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Hi!

I am 28, she/her. My sister in law (“A”) is also 28 and my brother (“D”) is 31.

I have a question about gift etiquette.

Last year on my birthday, A and D gave me a bunch of used DVDs. They got me slightly damaged copies of a couple movies and every season of a TV show my parents liked in the 90’s that I have never expressed any interest in. They wrapped each one individually so they could watch me unwrap them and giggle. I got the joke – this is a terrible gift! Hahaha – but I wasn’t included in the joke. With each one I opened, I got more confused, which seemed to make it even more funny for them.

That Christmas, they did it again, and this time they did it to my parents as well. They got me individual seasons of a TV show that is available in its entirety on Netflix and that I have had conversations about with them in the past where I said I did not like the show. They got my parents copies of DVDs they already owned. All of these were slightly beat up from being previously owned. They giggled and said things like “That’s an important one” and “Better get on watching that soon” the whole time.

My parents pretended to like them the whole time, but as A and D had already done this on my birthday, I finally got frustrated and refused to open more presents from them, because they just kept coming. We all take turns opening gifts and every time it was my turn, it was another used DVD.

Meanwhile, I work very hard on gifts. Last year I got A, a notorious anglophile, a certificate to a years subscription to a service that gets a ton of different British TV shows she had been wanting to watch but hadn’t been able to get access to. I nestled the certificate in a box of fortune cookie fortunes I had collected throughout the year (she collects these and plans to cover a table with them someday). For D I spent months searching for a sweater that had the Coca Cola logo on it. (He loves Coke. He once wrote an essay on its history for a college history class.) These were in addition to other things – games they didn’t have (they love board games) and nice teas (they enjoy tea). I spent ages trying to find thoughtful gifts and then I wrapped each one in nice paper that’s in their favorite colors.

The Christmas before last they didn’t get me a joke gift. They got me a “gummy candy maker.” It was essentially brightly colored silicone molds and unbranded Jello to put in them. It was obviously a children’s toy, and when I opened it, it was sticky from being previously owned. I pretended to be interested and thanked them, which made them smirk at each other. They also gave me a wine-scented candle. It was branded as being from a winery A’s parents had gone to a month or two prior. (Meaning I think they regifted it.)

So they have always given gifts like this, last year was just kind of a new level.

After they left last Christmas, my mom pulled me aside and was like, “Do you know what was going on with all the used DVDs?”

I said, “I think they just thought it was funny.” She seemed a bit crestfallen. She gives gifts similar to mine. She had gotten A a rare kind of tea set.

Furthermore, I don’t think A used the gift certificate and I know D got rid of the sweater because this year Mom said we should take a family photo wearing goofy sweaters and D said he didn’t have one. I said, “What about the one I gave you last Christmas?” He said “Oh, right. I might still have that.”

This is not a money thing – they both make more money than I do and buy nice, new things for themselves regularly. They’re just giving me joke gifts and doubling down when my feelings are hurt. I guess they just don’t like the gifts I give them.

I don’t mean to seem like I’m bragging about being super great at giving gifts or I’m entitled to lots of cool presents. I only meant that I try to put a lot of thought into their gifts and save up for them for a long time. They take a long time to think of and pull off. And A and D get cheap gifts at the last second. I would rather they didn’t get me anything at all.

My question is, what is the etiquette for receiving gifts that hurt my feelings? Do I have to keep pretending they don’t? What should I feel about trying really hard to get them things they like and having them openly dislike them? I want to just get them Amazon gift cards this year, but if they decide to get me non-joke presents this year I’ll just look like an asshole. I don’t know what to do or say.

Sorry this is so long. Thank you in advance.

Hello, thank you for the extremely timely seasonal question that is also an example of when rules that we’re taught about good manners as a child stop working around certain adults.

A Rule Most Of Us Were Taught: “It’s rude to interrupt.”

Sometimes it is, but when you’re dealing with someone who never lets you talk, or who says upsetting things (shame spirals on an unceasing loop, un-constructive criticisms, various bigotries, answering questions you didn’t ask by explaining shit you already know, and yes – even well-meaning, enthusiastic conversational overflow from ADHD kids like me!), it really, really pays to interrupt them, and you’ll be much happier if you do. People who tend to dominate conversations won’t shrivel and die of interruption. (Truthfully, we might not even notice.)

A Rule Most Of Us Were Taught: “It’s ruder to criticize someone’s etiquette mistake than it is to make the etiquette mistake in the first place.” This is a rule about culture and fitting in.

