Conversations at family gatherings

arrowhearts said to realsocialskills:

What are appropriate topics of conversation for family gatherings during holidays? I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to talk about politics or religion, but what can you talk about?

realsocialskills said:

That depends somewhat on your family. “No politics and religion” is a rule that applies in some families but not others. The real rule is “Don’t pick fights, and steer clear of topics likely to result in people getting angry in ways that are likely to damage relationships.“

Or, to put it in more concrete terms: At a family gathering, it’s considered rude to tell someone that they’re going to hell, or that their political views are destroying the world. It’s considered rude to say something that implies that you think someone is going to hell or destroying the world, even if you don’t say so outright. It’s considered polite to be careful to avoid topics that are likely to go in that direction.

For many families, this means avoiding the topics of politics and religion altogether at extended family gatherings. When family members have strongly held conflicting views on politics and religion, talking about those topics can easily lead to fights. For some families, it makes sense to call a truce for the holidays and just get together and eat food and do things that everyone likes. 

Fighting on Christmas/Thanksgiving/other holidays isn’t likely to change anyone’s religious or political views - it just makes the holiday unpleasant. It’s ok to call a truce and fight those battles the rest of the year, when it isn’t a holiday. 

Politics and religion aren’t sources of conflict for every family. Some families have largely compatible views, and are able to discuss these things without it turning into a fight. You’re the best judge of how that works in your family.

If you’re in a family in which politics and religion are topics best avoided, there are some other popular topics:

Sports:

  • I don’t really understand the appeal of sports
  • But sports fandom is really, really popular
  • Most families contain a lot of people who like to root for sports teams
  • And family gatherings often involve watching sports games of some sort
  • If you like a team or a sport, talking about sports is probably likely to go well

Television shows and movies:

  • TV shows are a popular topic of conversation
  • Particularly currently-running popular shows
  • If you find a show that others in your family watch, or a movie they’ve also seen, you can probably discuss that show
  • (If your family gathering contains a lot of people who have a religious objection to watching R-rated movies, focus on shows/movies that aren’t sexually explicit or graphically violent)

Work:

  • People often talk about work at family gatherings, for instance:
  • Projects you’re working on at work
  • Funny or awesome things coworkers did
  • Funny or awesome things customers did

Possessions:

  • People often like to talk about stuff they have, or stuff they acquired recently
  • eg: your new iPad, an apartment you moved to, a new brand of rubber bands you discovered that are particularly good at holding bags closed, really soft shirts you just bought
  • (Be careful about this if you have a lot more money than some members of your family who will be present), bragging about wealth is considered rude

Vacations or other stuff you did:

  • Families often talk about vacations they went on, or plan to go on
  • Or some other thing they did recently, for example:
  • People who ran a marathon will probably talk about that
  • People who planted a big garden at the school they work at will probably talk about that
  • (Again, be careful about talking about expensive things if you have a lot more money than many of your family members)

The weather:

  • Talking about the weather is a cliche because people really do talk about the weather a lot as a way of making conversation
  • Eg: 
  • “Do you think it’s going to snow?”
  • “It’s so hot.“
  • “I like the way the rain sounds on the roof.”
  • “It’s so much warmer here in Florida than it is in New York.“
  • “I’m glad Grandma finally installed insulated windows.”

tl;dr Talking about politics and religion with people who don’t share your views can end poorly. Family gatherings often contain people who have equal and opposite convictions. In many families, people call a truce for the holidays and avoid those topics. Some other topics to discuss: sports, TV/movies, work, activities you’re involved in, vacations, the weather, and stuff you have and like. (Be careful about discussing expensive things that many of your relatives can’t afford.)