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How To Dodge Political Squabble This Gobble Day

The arrival of election year could mean even more opportunity for cringe-worthy conversation around the holiday dinner table.
Vanda Grigorovic
The arrival of election year could mean even more opportunity for cringe-worthy conversation around the holiday dinner table.

It's common wisdom that families should avoid talking about politics around the Thanksgiving table.

But if you're reading this, you might be in an NPR family. And coming up on election year — with polls and gaffes every day — won't it be hard to talk about Car Talk the whole night?

So we turned to Miss Manners, aka writer Judith Martin, to ensure our etiquette's up-to-date this holiday season.

For Martin, the age-old rule, "don't talk politics," still stands.

"If you don't know what the politics are of the people," she advises, "it's a good thing to avoid it.

Interview Highlights

On what happens if a Bernie Sanders supporter sits next to a Ben Carson supporter

Let's hope that one of them doesn't hit the other one with a drumstick. But things tend to get nasty. You know, I think of Thanksgiving as this adorable holiday. Personally, I love it. Gratitude is a wonderful thing. But, on my column, I hear nothing but squabble, squabble, squabble.

It's "Do we have to go?" and, negotiating the terms, "We have to go to three different households because we have divorced parents," and this. They start dictating, and "You should have it at this hour because we have to go there." Then there's the food issue. "We don't eat this or that. We don't like this or that." People fight over the leftovers. I mean, I can't believe it.

First time I got a letter, saying that grandma had been charged for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought it was a joke, and every year I get them. There are people who might give out food assignments but if they don't, they say well, it's 'x' dollars a head. The spirit of gratitude — isn't that wonderful.

On family issues possibly being the most hazardous topic of conversation

The people who think it's a good opportunity to ask the single people why they're not married. Or the pregnant woman, why she's adding to the world population. Or that kind of thing.

"Oh, it's family, we can talk about anything."

"Momma liked you best," and so on.

Yes, that's even worse. It would be better to fight over politics than to go down that road.

On topics of discussion not off-limits

Oh, "How's the weather?" How about that? ... maybe there isn't a safe topic. Art, what movies did you see, sports, anything can turn nasty if you really put your mind to it. But let's hope that there's a certain amount of restraint that people will exercise and realize this is a day to be thankful. You're there with your loved ones, you have enough to eat. Where's the gratitude? And that's what I ask myself every year when I get all these letters. I mean, it's turned into a melee. What's the matter with us? I know what's the matter and I'm trying to solve it, but let me tell you, it's an uphill battle.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff