When attending Thanksgiving dinner at someone else's home, it's important to mind your manners, especially if there's going to be someone -- your girlfriend's parents, your husband's persnickety grandmother, the wealthy relative who funds your college education -- you need to impress at this thing.
Luckily, we can learn a lot about proper Thanksgiving etiquette from the animal kingdom. Let these critters show you how to prove you're not a sloven animal unfit for civilized society. Pay attention, now:
1. Dress nicely.
If you show up looking half as smart as this dog, you'll be just fine.
2. Read up, so you have things to talk about.
This is especially useful if you're talking to a total stranger. Others, though, suggest that the point of dinner conversation is to make a personal connection -- without getting too personal -- and more thought-provoking questions about lifestyle or personal philosophy should be encouraged. In any case, good conversation is a give and take between all parties. Although if some of those are hostile, you might want to take a cue from this cat.
3. Finish using your phone for a bit.
The idea here is that pocketing your communication device lets your hosts know your attention is engaged in the event they worked hard to put together.
4. Don't track anything in.
Even this dog knows you're supposed to wipe your feet at the door.
5. Greet your hosts with a smile.
Something a tad less aggressive, maybe. But you get the idea.
6. And introduce yourself to others enthusiastically!
In ancient Rome, senators had nomenclators to follow them around and introduce (or re-introduce) them to people. Unfortunately, these days we usually have to be our own nomenclator.
7. Make Thanksgiving friends.
Form tactical alliances early on with particular relatives and small children. They can help you out when you fall from your social graces by jumping into the conversation or distracting from it.
8. Really, put your phone away.
Even setting it on the table can signal to others that you don't care about what's going on around you. Thanksgiving is a social event, not "a food ingestion event," and it's polite to give your full attention, or face possible consequences.
9. If you have to cough, do so over your left shoulder.
And shield your mouth with your left hand. The idea is that you're leaving your right hand uncontaminated.
10. And don't eat until everyone has been served.
At meals during Queen Victoria's reign, everyone else was served after her, and plates were cleared when she finished each course. Since the Queen scarfed her dinner, oftentimes those at the end of the line didn't get a chance to touch their food. Think about this while you're waiting to eat.
11. Even if it looks really good.
Fun fact: the first Europeans to lay eyes on a turkey started calling it a "land chicken." They thought it looked really similar to a bird they knew back home, known as both "guinea fowl" and "Turkey cock" -- both names deriving from the bird's supposed origins. Eventually, through some bizarre linguistic mix-up, the New World animal ended up claiming sole ownership of the "turkey" moniker.
12. Dishes should be passed to the right.
The salt and pepper should travel together, difficult as that may sound. And if you're not sure which water glass is your own, remember B-M-W. Your bread dish (which may be absent) sits at the top left of your meal, in the center, with your water glass at the top right.
13. And don't take food from others.
14. Posture matters!
"Power posture" can produce hormones that help you project confidence in social situations, affecting how others perceive you even when you're actually feeling a bit shy or nervous. In lab experiments, changing posture increased participants' testosterone and cortisone levels to make them more assertive. The American Chiropractic Association has some tips on proper stance.
15. Ladies in skirts, legs together!
Channel your inner British royalty by crossing your legs daintily at the ankle.
16. It's okay to deflect questions that make you uncomfortable.
Alternatively, you can kill any snide remarks with kindness by complimenting the host or the meal. No one is entitled to an in-depth explanation on why you're single, when you'll have kids or how your job search is going.
17. But you should eat only one bite at a time.
You're only supposed to cut enough for one bite -- cutting everything at once is for the elementary set. It may be a hard lesson for your brain to teach your grumbling stomach, but you must try.
18. Offer to help clean up!
Maybe Aunt Judy is very particular about who sets foot in her kitchen, but maybe she'd appreciate an extra set of hands. It's always nice to offer.
19. It's okay to take leftovers if you ask.
The host decides how everything should be divvied up. And obviously, tupperware is preferred over your hands as a to-go container.
20. When it's time to go, thank your hosts.
Here's hoping you don't need this reminder.
21. And don't sneak out the back door.
Thank your hosts again for the amazingly delicious dinner they put on. Smile. Wave. Exeunt.
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