Politics, Religion & Opinions

6 Tips for Navigating Politics at Thanksgiving

Your turkey recipe is expertly composed. Your gravy is perfectly salted. Your home sparkles with cleanliness inside and out. ‘Tis the night before Thanksgiving and you’ve crafted the perfect turkey dinner. All that’s left to worry about is guest etiquette. Flashbacks of Aunt Sally and Grandpa Ben’s political brawl last year have haunted you all week. These 6 tips will keep the evening running as smoothly as gravy.

  • Prepare: Be ready-to-go with interesting, relevant conversation topics. Start every morning with Skimm, and brush up on local and international news. Review Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2017 or this year’s Nobel Prize winners. Prepare a bank of neutral, pleasant conversation starters to direct dinner table dialogue in the right direction. Recruit dinner table allies.
  • Toast to Civility: As the host, remember to toast at the beginning of the meal to thank your guests for attending. Don’t be afraid to set some guidelines in your toast. Try:

    “Let’s enjoy and share our gratitude. Remember to be civil--no politics tonight, please! I can’t wait to hear about everyone’s summer travels!”  End on a positive note.

  • Seat Strategically: A seating plan with name cards makes choosing a seat less awkward for new friends or significant others. Mix things up by seating elders next to youngsters and introverts alongside extroverts. If you know of any family or friend drama, keep the sassy cats separated.
  • Be a Crafty Conversationalist: Listen for dangerous conversation topics, including politics or prying personal questions. As the host, jump into the dialogue and steer it in a different direction. For example, if Uncle Joe asks your neighbor their thoughts on healthcare reform, interject with, “Oh Joe, I’d much rather hear about your new kitten! What’s her name again?” Bring up an alternative but exciting topic.
  • Serve the Wine: Impress guests by serving the wine properly and gracefully. Keep the wine near you, and take control of refilling glasses. This way, you’ll be aware of who’s had a little more to drink and you can strategize accordingly. After Cousin Sam’s third glass of wine, offer her some bread or dessert.
  • Handle Rogue Guests: Despite your best tactics, a guests’ political rant might be unavoidable. If a guest goes rogue and your attempts to change the conversation flounder, ask to speak to them privately. When out of earshot of other guests, acknowledge their concerns and advise them this isn’t the time or place. There’s no need to embarrass them in front of family and friends.

Remember these tips, and hope for an evening of smooth sailing. Your turkey will be enjoyed in all its Thanksgiving glory.


Sharon Schweitzer and Emilie Lostracco co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Emilie Lostracco is a Fall 2017 Cross-Cultural Communication Intern with Access to Culture. The Montreal native is currently a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, studying International Relations and Global Studies. Emilie specializes in international environmental efforts, European studies, and French. She plans on graduating with honors in December. Connect with her via Linkedin.

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Cross-cultural & International Etiquette Expert, Best-selling, International Award-winning Author