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Thanksgiving Dinner Etiquette

Dear Reader, the Etiquette Grrls can think of nothing so Festive and All-American as a Lovely, Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner! (And, Dear Reader, the Etiquette Grrls are Experts on Things Festive and All-American, not to mention Things Lovely and Traditional.) We are aware, however, that for many of Our Peers, Thanksgiving Dinner may take place not at one's Ancestral Home, but at the home of a Dear Friend, or a Dear Friend's Parents, or, perhaps Most Nerve-Wrackingly of all, One's Petit(e) Ami(e)'s Parents. Everyone knows his or her own Family's Quirks and Traditions, yet, when one is a Guest at Thanksgiving Dinner, one will undoubtedly be exposed to Other People's Potential Wackiness. And of course, even in the midst of the Traditional Family Dinner From Hell, Dear Reader, you would not wish to be Rude. The Etiquette Grrls have thus compiled a helpful Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner, which should help alleviate your fears and allow you to Be Seated at any Thanksgiving Table with the Utmost Confidence and Decorum.

What You Should Wear
Of course, the Dress Code for any event is the decision of the Hostess. However, the Etiquette Grrls can understand, Dear Reader, that you may not get any Dress Code Guidance from your Hostess. We have, upon occasion, been told by Dear Friends whose Homes we were visiting, "Oh, just wear anything, my Mother won't care." Anything? Should the Etiquette Grrls show up in Ballgowns and Mink Stoles? Might we, if we owned Sweatpants and made a habit of wearing Tennis Shoes for Non-Athletic Activity, show up in Gym Attire? Please, Dear Reader, if you are Bringing Friends Home for Thanksgiving, clue them in about How Dressed-Up your family gets!

If the meal is being served in the Early Afternoon (customary for Thanksgiving), we think it is appropriate to dress in Nice, Dressy Clothing that is Still Appropriate for Daytime. For Girls, this would be a Pretty Dress, or Blouse / Sweater Set and Skirt, or a Suit, with Accessories to Match. Boys should wear a Jacket and Tie with a Nice Button-Down shirt and Dressy Pants, or a Suit, and Good Shoes. Both Boys and Girls must avoid anything Sparkly, Garish, Tight, Revealing, or (Horrors) Dirty. If Thanksgiving Dinner is at Night, dress as you would for a Regular Dinner Party. One word of caution: Do remember, however, that most Thanksgiving Dinners are Family Affairs, and you are likely to be seated across from Someone's Grandmother, so you might wish to dress a Bit More Conservatively than you might at a Typical Swanky Dinner Party Thrown by Your Best Friend.

On-Time Arrival
First, although the Etiquette Grrls know many of our Dear Readers will be traveling Vast Distances to arrive at the Holiday Table, this does not give anyone license to be grumpy, moody, or snippy upon arrival. Yes, of course I-95 was a Sleet-Covered Stretch of Hell and it took an hour and a half to go from New Haven to Westport. No, no one wants to discuss this at length. And please do, Dear Reader, make Every Effort to leave Early Enough so that you will actually Arrive When You Are Supposed To! Otherwise, your Hostess will be Quite Flummoxed. (And as anyone who has been a Hostess for Thanksgiving will tell you, preparing a Big Turkey is Stressful Enough, thank you.) Also, of course, you should Bring a Little Something for your Hostess. A bottle of Good Wine is always nice, but really, any nice little present will do.

If the EGs may digress un peu and offer one more Bit of Advice about Thanksgiving Travel, we think all our Dear Readers should Try Their Best to avoid Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Route on the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward. Every single East Coast college student without a car will be on Your Train, and you will have to Stand for Hours, even if you are a Girl. Furthermore, New York's Penn Station is To Be Avoided at this time (and, really, In General, but especially around Thanksgiving). One of the EGs was, unfortunately, in Penn Station the day before Thanksgiving, and thought she was just being Rudely Shoved in a Large Crowd. However, EG was being Pickpocketed! EG's Very Favorite Wallet Ever, a lovely Passport Wallet of the softest Leather Imaginable was Stolen, never to be Seen Again! Not to mention all of EG's Cash and Credit Cards! Have you ever tried to telephone Customer Service at a Bank just after midnight on Thanksgiving Day? The EGs do not recommend it, Dear Reader. Trust us on this one.

"Weird" Thanksgiving Foods, Etc.
The Etiquette Grrls have Heard Talk of homes where Traditional Holiday Meals are Non-Existent. While we do appreciate Originality (and have, ourselves, Made the Departure from the Sit-Down Turkey Dinner), we believe that anyone planning to Branch Out should Make This Matter Known when the Invitations are Issued. Just because you, Dear Reader, have Gone Vegan, is no reason to surprise all your Hungry Guests, to whom, in previous years, you served a Traditional Meal, with something called "Tofurkey." (Which, frighteningly enough, the EGs are Not Making Up.) If you plan on Replicating Down to the Most Minute Detail the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving Feast, you should, similarly, Warn Your Guests, who might be Un Peu Surprised to find Salt Cod on their Plates.