Emily Post, one of the best-known proponents of this approach, saw her advice as a way to a) help both new immigrants to the United States and the suddenly proliferating middle and new-money classes understand social mores so they could better assimilate (with assumed advantages to them for employment and upward mobility) and b) remind her own snobby, crusty, filthy-rich peers to value kindness and making an effort over polish. She was hardly a revolutionary, but for every “don’t swing your arms please it’s unladylike” tip she ever wrote there is definitely a delicious aspect of “If a guest doesn’t know what a finger-bowl is and you, the host, try to embarrass them, call attention to their difference, or make fun of them for not knowing, YOU are the asshole in this situation and next time we run into each other in the lane be careful I don’t issue the Cut Direct in the form of a kid-gloved fist to your puckered little jerkface, you absolute failure of a human being”* running through her work. Good, right?

Sadly, somehow people have translated and handed this down as “When someone is being rude, it’s even ruder to speak up about it” even when the failure on display isn’t one of form but of kindness. Worse, they’ve taught some of us that what’s “most polite” is our silence and compliance and “civility” at all costs. The costs are adding up, to the point that thanks to old-fashioned white supremacy and widespread Fox News poisoning, next Thursday in these United States I doubt a single minute of daylight will pass without someone’s relative saying something downright genocidal without a peep from anybody (because: politeness!), but the second someone does challenge Uncle I-Put-The-Eugene-In-Eugenics, that person will be told  “Shhhh! No arguing politics at the holiday table!”** and get treated like the originator of the problem.

Is it an exaggeration to say that every word of this blog for the past nine years is meant to be a deliberate rebellion against this expectation and conditioning?

A Rule We Were Taught: GIFTING EDITION

“I don’t care if it’s a dog turd in a cereal box! When someone gives you a gift, you say ‘thank you’ and act like you love it ’til we get home.” – My Dad, Christmas, 1982, when my aunt gave me an E.T. figurine she’d crafted in a paint-your-own-ceramics workshop and I cried both because I’d wanted something Star Wars or Barbie-related and because, well, look at it. (The rest of the story, including, why is it in the top rack of a dishwasher, at Patreon).

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Image: A hideous though no-doubt lovingly crafted ceramic E.T. figurine, in the top rack of a dishwasher.

Dad was absolutely right, my aunt had worked hard on something she hoped I’d love, and she deserved a polite thank you. She didn’t know about the nightmares! But this doesn’t apply when it’s a repeat offender giving deliberately bad gifts. My big brother and I gave each other matching $35 Borders gift cards wrapped in increasingly elaborate packages for a solid decade as a way of saying, “I have no idea who you are and what you like as an adult, we can still beat a joke into submission and resurrect it, kill the joke again, and laugh hysterically at the zombie joke lurching through the room just like we did when we were kids!” It infuriated my mom that we weren’t giving “real presents,” but for us it was 100% a way of expressing love. Pranks where everyone isn’t in on the joke, pranks where everyone isn’t actively participating, pranks that fall flat every year? Are just being mean. 

Letter Writer, your parents’ confusion at the idea of joke gifts and pretense that this was in any way enjoyable tells me that you were taught something similar: Gifts are exercises in care and thoughtfulness; the worst thing in the world is to be visibly ungrateful for a gift.

Unfortunately your brother and his wife are being jerks and they need to be TOLD.  Either they genuinely think it’s funny and that you’re in on the joke, or they get off on bullying you, either way, they will not get hints. They will never ‘read the room.’ You gotta tell them.

Possible script:

“[Brother], I know you and [Spouse] love the joke gift thing, but I really hate it. This year can we either do real gifts – I’m happy to send you a list of a couple affordable things I could use and you can do the same, I’d love to get you and A. something you would definitely use – or, otherwise, can we agree to skip the whole thing? I’d rather just do nothing than have to unwrap a bunch of damaged crap again and pretend it’s fun.” 

Your parents are responsible for their own approach to this but maybe you could also ask your brother to give you money to purchase a group gift for your parents. You like picking out gifts! Volunteer to do the work and pick out something actually nice from all of you. If he offers any resistance, know that this is more trouble than its worth, get a nice gift for your parents from yourself and let your parents handle him.

