Ah, the holidays. They remind us of the importance of tradition. They remind us of the joy of being alive. And, most importantly, they remind us why we no longer live with our parents.
I’m only kidding. The holidays give you the chance to eat lots of food, get lots of rest, take a break from school and reconnect with family and friends. Holidays are a great time, except for one thing: the dreaded family gathering.
Being a young person at these sorts of gatherings is difficult, because everyone always wants to know what your plans are.
What are you going to do after school? Where are you going to school, anyhow? Where do you want to live? What are you going to do with your degree, which is in engineering? Oh, it’s not in engineering?
Why aren’t you majoring in engineering? Don’t you know there are a lot of good jobs in engineering? Well, fine, it’s your life, anyway. What school are you going to, again?
The worst is when, after a long, thoughtful and thorough explanation of your reasons for choosing your major and prospective career, the other person cocks their head and says something like, “Huh. So why exactly is that useful?”
The first several times this happens, it’s unfortunate and disheartening. The next several times you start to consider elaborate campaigns of violence, possibly involving grandmother’s heirloom collection of meat-carving implements.
So you’ve got to have a rock-solid defense strategy if you—or anyone else—is going to make it out of this reunion alive.
The best thing to do at these sorts of gatherings is head straight to the food table. This provides two main benefits: first, you get to eat lunch today, which is for many college students a luxury.
Second, you can’t really talk to anyone if your mouth is full of garlic dip, and most of them won’t want to talk to you after that anyway.
If you’ve set up camp near the food table, you’re probably in the clear. But true safety comes from preparedness—someone’s going to wander in eventually, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard.
You’ve got to know your enemy. Every family has at least one member that should be avoided at all costs. They usually fall into one of the following categories:
The affirmer begins every sentence with, “Don’t you think?” or a similar introduction. If you “don’t think,” there’s a problem.
“The political talker:“
This person seems incapable of talking about anything other than politics. They come in two variants: the first, infuriatingly, has absolutely no idea what they are talking about. The second has researched the issues so meticulously that it approaches obsessive-compulsive behavior. This is even more infuriating.
Much like the political talker, this person stalks the area, looking for suitable victims. Once they have cornered their prey, they talk incessantly about anything—or often, nothing—that comes to mind. The only way to escape the megaphone is to trick another family member into joining the conversation, then suddenly “remember” that you have to “talk to Aunt Lorraine about the pie.”
“The bad apple:“
This person is rude, unfriendly and goes out of their way to make others feel uncomfortable. They usually vote republican. Your mom tells you it’s because they had a hard life, but you know better.
“The hard of hearing:“
Although not a problem in and of themselves, the hard of hearing force other members of the group to shout in order to avoid explaining everything seven more times. As the volume level increases, the group becomes more and more enraged, until finally they foist the hard of hearing onto another hapless group. Over the course of the night, the hard of hearing slowly moves across the room, poisoning conversations and leaving a trail of destruction, blissfully unaware of the reason for others’ anger.
The storyteller knows the single absolute funniest story anyone has ever heard. This story gets better every time it is told; it never becomes boring. There is no need for other stories. The storyteller has been telling this story since 1982, before most of us were born. They will be telling it until they die.
“The Edgar Allen Poe:“
Myopic and gloomy, the ‘Poe makes the worst of every situation. They’re more pizza than turkey;more Scrooge than Santa Claus; more hemlock than mistletoe. Treat ‘Poes with caution and don’t let them drag you down. The best use for a ‘Poe is to pair them with a megaphone. It’s good for both of them.
This person constantly asks for updates on your life and plans, then demands explanations for the reasoning behind your choices. It doesn’t really matter what you say, because you’re never as good as they are, despite the fact that they can’t hold a job for more than three months at a time.
“The creepy cousin:“
They have a funny smell. They wear a strange expression. They always stand too close.
This person has special dietary needs. They cannot have gluten; they cannot have dairy. They cannot have soy. They can only have turkey-free turkey. By the end of the night, it turns out all they can eat is Cool Whip and pumpkin pie with the crust removed. How convenient.
Wild-eyed and unkempt, the hermit sticks to the far wall. It is clear, from their desperate glances and erratic body language, that this gathering may be the only social interaction they receive all year. Don’t talk to them.
The know-it-all has to be the smartest person in the room, always. They constantly flit from conversation to conversation, stopping only to drop big words and fix people with a quizzical, professorial stare.
If you play against the weaknesses of each type, you’ll greatly improve your chances of survival. However, you may still find yourself in the terrifying initial stages of conversation.
When all else fails, remember that passive aggression is your best weapon. Ignoring someone, talking behind their back or simply giving them the eye can turn the tide of any battle. I mean conversation.
Those who are truly skilled at passive aggression can ruin an entire evening simply by skulking quietly in the corner, or pretending to trip on the carpet. Emulate these people. Learn their dark craft.
Now, I don’t want to make it seem like I think the holidays are all bad. They aren’t; there are lots of perks.
For example, age has greatly improved one aspect of the holidays: gift-giving. As a kid, pretending to appreciate the new clothing Grandma gave you was a routinely excruciating experience.
Now that I live in student housing, however, gifts such as warm socks or sweaters are a lot more exciting, especially this time of year. Sometimes I even deliberately put those items on my list.
The other good thing about visiting home is it gives you a chance to rest and refuel. Most parents, aside from feeding their kids to bursting while they’re home, also buy them food or give them a little extra rent money. Consider this collateral for the emotional trauma you had to endure over the holidays.
Besides, if you didn’t come home you would miss out on the opportunity to sleep in the same bedroom where you spent your middle-school years, which is always a calming and refreshing experience. No bad memories there.
In conclusion, I’d like to remind everyone to have happy and safe holiday celebrations. Enjoy your chance to relax, unwind and spend some quality time at home.
Just don’t get used to it. We’ve still got two quarters to go.
Views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the view of the The Easterner.