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Posted by on Nov 22, 2006 in At TMV | 4 comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dinner back in the good old days

Have Americans lost touch with the “ritual of the shared homemade meal“?

I have a friend whose Thanksgiving meal went south just after her grandmother called her brother a cowardly Communist. Another friend’s nightmare began when her mother’s new boyfriend started talking about breasts, and he wasn’t referencing the turkey.

“There are a lot of impossible, unspoken rules on Thanksgiving,� said JoAnn Loulan, an author and family therapist who practices in the San Francisco Bay Area. “We’re supposed to be thankful and eat a lot and drink a lot and be nice to each other. Teenagers are supposed to stop being sullen. Matriarchs are supposed to make a perfect turkey and some man is supposed to know how to carve it.�


The day is so emotionally charged that Ms. Loulan is only half-joking when she suggests a potentially lucrative line for her practice: the dysfunctional family Thanksgiving chat room, an online marathon therapy session. Or, we could all save a little money and learn a few simple rules of etiquette instead. We’re not talking about the rules that make everyone nervous, like where to put your napkin and which fork to use, but the rules that make the day soft and smooth and comfortable. Kind of like Valium, without the side effects.

“The meaning of manners is really about being kind to people, about being nice,� said Nicole DeVault, a New York etiquette instructor who for years served as the manners consultant for the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

A good way of making people feel more comfortable:

One of Ms. Phillips Cohen’s favorite tricks for creating harmony is to give people something to do. It’s an axiom a professor of social work taught her years ago: action absorbs anxiety.

This is not stricly an American ‘problem’. Whenever we have family (with family we mean aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. as well in the Netherlands) dinners I notice that as well. If everybody has to just sit and talk to each other one can feel everybody getting anxious. That being said, our ‘problem’ is that we do not always have something to talk about. We all live different lives, have different interests and as such care about different things. Giving someone something to do not only makes people feel more comfortable, but also gives them something to talk about.

Let’s just hope that my mother does not read this article since I personally greatly enjoy doing nothing.

It’s something like a hobby.

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