The winter holiday season is a time most of us look forward to, not just for the endless feasts and piles of sweet treats, but for the time we get to spend with our closest friends and family. But even those of us who relish this time of year have one or two relatives who just rub us the wrong way.
Louise Fox, owner of the Etiquette Ladies, knows that holiday get-togethers can be really stressful. She wants you to be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. The key to even the worst offenders, she says, is to consider time and place. She wants us to ask ourselves before we respond, “Is the holiday dinner table the time to deal with these problems?” And if not, when?
All photos via Thinkstock.
1. The FOX-News Loving Uncle: Whether it’s terribly offensive, sexist or racist “jokes” or just a need to argue his conservative politics as loud as he can at every possible opportunity, this guy just doesn’t know when to keep his opinions to himself. No one wants to provoke a Jerry Springer-style food fight, but Fox says it is perfectly appropriate to speak up. For the sake of family sanity, you can keep it short. “Suggest this type of humour is no longer considered appropriate, can be hurtful to others and leave it at that,” Fox says.
If you can’t resist engaging the argument, at least take Robert Reich’s advice and dish out some well-researched facts in the face of ill-informed rants. (Ha, good luck!)
2. The Aunt Obsessed with Your Weight: She might start by asking if you’ve lost weight (no), or she might eye your plate in horror and ask if you are really going to eat that?!? (heck yes). You want to scream that it’s none of her business and isn’t there anything else more interesting to talk about than the size of your jeans and/or adipose cells?
Fox gives you permission to ignore the haters and “just laugh it off,” but bloggers like Ragen Chastain at Dances With Fat recommends doing what you can to stand up for yourself. “… try something like, ‘My body is fine, your behavior is inappropriate.’ Practice it before you go so that you are ready.” A gentle reminder that your body is not up for discussion is hopefully all you need, but don’t force yourself to stay in a toxic environment.
This advice works well for several of our holiday offenders: if you suspect there is going to be a problem, consider talking about it ahead of time. “Know what your boundaries are and decide on consequences that you can live with ahead of time,” Chastain writes. In other words, if you are going to threaten to leave if the fat jokes don’t stop, be prepared to actually walk out the door.
3. The Parents Who Only Want Grandkids for Christmas (and it isn’t going to happen): Fox says, “Remember, the purpose of the holidays and festivities is to spend time with those we care about and create memories that last a lifetime. It is the time to celebrate and put aside our differences, petty or otherwise.” An overzealous interest in your future reproductive plans might be well-intentioned, it might just be annoying, but your best bet is to remind them to enjoy the fact that they no longer have to listen to screaming kids jostle for a spot closest to the tree.
4. The Over-Competitive Bully of a Brother-In-Law: The guy who challenges someone to beat their high score the second they walk in the door, or who plays like it’s the real thing when he arm-wrestles your 11-year-old cousin, this guy can do with a good dose of ignore him and hope he goes away. Just don’t engage, says Fox. “Don’t participate or get dragged into a competitive situation or discussion.” The best way to disarm him, she says, is to pay him a compliment. It won’t hurt, and could be just what he needs to just chill already.
5. The Nosy Sister and Her Way-Too-Personal Questions: She wants to know how much you are both making now, and how your sex life is going, and probably all the details of your last physical, plus the phone numbers of three references, and the gory details of that one time when you were 17 and almost got arrested. Avoiding the question becomes an art.
“Sometimes humour helps in an uncomfortable situation,” Fox says. “Laugh and say, ‘Wow you sound like my mother/therapist/lawyer (eye rolling is optional).” You can ask the inquisitor why they’re asking or act surprised by the question. “You shouldn’t feel obligated to answer a question that is too personal or makes you uncomfortable. You are not rude for not answering; they are rude for asking.”
6. The Worst Behaved Child in the World: Hanging out with other people’s kids can be fun, engaging, entertaining and educational… but it can also sometimes be a bit of nightmare.
The most important thing to remember, according to Fox, is to stay as hands-off as possible. “Don’t attempt to discipline someone else’s child and only give positive suggestions to the parent such as “Perhaps little Johnny would like to watch a movie…or help me in the kitchen or play a video game….’”
7. The Full Grown Adult Who Still Drinks Too Much: Not all Christmas drinkers are alcoholics - whether or not the holidays are a good time for an intervention is a bit beyond this article - but there are some people who just can’t say no to that first, or fifth glass of holiday cheer.
As the host, Fox says that handling this situation is all in the planning. ”Always have non-alcoholic alternatives and food available,” she says. “Bring them an unsolicited non alcoholic drink or a glass or water or some snack food.” Most importantly, don’t let them drive home. Have at least a blanket handy so they can crash on the couch, or arrange to have a cab pick them up.
If the holiday drinker is you, curb your consumption by spending time whipping up some of these special drinks paired perfectly with your most annoying relatives!
8. The Militant Vegan: You’ve heard the joke: how do you tell if someone is vegan?
Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Food allergies, sensitivities, or restrictions of other kinds can be a serious sticking point for people at the holidays. It’s always good to ask your guests about anything they are avoiding. You don’t need to cater your entire menu to them, but you should try, at least, to have a few options available from the spread. If you’re the one with the sensitivities, Stefani Ruper at Paleo for Women has some great tips for how to talk to your host about it.
So long as your vegan neice has enough to eat, there should be no reason to get into a discussion about the merits of vegetarianism (or paleo, or gluten-free, or fruititarianism) at the dinner table. “Engage them in some normal conversation,” Fox says. Despite the stereotype that vegans all talk about veganism all the time, most people who eat a restricted diet would rather just get on with enjoying their meal.
9. The Scrooge: They probably hate Christmas, but mostly because it means parting with a few pennies. In the gift-exchange, they agree to a $20 limit and then spend $2 at the thrift shop. They don’t even bother to take the price sticker off. Or wrap it. Or put a tag on it. You are worried that whoever gets the gift will regret ever participating.
Fox says that in the spirit of the holiday, “be a grateful receiver regardless of the gift.” If you know that someone always comes up short and you want to ensure a fair exchange, be prepared with wrapping paper and ribbons, and maybe a little extra treat you can add to the main gift to spruce it up.
10. The Grinch: They just hate Christmas because they hate everything else. Clearly they would rather be back in their basement, hiding away from the world. This isn’t just social anxiety - the Grinch doesn’t just want to be somewhere else, they want you to know that you are the cause of their misery.
Well too bad for them. This is a turn-the-other-cheek situation for Fox. “Since you can’t change their behaviour,” she says, “be happy and kind.” That is, after all, how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day. And then - the true meaning of Christmas came through, and maybe for you it can too.