If they agree to a cool gift and try to prank you with a shitty gift again, when you open the first scratched DVD of Two-And-A-Half Men or whatever utter garbage they chose this time I give you permission to say, “Oh, are we doing this again? Here, you open them, then since this is really a present for you.” DON’T PARTICIPATE IN OBVIOUS BULLSHIT. You may feel intense discomfort and pressure not to react this way (because of the “it’s ruder to acknowledge rudeness than to be the rudeness” conditioning you’ve received and because you are a good, thoughtful person) but like, enough already, Brother and Sister-in-Law! If they insist on making it weird, then let it be as fucking weird and unpleasant as they make it at least once.

As far as what to give them, may I suggest:

  • Nothing. “Oh, I didn’t bother this year – you like joke gifts and I don’t have the energy for all that. Who wants more eggnog?” I mixed a few joke suggestions in below but I am incredibly serious about trying out “Nothing” this year. They felt comfortable giving you nothing in the past, so…?
  • A single pair of white unisex gym socks each. (Socks are useful.)
  • Who couldn’t use an AA battery? You had this one in the junk drawer. It’s probably still good.
  • Donate to a charity you like in their name.
  • Your suggestion of gift cards is perfect, they never go out of style and you probably aren’t a person who can be comfortable coming empty-handed, but honestly, they don’t deserve you.
  • Seriously, save your money and your thoughtful, careful gift choices for people who appreciate them, these two are never gonna really get on your wavelength about this.

Additionally, readers have shared stories of deliberately mean, crappy, “I got everyone a nice gift and you an obviously ill-suited afterthought gift to show how much I don’t actually care about you” incidents from family members with me and asked what I suggest they do next time with repeat offenders, so may I offer up a flat “Oh thanks I would never have thought of this for myself” response and then leaving whatever it is behind under the tree, neatly tucked in a hall closet, or under a bed somewhere when you go. They’ll find it or they won’t, once it’s given to you it’s yours to do with as you please, and they can draw their own conclusions.

Yes, of course you coooooooooooooooooooooould quietly take it and throw it away or try to donate it or regift it once you get home but there’s something symbolic leaving this obviously hostile turd of a present behind for them to figure out how to store or dispose of. Of course this opens the door to the gifter trying to chase you down and get you to accept it (any excuse to bully you, right), so in that case try, “Oh, I didn’t forget, I had no desire for a [child-sized jumpsuit the color of dog doodoo][some dusty crap from the basement you’re trying to pawn off on me][a broken ice-scraper][a food thing I’m 100% allergic to, and oh goody, it’s expired][“Look I thought we covered this when I married your son and every one of the twelve years since, but I’M JEWISH, MISS ME WITH THE LIGHT UP MANGER SCENE AND THE ‘IRONIC’ CHRISTMAS SWEATERS], so hopefully you can use it? Thanks for the thought!”

Also, see above, and consider giving these people the gift of NOTHING from now on. They can try to play their game but you don’t have to participate.

*Obviously I’m paraphrasing  but if Emily Post were alive today she would 100% haunt the Am I The Asshole Reddit in her free time exhorting people to come correct even if they are tragically reduced to wearing last season’s gloves and keeping only one manservant. Believe it. P.S. Laura Claridge has written an excellent biography.

**“Don’t talk politics at the table.” Okay, I’ve been guilty of hoping  that one would work in the past, in the sense of giving hosts tools to shut down the loudmouths, but it needs an update. Most “politics” “arguments” afoot, especially among my fellow white people, currently aren’t “zoning laws should be slightly different, let’s discuss that and find the best solution,” they are more like:

Our Worst Relatives: “THOSE people with certain identities deserve to DIE and THEY are the ones VICTIMIZING ME by EXISTING LIKE THAT and YOU are being RUDE if you don’t agree, in silence.”

Us: “The opposite of all of that, actually? Also, I am somewhat Those People?”

Missing Stair Enabling Squad: “Why are you antagonizing them when you know they’re ‘just like that’? There’s no need to be uncivil!”

These lopsided calls for civility are bullshit, this isn’t about MANNERS, it’s about ETHICS and the SURVIVAL of our fellow humans, so let’s get fucking real and start Returning. Awkwardness. To. Sender. 

 

Dear Captain,

I have a friend that I’ve known since high school (we’re both in our thirties now) and I consider her a good friend. Over the years we’ve gone through phases where we’re more apart and distant (mostly from living in other states or distant parts of the country from each other and only seeing each other a few times a year) and phases where we’re closer. I like talking to her and I like having her in my life, and very soon she’s moving to the town I live in now and we’re both planning on and looking forward to getting together and being closer again.

