If your mother doesn’t ask you an uncomfortable question about your love life, grandma certainly will.
But how to keep your cool and not turn the holiday celebration into a shouting match? We put the hard questions to Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach and author of the book “Poised for Success,” to prep us with a cheat sheet of the best ways to handle the most common, and annoying, family dinner questions.
“There could be a standard answer to all of these,” she says. “Whevever someone asks an awkward question, I find it’s easier to answer a question with a question. For example, I might say, “Hm, that’s an interesting question. Why do you ask?’ Usually that just nips [the conversation] in the bud, unless you really want to be more clever.”
Here’s some inspiration:
Q: Are you dating anyone?
This one is bound to come up, and almost everyone around the dinner table will want to know the answer. “To answer this question, it depends on whether you want to tell this person or not,” says Whitmore. “Sometimes you can say, ‘I am dating several people right now.’ Period. The end. Or, ‘oh, no one special at the moment.’
If you are uncomfortable with the topic, you can change the subject or add humor, but Whitmore says it’s best not to indulge in your first instinct to get combative — as satisfying as that may be. “I believe in taking the high road.”
Q: When are you moving back home?
Instead of saying “never”–if that’s the way you feel–answer by listing all the reasons you love the place you’re currently living. Is it the best place for your job market? Does it have a great school system? Help them understand what attracts you to the place you’re at now, instead of listing all the reasons you don’t want to move back. If you think you could move back eventually, simply say, “well I haven’t decided yet, I’m still working out my plan.”
“Some people ask these questions very innocently. Maybe you have heard them over and over again, but this might be this person’s first time asking,” says Whitmore. “For you to lash out at a person for asking about something that may not be mean spirited can make you look bad, and that person uncomfortable.”
Q: So, Healthcare.gov?
Politics is one of the topics that are always on the holiday blacklist, yet despite the unspoken rules, after a few glasses of wine, these verboten issues manage to make it to the table. “The best answer here is: ‘so what about it? What are your thoughts?’ It helps to throw the ball back into their court,” says Whitmore. Of course, then you have to listen to them rant on about their own opinions on the matter, but hey, it’s better than the verbal abuse you’re up for if you disagree.
Q: Are you planning on having kids anytime soon?
If kids are not in your upcoming plans, you can be pretty blunt. “Nope, not yet,” with a smile can do the trick. But if you are considering having kids at some point, and want to throw grandma a bone, you can say: “We are just busy practicing right now.” It might make your inquisitor blush, and that’s the points — you’re off the hook.
Q: When are you getting a real job?
Does Uncle Vinny still hold a grudge that you didn’t join the family business? Or did you crush dad’s dreams of going to law school? Don’t sweat it. “I had someone ask me that 15 years ago when I started my business. My answer back then was the first thing that came out of my mouth which was, ‘I have a real job.’ That’s all I said. Sometimes that’s the best answer,” says Whitmore. Of course, if you want to be less curt, Whitmore suggests you say: “I am doing what I love, and you know what they say, ‘when you do what you love, the money will follow.’”
Q: You still don’t eat meat?
Even if you’re going on your 10th year as vegetarian, someone is bound to ask you why you’re passing on the holiday ham. “This can be awkward, and some people are quite rude. Just say, ‘no, I am still eating my veggies.’”
…and give that carrot an extra loud crunch.