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  • Kim Purscell

Avoiding Thanksgiving Manner Mishaps

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the focus on gratitude and being thankful for the blessings in our lives. I love spending time with family that isn’t centered around gifts, rather that we share the gifts of our presence with each other. And I have to admit, I also love turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce. Yum!

However, as with most holiday gatherings there are often manners mishaps and misunderstandings. To keep the peace, I thought it might be helpful to share answers to some common dining, hosting and guest questions.

Guest Questions

Q. Do I need to bring something to my friend’s Thanksgiving dinner?

A. If you were asked to bring a dish to share with the other guests that’s all you need to bring. However, if the host did not specify to bring anything do bring a hostess gift – a bottle of wine, gourmet chocolates, some nice jam or spread, etc.

Q. Can I bring my friend to Thanksgiving dinner?

A. Typically if an invitation does not specify “and guest” you should not ask to bring one. However, Thanksgiving is a little different. It’s a holiday where we share friendship, family and our bounty. Therefore, you may ask the host if you can bring a friend only if you inquire at least a week before Thanksgiving so that the host has time to prepare. Less time than that and you should not ask. The host has most likely prepared and purchased enough food and supplies for a set number of people and asking to bring a guest at the last minute will be hard on him or her. That said, if your host is easy going and is great at stretching food she or he may be very open to you bringing a friend who has no other place to go for the holiday.

Q. Is it okay to switch the place card so you’re sitting next to someone other than your obnoxious uncle?

A. No it is not okay. The host put great thought into who is sitting where and obviously thought you could handle being next to your uncle. Grin and bear it, it’s just one meal.

Q. I don’t like how my friend makes her stuffing; can I bring my own to her dinner?

A. Unless your friend asked you to bring your famous stuffing, no, you cannot. You will risk insulting your friend.

Q. My children always get relegated to the kids’ table, but I’d like to have them sit at the adult table. Can I request that they join me?

A. Sorry, the hostess has a reason for having the kids at their own table. Enjoy the company of your fellow adult diners without the kids present for a change. Trust me; they’re probably having more fun with the other kids anyway.

Hostess Questions

Q. I don’t want to have to prepare all the Thanksgiving dishes myself, but I’m very picky about what is served. Can I give my guests recipes for the dishes I’d like them to make and bring?

A. Oh dear me, no. You may ask your guest to bring a salad, but you can’t give him the recipe for said salad. Potluck means just that.

Q. Do I need to serve the wine or other edible hostess gifts at the dinner that my guests have brought me?

A. Lucky you – you get to enjoy those gifts later. No need to serve them.

Q. I have one guest who is a vegetarian, two that are gluten-free and another who doesn’t eat dairy products. Do I need to accommodate their food restrictions?

A. I’m assuming you know about your guests’ food restrictions because you asked them in advance if they had any, which is always a good idea. While you don’t need to serve Tofurkey with gluten free mushroom gravy, do try to have one or two dishes your guests can eat. Or, invite them to bring their favorite items to share with the other guests.

Q. I never know what to talk about with some of my family members. Any tips on how to make conversation easier with those quieter members?

A. It can be challenging to talk to people you don’t see often or with whom you don’t have much in common. Try asking open ended questions – questions that start with who, what, where, why, when and how. And, ask questions that get someone talking. Here are some suggestions from Michael Hyatt, a business thought leader that I follow:

What is the best holiday you can remember? When you look back on the last year what are you most proud of? If you won the super mega millions lottery, what would you do with the money? When you think about the coming year, what are you most excited to accomplish?

Dining Questions

Q. I’m starving, and the food looks so good. Can I start eating when my plate is full?

A. No, you need to wait for the host/hostess to begin eating; that’s the queue for others to start as well; or if they give permission to go ahead.

Q. I’m not religious. Do I need to say grace with everyone else?

A. No, you are not required to join in the prayer. However, do not make a scene about it; just bow your head, be quiet and respectful until grace is over.

Q. With so many dishes moving on the table it seems that I often end up with a stack of bowls in front of me. Is there a way to avoid the collisions and pileups on the table?

A. Yes, always pass food to the right, and keep passing until each bowl has made its way around to every guest before anyone starts eating or cutting their food. This will avoid collisions and keep all the dishes from landing in front of one person at the same time.

Q. Can I take the last bread roll?

A. Only after you first offer it to everyone else and confirm no one else wants it. Then it is yours to take.

Q. Help, I’ve got a piece of gristle in my mouth, what do I do?

A. Don’t panic. Simply take the distasteful item out of your mouth with two fingers and place it on your bread plate, or the edge of your dinner plate.

Q. I’ve got a cold and I forgot to bring a tissue with me to the dinner table. Can I just use my napkin?

A. Please don’t. Your napkin is not a handkerchief. You may discreetly blot your nose with a tissue or handkerchief at the table, but never use the napkin. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself and go to the restroom; no honking or blowing is allowed at the table. And, please no sniffling at the table either.

I hope these tips will help ease the holiday mishaps in your household. Happy Thanksgiving from my family to you and yours!

Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at

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