with the punches. Your daughter wants to bring a last-minute extra from college? Your stuffing looks like super-glue? Your brothers square off like wannabe Presidential candidates? Don't sweat it! You can't control everything, no matter how hard you try.
And there you have it: A 1-2-3 guide for making Thanksgiving terrific -- or at least, better than mine. Eat up!