Dealing with family dinners

Don't nod off over the soup. Here's how to shine at family gatherings.

Girl holding a knife and fork looking fed up

"Shall I poke them with the fork or knife?"

So you’re faced with an invitation to a family dinner that you just can’t refuse. Whether it’s from a Great Aunt you’ve never met, or you simply have a volatile family, a no-show on your part could be held against you for a lifetime. So what else can you do but smile and ask what time you should turn up.

Follow this plan of action to get through the meal without incident…

Accept your fate

There’s no point seething or even trying to slide out of it. You’ll only risk offending your host, or finding yourself faced with an offer to reschedule. Far better to just accept it’s going to happen with dignity and grace.

Do your homework

Try to find out what makes your host tick. OK, so they’re into golf and organic gardening. That’s fine. It’s their choice. But if you want to make this dinner date headache-free then at the very least know your clubhouse from your compost. Five minutes research on the internet should equip you with enough questions to kick-start a conversation.

Make the effort

OK, you’re about to undergo the most teeth-pullingly hideous evening of your life, but you will get through it without losing the ability to blink. You’re not being tortured here, but it is vital that you establish a dialogue with the person threatening to do your head in. So go in with a smile and a good question, grit your teeth and let them talk themselves into thinking what a charming family member you are.

Find common ground

You might think you have nothing in common with your hosts, but you’re family – you swim in the same gene pool – so there’s a start! It’s just a question of probing them gently until you find something you identify with. There’s no point asking them whether they rate Akon over Lady Gaga if they’ve never even turned on MTV. Instead, steer them towards the subject of music and let them think they’re setting the conversation agenda.

Don’t be afraid to disagree

If your host has strong views, on anything from politics to football then by all means take them to task – there’s nothing like a good debate to make a dinner party memorable. Just monitor how things are progressing throughout. Nobody wants to hear your argument about the impact of Euro harmonisation on the cost of carrots – not even carrot farmers – so make sure that your subject matter is as stimulating as it is stirring. And don’t make it personal. If things wind up in a fistfight on the patio, you’ve gone too far.

Avoid getting hammered

The prospect of sedating yourself on someone else’s wine might be appealing, but alcohol lowers inhibitions. This means you’re more likely to say what you really think, without realising that you’ve actually given voice to your thoughts until the room goes quiet and the host bursts into tears. By all means enjoy a drink, but don’t use it as a means to get through a bad night.

” . . . and breathe!”

No matter how much you’re dreading the dinner date, focus on the moment when it’s time to get your coat and leave. That moment will come, but bridle your excitement and find a way to work off the stress of the experience once you get home. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it leaves you in the frame of mind to accept that some time soon you’ll have to repay their hospitality and invite them round to your place. They are family, after all. Arggghhhhh!

Photo of girl at dinner by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015