Turkey Talk

What Not to Say at Thanksgiving Dinner This Year

Etiquette advisor Olympia Baylou of Blooming Impressions helps us with the art of holiday conversations.

By Sarafina Murphy-Gibson November 22, 2021

Ah, Thanksgiving.

A perfect time for togetherness, family...and putting your foot in your mouth instead of a bite of turkey. Fortunately for us, we have etiquette advisor Olympia Baylou to help.

Olympia Baylou

Olympia Baylou

Baylou is the founder of Blooming Impressions, a program designed for young individuals seeking to develop life skills beyond the classroom. It offers a series of workshops covering subjects like social etiquette, financial literacy, public speaking and personal awareness (like grooming). You know—the stuff they used to teach in home economics, but now entrust us to develop on our own.

Skipping the obvious—religion and politics—Baylou walks us through how to avoid a conversational faux pas, be it stepping on someone’s feelings or creating an AITA moment.

On the flip side, if you don’t want an invitation back next year, consider these your ticket out. 

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

You know the rest. Baylou reminds us that even one small joke at someone’s expense can hurt feelings and sour a mood. “The holidays are a time where everyone should be uplifted by each other and feeling good,” she says. To create a warm, positive vibe, just skip the snark. This includes gossiping about the neighbors, bringing up embarrassing childhood memories and, even if it’s hard, not commenting on your niece’s fashion choices.

Pro tip for hosts: Provide appetizers on arrival. They can be as simple as a tray from Publix. Do it for the guests who’ll come peckish and for yourself. You’ve been on your feet all morning cooking and cleaning, and you need a snack. Hanger—becoming angry because you’re hungry—is real, and it leads to many a squabble.

Relationship Matters

Relationships are tricky enough without being dissected over the dinner table. This covers a range of inquiries, from questions about what happened with an ex to pressing a couple on when they’re going to have children. If Cousin Jimmy brings a new date every year, you’re not helping his chances of success by bringing it up, are you?

Backseat Parenting

No one comes to Thanksgiving seeking mashed potatoes with a side of child-rearing tips. It’s important to always practice empathy and realize you never see the full picture of someone else's life. Be mindful of making parenting suggestions in front of little ears, too, as children can take perceived slights just as personally as adults.

Pro-tip for hosts: Set up a section for kids and/or young adults with separate entertainment. Baylou likes to set up a tent in the backyard with a selection of lawn activities. The little ones can run amok while the adults have a space to relax and converse. 

Money, Money, Money 

Money may make the world go 'round, but it can also bring conversation to a screeching halt. It’s impossible to know others' personal financial situations, so it’s wise to avoid public inquiries about the sometimes touchy subject. Alternatively, be mindful when talking about your new Gucci purse.

“It’s great when people have success and are doing well in life, but you have to be careful with the conversation because it could look like gloating or flaunting behavior," Baylou says.

Pro-tip for hosts: Fear running out of things to say? Keep a set of lively icebreaker questions on hand.

 Doctor, Please!

Try not to let the question “How have you been?” open the door to talking about joint pain for an hour. Health talk—as important as it is—has a habit of dampening the atmosphere. If the subject gets breached, it’s best to move on before the room becomes too existential.

Critique the Hosts

Throwing a celebratory meal takes work and private homes don’t need Yelp reviews. Though it does feel nice to share opinions, sometimes it’s best not to comment about how your mother’s green bean casserole is superior. 'Tis the season of gratefulness, after all!

Pro-tip for hosts: Keep Uncle Chester from going for his eighth can of brewski by designating a bartender and distributing cute and festive drink tickets to guests. “This is the time of year when other people are coming into your space and there should be some ground rules and expectations,” Baylou says. It’s okay to nip it in the Budweiser.

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