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Ten Things Not to Say at the Table

11/26/2013 09:38 am ET | Updated Jan 26, 2014

Two topics seem to dominate the morning shows during Thanksgiving week: what is the most fattening thing on the table and how to create the most decadent holiday menu. Is it just me, or does it seem counterproductive to dish on the heart-attack-inducing fat and calories in sausage stuffing while also talking about how to make the very best of said stuffing?

No matter, though, because you've got way bigger problems than creating the most succulent turkey while subsequently keeping the button on your pants from popping off and dinging someone in the neck. You actually have to sit at a table and converse with people. I know, I know -- you almost forgot that part, didn't you? Most people do. Everyone is so caught up in ironing napkins and fretting over burned pie crusts that by the time the actual celebration hits, there is a table full of guests ready to eat, drink and be conversational and then -- whoops -- conversation turns to confrontation. It's like magic. Dark, spooky magic.

As you might imagine my years of small talking across the country have allowed me to hear loads of stories about awkward, painful, or downright rude comments made at the Thanksgiving table. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the good things in life. And that includes the people around your table. Yes, all of them. YES, even Uncle Joe.

So -- I am sharing with you my some of the most heinous conversation killers so you can both avoid saying them and dodge them if they come your way.

Debra Fine's Top Ten Thanksgiving "Oh No, She Didn't?!" Just Say That List:

1. "So! Any wedding plans?" or, next, "Any baby news yet?"
Many of us (me included, I must admit) presume that running the dating marathon reaches the marriage finish line. No. And no again. As for the baby question, think first! What if the couple is struggling to conceive, doesn't want to have children or is expecting but not ready to share the news? So pipe down. If someone wants you to know their intimate intentions, you will.
Try this: "Catch me up on what's happening since I last saw you two."

2. "I heard Sarah got into Northwestern... why in the world is she going to Michigan State instead?"
Maybe Sarah just loves green and white. Maybe Sarah didn't really get into Northwestern. Maybe the economy has put a damper on attending private institutions. Maybe you should just pass the gravy.
Try this: "I hear Sarah was accepted to a number of universities; what swayed her decision to go to MSU?"

3."No, thanks. I gave up drinking after I see how it ruins families."
This is meant to deliberately point a finger, and everyone knows it. If you must address someone's overindulgence, do it in private! Making someone feel bad about him or herself does not typically drive better behavior. It drives people to -- well, I was going to say 'drink,' but that seems inappropriate here.
Try this: "I'd love some water, thank you."

4. "This house is so much smaller than your old one!"
Um, yes, homeowners are aware of their square footage. Falling APRs and zero interest loans created a housing crisis for basically everyone, not just those strangers you read about in the newspapers.
Try this: "What's the best part of celebrating your first Thanksgiving in your new house?"

5. "Betcha wish you didn't vote for him now!"
Stop gloating and remember that we are all in this together. And karma is real. Start ridiculing your guests' choice of candidates and I guarantee yours will turn up on the front page with a drug problem. Or a mistress. Or a mistress with a drug problem. You get the picture... and it's an ugly one.
Try this: "Who wants potatoes?"

6. "How much pie have you had?" or "Why aren't you eating anything?"
Leave everyone alone and let others eat or not eat; just worry about yourself and what you are putting in your own mouth which, at this point, seems to be your foot. Just because you slaved over the pumpkin pie or prepared three types of jello does not mean everyone is required to indulge. I mean, I would eat the three types of jello but ....
Try this: "Everything is delicious."

7. "I just can't imagine being a stay-at-home mother -- what do you do all day?"
Oh, no no no -- this is one of the lowest blows because it typically pits woman against woman and that is a crime! We must stick together, whether we are running a Fortune 500 company or running another load of laundry. Your job as a guest is to show genuine interest in your conversation partner; ask questions that elicit a thoughtful and honest response.
Try this: "What surprised you about becoming a stay-at-home mother?" or "What part of the day do you love?" or "Walk me through a typical day at your house/office?"

8. "Nice shirt" (followed by an eye roll or a heavy sigh). Leave him alone. His priorities are not the same as yours. Appreciate that he is wearing a shirt. And hopefully pants. Period.
Try this: "Nice shirt" (minus the eye roll and heavy sigh).

9. "Your son looks just like you and your daughter looks like she could be from a different family? Is she the milkman's baby?" What if she IS the milkman's baby? What if she is adopted? Personal questions that you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. I repeat -- personal questions you do not know the answer to are never a good idea. These include:
"Did your son graduate?"
"How is the boyfriend?"
"Are you going to get him some braces?"
"Did she go to prom?"
"How'd she gain all that weight?"
"How'd she lose all that weight?"
"Did she find a job yet?"
Try this: "What's the latest news on Jane?"

10. "Delicious! Did you cook this or order it?"
You may be asking because you sincerely wish to know how you can create this dish yourself, but you are putting the host/hostess on the spot. Instead, compliment the dish and ask for the recipe after the meal. If it was not homemade, maybe she will confess. Or not.
Try this: "Happy Thanksgiving everyone."