How to Be a Better Guest at Your Family's Thanksgiving Dinner
An etiquette expert weighs in on the the most egregious offenses you might not even know you're making.
As a guest at any family party, it's easy to take advantage of your host's forgiving nature—after all, they'll still love you if you show up late, spend time checking your phone, or waltz out the door without saying thank you, right? Due to the nature of close familial relationships, guests tend to approach an event hosted by a direct family member in a different way than they'd approach a similar event hosted by friends. For example, you might turn up to a Friendsgiving with a few bottles of wine and your best home-cooked side dish. There's a better chance you might arrive at your sister's house for Thanksgiving less prepared, with your stretch-waisted pants on. Even though you're family, this is categorically bad form. Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life ($9.19, amazon.com) and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, says a close relationship with the host (and most of the other guests in attendance) doesn't give you an excuse to be a bad attendee. Ahead, Gottsman shares some of the most common offenses family members make at a Thanksgiving dinner—plus, she shares her top tips for remedying them, so you can focus on becoming a better guest at this year's celebration.
Make sure to pitch in.
"A family celebration calls for everyone to pitch in. Don't wait for the host to ask you to help out," says Gottsman. "Be proactive and ask if you can help set the table, get more ice, move chairs into the dining room, or do anything that will take some pressure off of the host." If your host is having a hard time delegating tasks, ask what's left to do and quickly sort through which of those things can be done by someone (like yourself or another attendee) other than the person in charge.
Tell the host what you're bringing.
Planning on contributing to the feast? Fantastic—but tell your host what it is, so he or she can tell you if they truly need it (or if they'd rather you whip up something else). "Bring a dish that you specialize in making or baking, or ask if you can bring a side dish to add to the table," notes Gottsman. "If your host says, 'No thank you,' respect their request."
Show up on time.
Remember that this is a special occasion for everyone, and your host has planned everything accordingly—which means that showing up when asked is the least you can do. "Arrive on time. Don't saunter in 20 minutes late because you aren't worried about hurting your sister or your mom's feelings," advises Gottsman. "It puts a damper on the party when people aren't excited to be part of the fun." Arriving early can be just as offensive in some households, so you'll want to be cautious of that, as well.
Put down the phone.
"In most cases, you should put your phone away and spend time with your family and friends. When you are on the phone, it prompts others to do the same and all of a sudden, everyone is looking down," explains Gottsman of phone use during a party. "Taking a picture to capture the moment may be fine, but holding it in your hand or placing it on the Thanksgiving table is off-limits."
Keep conversation light.
It's common advice, but so many families forget to park the politics at the door come the holiday season. "Steer clear from politics. Everyone has an opinion—the family meal is a place for everyone to come together, not get involved in a feud," cautions Gottsman.
Communicate with your host.
Gottsman says communication is the true key to pulling off a relaxed family party, and checking in with your host will only help yours run more smoothly: "Ask the host what would make their life easier. If they say, 'Sit down and relax,' that is an indicator they work better alone. If they say, 'Take the dishes off the table, rinse off the gravy from the plates, serve the dessert, or make the coffee,' you can follow their lead. It's all about each individual host, family, and traditions, and communicating with each other so everyone is comfortable."