What not to talk about at a holiday dinner
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Yakety Yak1 of 8
By Michael Mullen & Shannan Rouss
We love the holidays, but we also know that they can be fraught with peril: family in close quarters, people with different ideas about what to watch, when to eat, who you should have voted for. To help keep the peace, here are seven drama-free topics to choose from.
E Pluribus Unum2 of 8
Politics is always a conversational minefield, but it's bound to come up at some point, so when it does, make like a politician and pivot. "Hey, have you seen that new Lincoln movie?" Then you can offer up this fascinating historical fact to keep things moving: Everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but what they may not know is that a few months before that, Lincoln's son Robert fell onto the tracks at a train station and was dragged to safety by the actor Edwin Booth (pictured), brother of John Wilkes Booth. Discuss!
Leap of Faith3 of 8
If someone starts grousing about the sad state of the human race, here's proof that there is hope for us yet: Felix Baumgartner's mighty skydiving feat of reaching 834 miles per hour and breaking the sound barrier while falling from near space. Seriously, who could be cynical about the prospects for our oft-criticized species when people are daring to make 24-mile jumps! Of course, your parents might argue that if Baumgartner can achieve such spectacular things, maybe you can at least break up with your deadbeat boyfriend.
Hot Topic4 of 8
When it comes to family dinners, your best defense is a good offense. A lull in conversation is an invitation for your brother to ask, “How's the job search going?” or your mom to comment, “I really liked the way you looked with long hair.” To that end, consider reading up on the latest gossip rags beforehand. Mentioning that Channing Tatum is People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive for 2012, for example, may stir up some debate at the table, but you should be able to emerge unscathed.
Tech Support5 of 8
Thanks to the geniuses of Silicon Valley there's no end to available tech topics this season. The Google Driverless Car is a case in point. What would have, a few years ago, seemed like a futuristic daydream is legal in three states and has logged 300,000 miles without an accident (well, it wrecked once, but a human was driving). Until the inevitable robot apocalypse arrives, we can cruise hands-free, accident-free, and maybe even gridlock-free.
Mind Games6 of 8
Dad bemoaning his gout? Mom over-sharing about her hot flashes? Take the medical talk in a different direction, courtesy of neurologist Oliver Sacks (author of Awakenings and, most recently, Hallucinations). Even if you know next to nothing about Sacks (except that Robin Williams played him in the movie version of Awakenings), visit his site for a crash course in the bizarre disorders he has studied. After all, what's a hot flash compared to Capgras syndrome, the belief that one's parents, spouse or close family member has been replaced with an impostor.
An Open Book7 of 8
Read any good books lately? If not, get cracking. Books are the perfect time-filler—somebody else already cooked up the story, you just have to warm it up and serve. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, won the Booker Prize in 2009 and, her sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, won the award this year. If you want to start a "Hey, I'm reading a great book" conversation, either will do the trick. Scheming clergy, a fickle king, beheadings, plagues, wars and rumors of wars—there's more than enough 16th-century drama to keep the family spellbound.
What's a Meme?8 of 8
Serious, substantive conversation is best avoided during holiday dinners. And there's pretty much nothing less serious than this year's most popular memes. Of course, your parents may not know what a meme is. That's okay. Just give them the dictionary definition: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. Avoid mentioning "binders full of women" as an example and stick with non-partisan memes like McKayla Maroney (not impressed), Gangnam Style and Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, pictured.