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Everybody gets nervous when they meet their significant other’s parents. But meeting up with your in-laws over Thanksgiving can be a little more stressful. Even if you’ve met them before, family holidays are a whole new ball game. You’re walking into family traditions you’ve never experienced, you don’t know if the food will actually be good, and you’ll probably encounter extended family members you’ve never met. Don’t worry though, GREY’s got some tips and tricks to help you survive the evening.
1. Do Your Research
Every family celebrates Thanksgiving a little differently. Some families dress more formally, while others prefer something casual. Some families are vegetarian, others serve up deep-fried turducken. Nobody wants to blindly enter a potential minefield without knowing the terrain beforehand.
Ask your significant other about their family. How will you be expected to dress? What kind of food will you be expected to bring? Who just got divorced? Whose kids are probably going to throw mashed potatoes at you? If you know this stuff beforehand you can prepare yourself for these situations.
2. Don’t Arrive Empty Handed
For most families, Thanksgiving meals are made potluck style. This means that everybody brings at least one food or drink item to contribute to the table. Make sure to utilize your recon from the previous tip to make sure you’re not stepping on anybody’s toes when you choose your contribution. If great aunt Agatha has a famous casserole recipe that she makes every year, the last thing you want to do is muscle her out.
If you’re not good at cooking you can volunteer to bring a salad, bread, or wine options. These require zero use of the oven and can easily be made or bought on the day of the meal. Dessert is usually a good bet too. Even if someone always makes apple pie, nobody is going to say no to extra dessert.
If you are planning on cooking seriously, it’s a good idea to practice your recipe beforehand. You want to give yourself the chance to mess up in a risk-free environment away from prying eyes.
3. Look Presentable
I’m not saying show up in a full tuxedo, but you should be conscious of how you present yourself. Even if the family your visiting is casual in their attire, putting in the effort to look nice can go a long way in impressing your in-laws. It shows that you respect them and their child, which is ultimately what any parent wants from you.
If you know the family is going to be dressing nicely, a business casual or smart formal outfit might be warranted (see GREY’s Deciphering Dress Codes article for more info). If the family is generally more casual, nice jeans that have no stains or holes, with a collared shirt can come across well. If you’re lost, just ask your significant other for help. They can show you pictures from past Thanksgivings and you can figure out your outfit based on that.
4. Don’t Get Drunk
This one is a bit obvious, but it needs to be said. You may be feeling the pressure, but whatever you do, don’t get drunk. Having wine with your food is fine, but too much and you’ll end up making a fool of yourself in front of the very people you want to impress the most.
5. Take an Interest
Conversation is going to take up the bulk of your time at the in-laws, so making sure it goes well is important. You might not hit it off right away and that’s OK. That just means that neither of you is sure where to start or how to keep things going.
If you spoke to your girlfriend/boyfriend before you got there (i.e. tip #1) you hopefully have some idea of your in-laws hobbies. This research can help you figure out where to steer the conversation. It’s OK if you don’t like the same sports teams, TV Shows, or music as long as you take an interest in their point of view. If you demonstrate a willingness to learn and respect their hobbies you can still have a productive conversation.
6. Steer Clear of Politics
The subject of politics can be a minefield, especially if you’re talking about it with your in-laws, at Thanksgiving no less. It’s best to guide conversations away from subjects that could be touchy, especially if you’re not sure where your in-laws and their extended family stand on these issues. The current political scene in the U.S. is divisive, to say the least, nobody really wants that stress to be pulled into their family gathering.
If the subject becomes unavoidable, it’s OK to voice your opinion, even if it’s at odds with your in-laws’ views. When doing so stay courteous and polite, there’s no need to blow things out of proportion. Again, you’re trying to demonstrate your maturity and respectfulness. There are ways to have a political debate without things getting out of hand. In the end, your in-laws may end up respecting you for voicing your honest views.
7. Enjoy the Food
Your significant other’s family may not be the best cooks and that’s OK. Nobody’s perfect. But as a guest, it’s not your place to criticize, especially if it’s your first Thanksgiving with that family. This doesn’t mean you have to go overboard and lavish praise, but you should try and look like you’re enjoying it.
Obviously, there are some exceptions. If it looks like some meat is undercooked, you may need to point that out before everyone gets sick. But on a whole, there’s no harm in a few white lies to make the evening smoother and more enjoyable. They made this food for you, so showing your appreciation for their time and effort is generally the right thing to do.
8. Find Out Who Runs the Kitchen
The person who runs the kitchen can change from family to family. Sometimes its the grandmother, other times it’s your mother or father-in-law. Generally, whoever is running the kitchen is also running the Thanksgiving celebration itself. They control the food and the pace of the holiday so staying in their good graces is a solid idea.
For example, in my family, my grandmother runs the kitchen. Even now that her eyesight keeps her from being too involved with cooking, she still positions herself in the kitchen and makes sure people aren’t forgetting any tasks. We all know that she runs the show. Most families will have someone like this.
In many cases, the person who runs the kitchen on holidays is also running the family in some capacity as a matriarch or patriarch. They are the ones who people in the family look to for advice, wisdom, etc. This person’s approval can go a long way, so don’t be afraid to get to know them.
9. Lend a Hand
Offering to help do things like set the table, do dishes, pour wine, etc. can really endear you to your hosts. Everybody appreciates a helping hand now and then and demonstrating a willingness to do that can go a long way.
Making yourself useful also gives you the added benefit of getting some one-on-one time with whoever’s running the kitchen. As mentioned in the tip #8, the person who runs the kitchen often has some leadership influence over the family. Offering to lend a hand in their domain can really assist in the family’s perception of you.
Also, taking the time to do these tasks can be a nice reprieve from chatting. If you feel yourself becoming bored, tired, or annoyed the last thing you want to do is let that emotion guide your conversation. Offering to help in the kitchen can give you a less hectic place to collect yourself.
10. Be Thankful
Thanksgiving is all about celebrating the people we love having in our lives. Don’t forget how thankful you are to have your significant other with you (possibly crazy family and all). If sitting through a stressful Thanksgiving is the cost of being with the person you love, it’s not that big of a price to pay.
If things get hectic or unenjoyable for you, just remember to keep it in perspective. In the end, it’s only one meal and it’s OK if you mess up a little. By showing how thankful you are to your significant other, you’ll make up for any social faux-pas you may have committed.
What are your tips for impressing in-laws and surviving Thanksgiving? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!