Holiday Etiquette: What You Need to Know

Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct answers all your questions

November 20, 2014
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It’s the eve of Thanksgiving break and you’re about to meet your significant other’s family for the first time. Etiquette-wise, you are likely to find yourself on terra incognita. Do you bring a house gift or send a thank-you gift later? Do you have any say in the sleeping arrangements? Can you politely decline the traditional fixings? If Dad picks up a restaurant check, do you offer to pitch in? BU Today put these and other questions to Robin Abrahams (GRS’02), aka “Miss Conduct,” social advice columnist for Boston Globe Magazine. Take this quiz, and see if your instincts will or won’t land you in trouble.

Complete the whole quiz to see your score.

This story was originally published on November 20, 2014.

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Holiday Etiquette: What You Need to Know

  • Susan Seligson

    Susan Seligson has written for many publications and websites, including the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Yankee, Outside, Redbook, the Times of London,,, and Profile

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There are 16 comments on Holiday Etiquette: What You Need to Know

  1. “you’ve got Miss Conduct’s blessing to excuse yourself for a breather and Tweet your way back to sanity”

    No – I don’t agree. Suck it up. If the conversation is boring you find a way to contribute. Your host has gone through the enormous effort to plan, prepare and serve a once-a-year meal. He or she has honored you with an invitation. By accepting the invitation you’ve entered into a social contract – your host has shared family, food and shelter, in return, he or she expects you to be part of their celebration, not run off to satisfy your selfish need to connect with your twitter friends. Wait until after dinner or even better, after Thanksgiving.

    1. I completely agree. I spend two to three days just doing the shopping and then two full days preparing the food and cooking. Thanksgiving is an event not just a meal. You would not get an invitation back to my home if I saw you with your phone at the table or found that you excused your self to tweet or post on FB during the event. If you are that board or self indulgent, stay home.

      1. I agree with both Kate and PJ here. Put away your electronic device until the event is over. Stay engaged.

        I also disagree with other pieces of this etiquette advice. If you don’t like the food, tough luck! You are not there for the food, and stop thinking about yourself. Pretend you like it and keep up with the conversation.

        If your roommate’s Dad takes you out to dinner, it is his choice. Don’t make it awkward by talking about the bill. Thank him graciously at the time and send him a scrupulously correct thank you note afterward.

        BU today, if you are going to be guiding the BU community in how not to give offense, you should up your game a little bit!

    2. Apparently you’re not from the Midwest. Etiquette there rests on the notion that you should never make anyone feel uncomfortable. So what should you do? Lie. Say you have to go the bathroom, then while you’re sitting on the toilet (or not), check your texts/Tweets/whatever. You can do this for about five minutes before arousing suspicion or worry.

  2. I couldn’t agree with PJ more!!! Always be present and engaged, showing family the same respect you’d show people you’re meeting for the first time. Only leave the table if (A) it catches fire, (B) you are literally ill, (C) you (being the kind person you are) have offered to help clear the dishes and your host has said you may. In case of fire, don’t trample the children or old people. If you start to choke, you probably have a better chance of finding someone to deliver the Heimlich if you stay in the room, though you could Tweet for help.

    1. Yes! Excellent answer:) And I was once the person delivering the Heimlich, so it does happen… and I don’t Tweet, so it was a good thing the person was still at the table.

  3. Question Four is ambiguous– it advocates both taking a bit of food and picking at it (which is the appropriate thing to do at table) and eating the granola bar. The latter is obvious but is mutually exclusive to what one would do at meal time.

    1. If you bring your own food to Latino/Hispanic or Middle Eastern gatherings it is extremely disrespectful. You have to at least pick at it (A) in that kind of setting.

      1. I agree. Not just Latino/Middle Eastern. Some hosts may be insulted if you, as a guest, were to choose a Granola bar over the dinner that they had spent the entire day preparing. Particularly if you were to choose the granola bar over the meal while at the table. You will not win any points with that move.

        Best bet, if you’re honestly concerned about what type of food the host might serve, find a way to excuse yourself from the event well ahead of time. Show thanks and follow-up by offering to bring the family out to their favorite restaurant at some future date.

        Jeez, bring a granola bar? How snarky…

        1. Definitely snark level 9000. This is the only recommendation on the list that’s just outright rude, and I think it would be to most people. Put small amounts on your plate, and unless you have a confirmed allergy to something (and I am not talking about self-diagnosed gluten intolerance or whatever fad diet someone might be on) try to eat nearly everything you take. I’ve known a few picky eaters, and they’ve always successfully followed this rule. Even if they end up with a conspicuous plate of bread, mash, and gravy they’re still showing respect to the effort of the cook(s).

  4. How about you do whatever is normal and healthy for your family. Thanksgiving should be about fun and family time not following externally imposed social rules. Everybodies situation and traditions are different – respect those and you’re cool. I could pick why each of the answers for these are wrong but in the end it comes down to the fact that different units of friends and family will celebrate differently and that each of those traditions are fine in their own right. Social rules for this Thanksgiving? Have fun, stay healthy, and do you.

  5. Totally agree with PJ! How selfish and inconsiderate can you be, you shallow, addicted-to-technology people? For once, just take a break from it and enjoy being human!

  6. If you have special dietary needs be sure to remind your hosts well in advance.

    If you are vegan, and your hosts knew in advance and made stuff for you, make sure when they bring out the turkey that you scream “I’M VEEEEEEGAN” as loudly as possible anyway. It’s your right to remind those murderers of what they are doing.

  7. The worst ettiquette advice ever on all fronts. Being an adult means “sucking” it up – and this includes food and company that you don’t particularly like. “Let your hosts knows in advance you are vegan?!” Seriously! How about just don’t go and throw your own vegan thanksgiving party. On the flip side, hosts must be prepared to have something for everyone so as not to embarass themselves or their guests. No one should have to pre-order anything for a dinner party at someone’s home. No one would even have to talk about this if we all had just a touch of sensitivity for those around us and sensibility on most things. Much needed in these times.

  8. It’s so rude to just eat the granola bar you brought in your backpack for just such an occasion! Try to the food you don’t like or don’t know, be an educated open-minded person!

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