Most Americans spend Thanksgiving with their families. That's great, except sometimes the conversation can be strained, awkward, or downright contentious. Here's how to keep the peace and have something to talk about until the pumpkin pie is served.
There are several difficulties when getting together with your family. First of all you have a ton of history and after 15 minutes with your older sister, you're squabbling like you're in high school all over again. Also the entire extended family is invited to dinner. Unless you're one of those scarily close families like the Walkers on Brothers & Sisters and you're up in everyone's business all the time, you probably haven't talked to your uncles, cousins, great aunts, and their attendant spouses and children since Uncle Orville's funeral in the spring. While you probably have tons to talk about with your friends and like-minded peers, when all these people get together, you're trying to make small talk with people of different political and religious affiliations and even some silly folks who don't even know what a Real Housewife is. How are you going to talk to everyone and not get in a fight? Here's how!
Keep It Light: Remember, this is cocktail conversation and like a good WASP you should avoid the three traditionally verboten topics: money, religion, and politics. That means stick to things that everyone knows about but won't have deep opinions on. Pop culture is great. Think TV shows, movies, celebrity culture. Even a squabble between Team Aniston and Team Jolie won't turn too ugly. Sports are good too, but since team allegiances can get heated, try to stay away from the Yankees versus Red Sox banter. Travel is always a good option. Talk about where you're going or where you'd like to go. And if worse comes to worse, there's always the weather. Seriously. It's better than staring at Cousin Lester's festering acne.
Change Topics: If someone starts in on how Glenn Beck is going to save the nation or how it's "them A-rabs" that are ruining the economy, don't fall into the trap of getting into a debate. Remember, you are never going to change these people's minds, and it's better to just let them ramble. You only have to do this one day a year! Once they get going, try to take what they're saying and steer the conversation somewhere more neutral. "Glenn Beck always wears the nicest suits. Do you know where he goes shopping, Aunt Mary?" Yeah, it sounds stupid, but if it gets you out of Glenn Beck territory, you'll be happy you went with the most inane subject you could. However, if anyone brings up Rush Limbaugh you might as well sneak outside and light up a joint. There's no coming back from that.
Ask Questions: Not only is this a great way to change topics, but if you're going to see these people on holidays for the rest of their adult lives, you might as well find out something about them. You never know what you might find out. Grumpy Uncle George might love The Deadliest Catch as much as you do and then you'll have that to discuss. If all else fails, people love to talk about themselves, so peppering them with interrogatives is a sure way to look like you're engaged and care what they think even if you're ignoring the answers.
Don't Lie, But Omit: Part of keeping the peace (and your poor mother's sanity) is not provoking the irascible relatives. When your grandmother says, "What did you do last night, sweetie?" Don't say, "Jerked off to porn in my childhood bedroom," or "Got blind drunk and took a Xanax because I'm dreading today." There's no reason to lie and tell her you were volunteering in a soup kitchen or helping orphans or some shit. Go with, "Oh, I just caught up with some old friends," (what are porn stars but old friends?) or "I just had a drink and went to bed early." There's no reason to hide who you really are, but you might want to keep some of the dirty details under wraps.
Pick Your Battles: If you're argumentative from the minute you arrive at a relative's house, everyone is going to hate you and you might not be invited back. That doesn't mean you have to sit and unnecessarily nod in agreement while your Cousin Stephanie talks about how Bristol Palin should have won Dancing with the Stars. Most of the time you just have to let their ignorant comments slide. However, you get one chance to argue, so make sure you pick the right topic. Save it up for something you really care about like ObamaCare, gay rights, or the fact that Two and a Half is by no means a great television program. Then just let it rip and fiercely defend your position. Then people won't think you're an asshole, just passionate. Now if anyone says anything truly awful, racist, or otherwise personally hateful, just get up and leave. They deserve it. And be sure to set the house on fire on your way out.