Dear Reader, should you Find Yourself at a Thanksgiving Dinner at which Any of the Above Crimes are Perpetrated, you must still try to Be a Good Guest and Attempt to Eat What You Are Served. Even if it is Wasabi-Brushed Coconut Turkey Kebabs. Be Polite, and know that next year, you'll have Quite the Horror Story to Tell.

If you yourself have Culinary Foibles which Restrict What You Eat, you must still Not Be Rude about it. (Do glance at our advice to a Polite Vegan about how she should behave at Dinner Parties.) Most Thanksgiving Dinners feature several different dishes, from which even the World's Most Picky Eater should be able to fashion an ample meal.

All Guests absolutely must Refrain from making Editorial Comments on the Meal as It Is Served. ("Dear God, are those MARSHMALLOWS on the Sweet Potatoes? Ugh, I think I'm going to be Sick.") Yes, the Etiquette Grrls might agree with that sentiment, but no, we wouldn't dream of Voicing It at the Table.

Behaving Yourself at the Table
Of course, all Normal Rules of Table Manners apply. Get your elbows off the table, use your fork and knife properly, don't drink from the Finger Bowls, etc. If the food is Passed Around, take a small portion of dishes that appeal to you and offer the platter or bowl to the person seated beside you. Do not, upon spotting Butternut Squash prepared Just the Way You Like It, reach across the table, grab the bowl, and plop a Mountain of it onto Your Plate, whilst yelling, "YES! THE SQUASH IS ALL MINE, AND NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE ANY!" If you have a preference for a particular kind of turkey meat, that is all well and good, but do wait until the platter reaches you or until the person serving asks you if you would like white or dark meat. You are not allowed to "place dibs" on a Drumstick, and, should you not get one, you are most definitely not allowed to Sulk or become Surly. And finally, while most Thanksgiving Dinners the Etiquette Grrls have attended offer a Splendid Variety and Amount of Food, we remind our Dear Readers that Gluttony is Most Unbecoming. Even if you are a Strapping Young Lad home from a College where the food is Unspeakably Awful, you should not attempt to Stuff Yourself as if this were your Last Meal. There will be food left over, and you will, we are sure, be able to make a sandwich after the Touch Football Game to Tide Yourself Over.

Thanksgiving Traditions
Again, Dear Reader, if you are bringing Guests to your house, please do Fill Them In on any Family Traditions they may encounter. Guests, however, must Play Along with any sort of tradition, whether or not they have been given Advance Warning or find the Tradition in Question to be, in their opinion, Quite Odd.

Whatever your Religious Beliefs, if any form of Grace or Blessing is said, you must Be Respectful. If you do not know how to participate, follow the lead of others, looking appropriately solemn. If you are asked to Say Grace, Make a Toast, etc., you must comply, no matter how much you hate Speaking in Public. (It is probably good, for this reason, to Be Prepared and have something Short and Sweet ready to say, Just In Case.) Similarly, if you Fancy Yourself an Orator, and you are Dining at Someone Else's House, do not Usurp the Floor from that family's Patriarch or Matriarch. Nobody really wants to hear your Toast in the Form of a Villanelle, or Elaborate Sermon on the Meaning of Thanksgiving, so please, just Pipe Down, Cicero.

Thanksgiving Sports
For some reason, on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, practically every family in America goes all Kennedy Clan Wanna-Be and plays Touch Football on the Lawn. The Etiquette Grrls think this is probably All Well and Good, as long as the Sporting Types are Polite About Their Games. First, you are not allowed to Force People to Play in order to "Make the Teams Even," particularly if the people in question are Elderly, Infirm, or Girls Wearing Nice Clothing. The Etiquette Grrls are Perfectly Content to Sip Some Hot Chocolate on the Porch and Watch, but when we say we don't want to play, We Mean It. Also, those participating in any Thanksgiving Sports absolutely must endeavor to remember that they are not Professional Athletes, and should not Behave As Such, particularly on a Holiday. No attempting to Crush the Other Team's Spirit, no Ridiculous Dances when you Score, no Trash-Talking, and no Tantrums when you Lose. If there are House Rules about Touch Football (or, indeed, any other Game you might play), you are obliged to Make Sure Guests Understand Them.

To conclude, Dear Reader, the Etiquette Grrls wish you a Very Happy Thanksgiving, and we hope your Holiday Dinner, wherever it is held, is Pleasantly Devoid of Rudeness!

 

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