Miss Manners

Thanksgiving Talking Points Guide: Guide to Hot-Button Topics, and Ones to Avoid

The Daily Beast breaks down how to keep things civil while eating your turkey. By Nina Strochlic.

Bettmann / Corbis

At a loss for how to steer the conversation while jammed around a table of all your favorite archetypal family members? Take a deep breath and keep this cheat sheet of talking point strategies handy.

Conservative Father

Is your conservative dad still wearing his “clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose” Romney bracelet, licking his wounds over the election? And you’ve just decided it’s time to start showing that “Hope” tattoo off again? While President Obama’s victory seems further and further in the past, there are still those staunch conservatives who deny Obama won. To avoid having the sweet potatoes thrown as your father calls you a “pinko,” try bringing up the lighter aspects of the election, like Donald Trump’s insane, revolution-encouraging tweets, Nate Silver’s show-stealing mathematical genius, and Karl Rove’s election night denial attempts. Might be best to stay away from mentioning Chris Christie.

Drunk Mother

If your mother has one too many glasses of pinot grigio, there’s one topic that’s sure to entice all: the never-ending Petraeus scandal. There’s something in it for everyone: Did his biographer, Paula Broadwell, know classified information? Why did she tell other-other-woman Jill Kelley to back off? And what about Kelley’s 30,000 pages of emails with General Allen? Wait, why do we care again? Poor Holly! This is something you’re going to want to know a lot about, and luckily, there’s a never-ending stream of news stories at your disposal to browse through before you delve into the fallen general’s mess of an affair.

Weird, Argumentative Uncle

Try to avoid him at all costs. He probably wants to talk about nukes. To prep for conversation with him, here’s a little background: with pressure mounting on Iran to cease its nuclear production, the slightest provocation could get everyone talking about their rumored upcoming “one on one” talks with the U.S. Some neutral conversation topics include the upcoming Mayan prediction of the end of the world on Dec. 21, which he probably has his own, um, interesting theories about.

Insecure Preteen Niece

Best course of action to ensure your disinterested preteen niece thinks her cool aunt/uncle is worth making eye contact with: Justin Bieber. What’s going on with the heartthrob and his on-again, off-again GF Selena Gomez? Hadn’t they just broken up when they were spotted back together again? Make sure not to express any preference for/against her before your niece expresses her own hate/love of the girl who is stealing her man. If things get emotional, make a quick transition to Selena’s new BFF Taylor Swift and her boyfriend-aholic ways. Rumor has it, she’s with One Direction dreamboat Harry Styles, also her new album, Red, dropped recently, and your awesomeness points will soar if you mention it.

Frat Bro Cousin

Prepare for lots of high-fives with this one. Brush up on your sports knowledge beforehand, but realize you’ll never be a match for his mental encyclopedia of player strengths, team history, and drinking games incorporating the above. A major talking point to brush up on before hanging out with him is that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who currently hold the No. 1 college football spot in the BCS after beating Kansas State, will be duking it out with USC on Nov. 24.

Tech-Obsessed Brother

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If you know how to nod along while an endless string of meaningless data is thrown at you, this conversation could last for awhile. Nerdy tech guys love to discuss the minute details of recently released or upcoming gadgets. The recently released iPad Mini is garnering mixed reviews, and Windows' supposedly revolutionary new software is disappointing. Prepare a few questions, such as “do you think Apple’s iPad Mini is worth buying?” or “Is Windows 8 a bust?” and it’s a win-win: he’s a happy camper and you can avoid this guy:

Angry Senile Grandpa

With the conflict in Israel escalating, your tireless grandpa will almost certainly want to discuss the Middle East crisis. Best not to bring up Ariel Sharon's son’s op-ed suggesting they need to “flatten Gaza,” or the Hamas public execution of suspected Israeli spies. If you must, steer it on a lighter course toward the 44 million Anonymous cyberattacks on Israeli websites for a debate on the effectiveness of hacking. But the best bet would be to opt for his other favorite topic, Kids These Days, to avoid any uncomfortable racially based tirade. Besides, what is wrong with kids these days? Feel free to get heated about this yourself upon noticing your preteen niece texting furiously under the table.

The Kids’ Table

If you’re worried about Thanksgiving dinner drama, or having to help with the dishes, this is the best crew to stick with. It’s probably best not to bring up the close-call Big Bird cancellation or the departure of Kevin Clash, the Elmo puppeteer. Pretend like you’re being generous by offering to babysit, regale them with a long, boring, G-rated story of your work week, and you can probably steal an extra slice of pumpkin pie or two off their plates once they start dozing off.

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