Emily Postmodern: Mind Your Manners This Thanksgiving, Chickadees

Ten years ago, my best college friend and I drove my Honda Civic five hours southwest from our midtown Atlanta apartment to a four-room school building in south Alabama for Thanksgiving dinner. At the time, Kristen, who had lived in the metropolitan Atlanta area for almost 10 years, thought she had a handle on southern food.  To her credit (and possibly the dismay of her current vegan identity) she tried every single dish that was put in front of her (including things I have always turned my nose up at). She was kind to my elderly relatives, didn’t laugh audibly during the pre-meal prayer, and sung my praises to my extended family. It is possible that she and I have different memories of the event, but in my mind she was a model Thanksgiving Interloper.

The Thanksgiving Interloper, also known as a Thanksgiving Orphan, is a role that many young adults find themselves playing at least once or twice. For some flying home for Thanksgiving only to turn around to do it again for Winter Gift Giving Holiday is too exhausting and not financially feasible. Maybe you just don’t get along very well with your family or maybe you are from Canada and think that American Thanksgiving is a joke of a holiday. Whatever the reason, Thanksgiving can be stressful, whether you find yourself graciously being hosted by another family, cobbling together a ragtag group of other orphans for a Friendsgiving, or accompanying your main squeeze to their family celebration for the first time.

If you have assembled friends to have a bit of a lost boys style meal it is always best to be upfront about logistics and costs. Is it a potluck? Will one person be cooking the entire meal and hosting? Do they plan to treat everyone or do they need people to chip in for groceries? Is everyone expected to come over early and help cook and prep? Is everyone bringing their favorite take out meal? While we all wish we could just treat our friends to an epic meal without asking them to chip in, the truth is that some twenty/thirtysomethings can’t.

It isn’t unreasonable or bad manners if you want to plan and host the feast but also want to ask your friend to chip in towards the cost, but you have to let everyone know that before they agree to join the party. No one likes to think they are being invited over for dinner only to be presented with a bill! Potlucks and group cooking are little more straightforward. If someone else is doing the pre holiday shopping for things you are going to prepare together, don’t assume you can just pay your half later — especially when their might be weird specialty ingredients that might cost a little more than your standard pantry fare. Don’t forget to offer your contribution ahead of time.

Attending a friend’s family Thanksgiving is like getting a sneak peak into your buddy’s childhood–often with awkward family photos on full display! Whenever you are hosted by someone you definitely want to arrive with some sort of host or hostess gift. If you are coming just for the meal ask if you can bring a dish to contribute or a bottle of wine. If you are going for the entire weekend or more than just the eating portion of the day, make sure to bring a host or hostess gift. Everyone’s family has different food traditions and customs for thanksgiving, from having a full Cuban or Italian meal (plus turkey!) or just whether or not they think sugar should be added to cornbread. Be sure to offer your services in the food prep, but don’t waltz into the kitchen like you are Gordon Ramsey. And always err on the side of formality, don’t start eating before your host and make sure you don’t put your elbows on the table unless everyone else is doing it!

We covered how to act when you meet your significant other’s parents for the first time a few months back. The guidelines are basically the same for Thanksgiving, but the whole situation is sort of turned up to eleven. It might not just be mom and/or dad you are meeting. It is possible you will be facing the entire line up of extended family; maiden aunts, bohemian cousins, neo-conservative nephews and more. You may be about to be inserted in the middle of a twenty five year old feud about who inherited grandmother’s silver and china, if that is the case just smile and nod and don’t give an opinion (other than that it is a beautiful pattern and must be very special to the family). As far as cooking and general behavior, you can treat the situation the same as you would if you were crashing a friend’s family.

And of course no matter who host you, don’t forget to write a thank you note.

Julianna Rose Dow is a thank-you note enthusiast working in higher-ed communications and marketing in NYC. She likes puns, telling people what to wear and baking with bourbon. Got a burning etiquette question? Drop her a line here.