With the holiday season in full swing, people are packing up their cars and preparing to move into the airport terminal temporarily all to reunite with the extended family they avoid rarely get to visit. Reconnecting with your distant relatives can be a worthwhile, enriching experience–if you can somehow circumvent how nosey and judgmental they’ve become during your time spent apart. Don’t be nervous! Everything will be just fine as long as you steer clear of discussing the eight topics below…

Your Relationship Status: Your extended family doesn’t need to know anything about your dating life until you’re engaged, entering a civil union, making it official with your cat, or swearing off men/women forever. Dating, more-so than any other topic, inspires bitter memories—like when Uncle Dan got catfished by his (much younger, but still legal) paramour Tootsie-Ann—and uncomfortable inquiries that give you a new sympathy for convicted murderers—like two years ago when your single status prompted this thoughtful remark from your first cousin Kyle: “Whatever happened to that one guy Rick? He was mad chill. …Oh shit, is that the one who cheated on you with that chick that appeared on Jerry Springer once?” If anyone asks, you’re asexual.

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Image source

Your Career: Unless you’re a doctor, astronaut, engineer, pilot, or CEO (and especially if you have a doctor, astronaut, engineer, pilot, or CEO in your family), do not mention anything about your job. Any complaint you have will be pooh-poohed as being petty, and any optimistic speculations will be shot down as being unrealistic. You’ll endure jokes about living on easy street (when your salary is actually pretty modest) or jabs about barely being able make ends meet (when your pay is well above the median household income). Keep your career comments vague.

Recent Decisions You’ve Made: If you recently made any significant decisions about your life, the kind introduced by statements like, “I’ve been mulling it over, and…” or “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought…” do not discuss these at a family function. Whatever you’ve decided is wrong, and chances are you’re throwing your life away, wasting your talent, making a big mistake, or doing something you’re going to regret. Do not make the mistake of sharing your ambitions, either.

Your Political/Religious Sentiments: Do not wander into the treacherous arena of politics or religion among your relatives. Invariably, you’ll have incorrectly pegged your loving, supportive family as like-minded liberals, drop a few Fox News criticism bombs (very conservative of you) or profess your undying love for John Stewart, and to your retinas’ alarm, drunk Uncle Gabe will rip off his sweater Hulk Hogan style to expose a tattoo of George W. Bush’s face on his chest. And this year, please do yourself a favor and avoid mentioning the “o” word: Obamacare.

Children (or your lack thereof): Believe it or not, your extended family is the ultimate authority on your progeny (according to them). Generally, the womb wisdom they impart goes something like this: If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a few months, you should be planning on getting married and making a baby ASAP. If you’re married, yet still childless, you need to have a baby ASAP. If you’re single, you should find a partner—not to dosey-do—but to marry and have a baby with ASAP. If you have one child, you need to have more ASAP. If you have too many children, you need to get rid of one (the ginger, probably) ASAP. If you have/are expecting a child that will be born out of wedlock, expect to be removed from the will ASAP. Change the subject when children come up.

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Sports: This seems like a deceptively safe topic, but 2 out of 5 family feuds begin because of a sports team disparity. In Chicago, that statistic jumps up to 5 out of 5. In an effort to avoid talking about your personal affairs, you’ll start mindlessly rambling about how it was a bad year for the White Sox, but your once favorite nephew will point out he’s a Cubs fan, which will prompt the swift realization that he’s a little North Side sympathizing dipshit. While chatting about da Bears with cousin Todd, great grandpa Elliot will wheel over and announce his undying allegiance to the Green Bay Packers in between huffs of oxygen. You’ll have no option but to stoke the dwindling embers in the fireplace with Elliot’s feeble, cheese-loving body (he was on borrowed time, anyway). Avoid sports talk.

Your True Age: No one likes to be reminded that they’re getting older, and if you inconsiderately slip up and mention your birthday, past or upcoming, at least one extended family member will fly off the handle. You see, if you’ve gotten older, that means that they have, too. There’s always one relative who has appointed themselves the age-keeper for the entire family, and they’ll actually argue with you about your own age: “Are you sure you’re 23? I could swear you’re 21, because you’re 15 years younger than Frankie. 23… No, no. That can’t be right.” Do not mention your age in any certain terms.

Any of Your Interests: You may not know this, but the things you like are not only awful, but they’re also telling signs of unrealized personal struggles—your extended family will remind you of that if you give them the chance. A family gathering is not an appropriate venue to discuss how much you loved the finale of Breaking Bad, no matter how universally appealing you assumed it was: “HOW CAN YOU STAND ALL THAT VIOLENCE!?!? Have you tried meth…? Is everything going OK?” I also don’t recommend you share that you recently saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in the theater: “MOVIE FRANCHISES LIKE THAT ARE A BLIGHT ON THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY! I thought you had better taste than that…” Practice apathy.

The best tactic for awkward family small talk is this: lie pathologically. Say things that reaffirm your extended family members’ flawed perception of who you are, because that’s all they really want anyway. Leave your true personality (and shoes) at the door.


By the way, everyone’s favorite Bellman, The Hook, interviewed me for his new 5×5 feature. It’s a Thanksgiving Eve Miracle! I’d love for you to stop by and check it out, and while you’re there, follow his blog. You will get hooked on The Hook. He’s the main reason people are still visiting Niagara Falls: 5×5 With The Hook: Katie of Sass & Balderdash

28 thoughts on “8 Conversation Topics to Avoid at Family Gatherings

  1. Thanksgiving can be a nightmare when navigated incorrectly, its true, Katie.
    I have to say, your work improves with every post. This was comedy gold, pure and simple.
    Before I go, be sure to hop over to my cyber-haven when you can and interact with your adoring public, all right?

  2. I’ve decided that I should start transitioning into the brash, drunken uncle at Thanksgiving. The only crimp in the plans is my need to drive home and work the next day. So I can’t get too drunk. On the other hand, my brashness doesn’t have to be limited at all.

    1. HA! I’ve been considering becoming the pretentious, insufferable cousin who talks about foreign films and books no one’s read. The issue there is I’d have to start watching foreign films and reading weird books. That’s where the pathological lying comes in, I guess.

      1. If you just make grandiose statements like “War and Peace is the greatest work of fiction that the world will ever know, and nobody can convince me otherwise!” I don’t think anyone’s really going to call you on it.

    1. I’m really not a sports fanatic, but I hate have having to explain why I’m a White Sox fan when it comes up. Maybe I just like socks better than bear cubs. Maybe it doesn’t matter whatsoever.

      1. My brothers and I just argue about the personal lives of the stars on our teams. I call my brother’s favorite player Kobe a rapist etc….He makes fun of the Frenchie Tony Parker on my team and it goes back and forth. Then we both make fun of my youngest brother, because we love each other so much.

  3. The trick is to be the one who always starts a conversation. When you see someone about to ask a question, jump in and start talking about that funny thing Uncle SonSo did last year.

  4. I’m glad I generally don’t have this problem at Thanksgiving (except with the politics)…Christmas, on the other hand…

    Great post. Hilarious, for sure. And I’m off to see your interview!

  5. Amazing advice! Thankfully (I guess) I don’t do anything with my extended family– though there will come a time when I’ll have to join my boyfriend’s family and I will be printing this list off and reading it repeatedly beforehand. “Lie pathologically” will definitely be the goal…

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