Etiquette Boss: Tips for an oops-free Thanksgiving


Today, I give thanks for the Schneps family, staff and my editor, Helen, for their year round support in publishing this column. I also give thanks for every reader, especially those who approach me and give feedback. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!


Family time should be fun, and an occasion to give thanks. However, we all know that when relatives get together, unexpected events and conversation can ruin a day of hard work and great expectation. Here are a few tips to avoid faux-pas on Thanksgiving Day.

  • Guest etiquette: Do not assume that there is always plenty of food, so it would be no problem to tag along uninvited friends. Even if a family member issued the invitation, call in advance and ask for permission to bring the additional guest(s).
  • Host etiquette: If your expected guest did not get the Thanksgiving etiquette memo, and walks in with a few unexpected others, be gracious and act as though they are all guests of honor. Family members can be asked discreetly to take smaller portions, in the event of a food shortage.

To ensure a good time is had by all, the host should not assume relationships between the unknown guests, nor ask the question and imply its answer in the same sentence.

For example, quite recently I witnessed the question “Is he your son?” being given the response, “No, he is my boyfriend.” Uncomfortable! “Who is this handsome young man?” would have cleared that land mine without embarrassment.

  • Around the table, the host is also responsible for setting and maintaining the tone of conversation. “So Uncle Jim, are you still backing that loser?” might seem like good-natured political banter, but it can turn sour pretty quickly and ruin good family conversation.

It is the host’s responsibility to set the rules of the table. If conversation around the Thanksgiving table has been a hot spot in previous years, why not purchase a dinner bell for the table, and good naturedly declare that it will be rung when topics best left for another time are raised?

Others can also be invited to use the bell. Guests often dread having to answer, “When are we going to have grandchildren?” or “When are you getting married?” during family gatherings. Have an oops-free thanksgiving everyone!

Phillipa Morrish is the president of Etiquette Training International.

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