The thing is, she’s spent the last two years becoming a minister and sometimes when we talk about how our lives are going, it feels like she’s not listening and talking to me as a friend, but as a minister to a congregant or a counselor to someone seeking help; so I find myself not wanting to talk about difficult things in my life, or talking about them in minimizing ways because I don’t want advice, well-meaning and well-trained as it might be. I’m not seeking counseling or guidance or theological insight from her, I just want to talk to my friend and share some of our lives as friends do.

Do you have any scripts for gently asserting the boundary that I want to just talk as friends, that I love her dearly, but that unless I explicitly ask for advice or guidance, I don’t want her to act as my minister or counselor?

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

Thank YOU for a good question that can be answered quickly. And your last line is a great script if you want to just go with that.

Light-hearted script: “Thanks for the suggestion, most Reverend Friendname, but I want to talk to Just Plain Old Friendname now please.

Additional scripts:

  • “It must be really easy to slip into counseling or advising-mode, given what you do all day, but you’re slipping into it with me a little too readily just now. You know I value your insights, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me if I even want advice before offering it.” 
  • “Reminder: Me sharing a situation is not an automatic request for advice/Engage Counselor Mode!”

I think she’ll hear you and will be ultimately glad that you set a boundary and reminded her to relax and be a person when she’s around you. This seems like a good time to say, “Eep, maybe I do this sometimes, if so, Real Life Friends, please tell me to knock it off and I will be very grateful.”

Hi Captain,
I’m wondering if you could give me some advice on dealing with my challenging Mother when I’m going through stressful times.

Right now I’m nearing the end of my Master’s degree, so I’m working long hours, stressed out, and have a lot to do (your posts on graduate life have been very helpful!). And today my Mom calls me to let me know that we’re having my Dad’s birthday dinner tomorrow (the next day). I ask if it could be moved to the weekend (as to give me some time to get a gift, and to just better deal with it in my schedule). She says no, and gives no reason. The dinner will only involve my Mom, my Dad, and me so it’s not a big deal where many people’s schedules have to be accommodated.

This is just typical behaviour for my Mom (my Dad isn’t perfect, but he’s easier to deal with). I’d say she has a lot of narcissistic traits (your recommendation of ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough’ by Karyl McBride was also very helpful!). She makes everything about herself. I predict if I approach this situation in a reasonable manner, and say something like ‘Could you give me more notice for family events? Especially when you know I’m on deadline?’ it will cause a huge fight where she makes it about herself, and there will be no recognition of my needs.

My usual way of dealing with my mom is 1) emotionally distancing myself from her, and 2) being very passive and going along with whatever she wants to avoid a no-win fight (which is why I am now having dinner with my parents tomorrow night, showing up with no gift, then coming home and writing until God knows what hour to make up the lost time). It would be really great if I could mix in some assertiveness in there!

I don’t want to make things worse between us. And I want to continue having a relationship with my Mom (there are some good things). But I want to be myself much more than I am right now. I feel like I have to chop off parts of myself at the door when I deal with her :/

Thanks so much!

Work in Progress

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Hi there CA and screeners. Long-time reader, first time writer. I’m writing to ask for some advice on how to get my extended family to treat me like an adult.

I’m 21 years old now, about to graduate from college and start my life in the real world and I’m starting to find that my family is still treating me like I’m part of the “younger crowd.” As background, my parents waited until much later than any of their siblings to have kids, so my younger brother and I are both in a weird place where we’re actually closer in age to the next generation than ours (my next oldest cousin is in her 30s, while the next youngest after my brother is 14 now). As an example of what I’m talking about, at Christmas my grandparents have a stocking for every descendent of theirs, all the way down to the youngest great-grandchild, and there are two sets of stocking gifts: the “adult” stockings, which have things like lottery tickets and kitchen utensils, and the “kids” stockings, that have stuffed animals and coloring books. Every year I’ve gotten a kid stocking, which didn’t bother me…until I turned 18…and then last Christmas, when I was 21 and *still* got a kids stocking.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is because my cousin’s wedding is coming up, and I’d really, *really* like it if I got my own invitation to it instead of being lumped in with my parents and brother (maybe even with a +1 but I totally understand if that’s not possible), but I don’t know what to say to the family at large that isn’t rude. My parents treat me like the adult I am, but what do I say to people like my cousins and my grandparents? I’m an adult, I pay taxes, I have a stable romantic relationship, and I’d just like a seat at the big kids’ table these days, you know? Or is it like being a king, where “if you have to say you’re an adult, you’re not an adult?”

