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Dos And Donts For Thanksgiving From An Etiquette Expert

With family and friends gathering around the dinner table for the holidays, some familiar and some foreign, there may be as much an opportunity for trouble as there is for togetherness, said Dan Post-Senning of the Emily Post Institute, a longtime authority on etiquette.

The holidays are a fantastic opportunity for loved ones to show their gratitude for one another, said Post-Senning. But it’s also important to remember etiquette and courtesy, which can help the holidays be that much more enjoyable.

There’s a few basics that can help things run smoothly, he said, like remembering manners and being ready for when things may start to become contentious.

“House guest rules, prepping the kids and dinner conversation, and you can always remind people even among family -- for table manners, it never hurts,” he said.  

He also said there are certain areas that he recommended avoiding in regard to dinner-table discussion, which can help things run more smoothly.

“We have a code word in my family -- NTT, for not table talk,” said Post-Senning, who’s the  great-grandson of the institute’s founder, Emily Post. ”Sex, religion and politics are the big three -- if you’re going to go there, you might want to make sure that you’re not too strident.”

Regardless of how close your family is, it’s advice that can help in most situations, he said.

“Even if you’ve got a favorite uncle that you love arguing politics with, maybe save that for coffee afterward,” he advised.

The idea is to steer conversation away from topics that might stir a strong reaction or become an argument, which can quickly change the mood of an otherwise peaceful gathering of friends and family.

If the discussion does become spirited, a host shouldn’t be afraid to become engaged and steer the conversation to a more perhaps, benign, subject matter.

And, of course, it’s important to remember what the holiday is all about in the first place, he said.

“If there’s a fundamental good manner, it’s really important to use please, thanks, you’re welcome,” he said. “This is a whole holiday about giving thanks for your family and friends.”

For a complete list of Dos and Don’ts courtesy of the Emily Post Institute, which specializes in courtesy and etiquette, click here.