Yours in awkwardness,
Sick of Coloring Books

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The Captain's cat, Beadie, on her desk with a fat tail and anime eyes.

“HAI, I HAVE INVITED MYSELF TO YOUR DESK!” – this morning in my house.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I was recently called out for inviting myself over to my friend’s home to show off my new bike. It didn’t occur to me that that was what I was doing, I was just excited, don’t get to see her much, and the bike shop is close to her home.

I have routinely over the last year asked if she were free for me to drop in for a hug when fetching mail (I receive mail in the same building as her office) and that’s seemed fine. The only difference I can tell between this and the bike incident is that it was about a bike and it would be me dropping by her home rather than office.

I already add a fair number of caveats to my speech, my precise meaning often misunderstood. For example, I often add ‘in the (near) future’, when asking if someone would like to get together as a number of people thought I meant right now. I can’t tell if this is a serious enough thing that I should consider a caveat for this type of thing too.

I’m not sure if it’s germane to this issue, but I considered her until about a year ago my best friend. Even before then she’s become increasingly distant and I’ve been getting the impression that if I’m not in her life in a certain way, she doesn’t have space for me.

Regardless, I’m wondering how big a transgression this is- another blog said that inviting your self over to someone’s home is viewed as rude and presumptuous and should only be done seldom with a very, very close friend. Is this something I should be policing in my speech? I used to, when my father called called me on inviting myself over to a classmate’s home for her next birthday (I said let’s do x instead of y next year) when I was 7 or 8. Moreover, I don’t quite understand what I said wrong (I wish I could remember the exact words I used)

I’d appreciate any words of wisdom you can share.

Thanks,

Moderately Confused

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“But I was reading.” Photo by Ash Hernandez, via Cathy De La Cruz (@SadDiego)

Hello Captain!

I have an situation that I don’t think has been discussed: how do you deal with Stranger Mansplainers when you are a lady doing things normally associated with manliness & they can’t fathom how a lady could figure out how to do such things?

For me: I am a lady & I participate in an activity that involves pulling trailers behind trucks. Backing the trailer into a parking space so you can go participate in the actual event is a frequent occurrence. I’m usually at these events by myself & can back up my own trailer, thank you very much. But I frequently encounter dudes who refuse to believe this is the case. I have had them bang on the windows of my truck, yell at me to stop, & block me from backing up my rig, all when I have a completely clear path & am not in danger of hitting anything. I’ve tried the “thank you, but I’m fine” approach but they refuse to move until I follow their directions. Sometimes they tell me to do exactly what I was already doing, other times they want me to follow a completely convoluted path that makes no sense. Even better, they usually follow it up with something along the lines of “if you don’t get hysterical, it’s easy!”

Other than going to the event management, how can I deal with this? It makes even more fun when the Mansplainers have their own rig that they parked like a Picasso painting, but it still sours the event for me. I don’t have any history with these dudes, they’re just total strangers who see a lady driving a truck & trailer and assume incompetence. Please help.

I’ve Been Backing My Own Trailers For A Long Time, Eff Off.

Dear Eff Off,

I think it’s worth reaching out to the organizers with this to see if they can’t send out some kind of safety reminder, like, “Hey, if you offer to help someone back up, and they say they’ve got it, it means they’ve got it. Get out of the way!” Treating it like a safety issue (which it is), rather than a sexism issue (which it also is) is going to have the cleanest chance of getting through.

You could also try a not-moving standoff. Dude won’t move until you take his directions? You won’t move until he gets out of the way.

But the truth of it is: You’re doing everything right already and there is no way to preemptively get these guys to stop acting like jackasses. You can’t control their behavior at all by phrasing things differently. So what remains is to deliver the message very clearly in a way that (hopefully) amuses you.

To do this, first, decline the offers verbally just as you have been. “Thank you, I got this!

If the interrupter persists in standing behind your truck and waving his arms at you, beckon him over, roll down your window, and hand him this flyer from the stack you keep in your glove box.

A photo of Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road that says

Prepare for lots of sadface and “I was just TRYING to HELP YOU you are SO RUDE, JEEZ” pouting. Feel no need to smooth it over. No condescending insistence on “helping” complete with condescending “don’t get hysterical” comments? No condescending flyer!

P.S. This comment rules. Consider it.

Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

Signed,
There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?