The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!

December 22, 2011 § 5 Comments

“[W]hen Christmas rolls around, so too do the requisite family gatherings, events which unfortunately involve your family.”

-Russ Nickel

Winter Solstice has passed, Christmas is just around the corner, and Hanukkah is already here. My friends over at Reasonably Ludicrous recently published a helpful post about how to survive the family holiday parties that your parents/spouse/guilt will force you to attend by identifying “The 8 Types of Annoying Relative (And Tips to Help You Avoid Them)”. Russ and Sam provide a list of defenses against your ego-tast-ical uncle who will blast your ears with loud announcements of the many accomplishments of himself/his law firm/his children/his Airedale, Howard, who understands commands in three languages and uses a human toilet; your political firebrand great aunt who thinks that Herman Cain had the right idea with that whole “electrified fence” thing, and that Sarah Palin is a great political mind of our time; and your advice-spouting grandfather, who simply wants to help you by pointing out that every decision you have made thus far in your life has been the wrong one.

I heartily agree with Reasonably Ludicrous’s inventive tips, but I think that there are a few awkward holiday scenarios that they failed to cover, as well as few they did that could use a female perspective, since I can’t usually deter my advice-giving relatives by wearing a suit. That would simply lead to a conversation about how gender roles are deteriorating in this country and how apocalyptically horrible said deterioration is, along with confusion if I don’t respond or shocked fury if I reply that I actually think the deterioration of gender roles is probably the best chance our society has for survival.

So, consider the following guide as an appendix to Russ and Sam’s tips. Or retroactively categorize theirs as an appen-dicks to my more gynocentric guide. (Yay! Puns! That one’s for you, Russ!)

Rather than identifying types of people you might encounter, I’m going to lay out some hypothetical scenarios that will have you gulping your wine whilst silently screaming, “Oh gods, get me the spork out of here!” — along with my advice for surviving the party without breaking off the bottom of your wine glass to use the stem as a shiv. Thus, I give you “The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!”

Note: I heavily advocate lying in the following scenarios. You may have a moral problem with this. My parents always tell me not to lie to my relatives (well, they tell me not to lie in general); they are more fans of selective omission and careful wording. However, they don’t want me to tell the full truth because that would cause a lot of grief for everyone. (I got into trouble a year or so ago when I told my grandmother what I was actually studying — queer theory — in one of my classes. “What is this LGBD thing?”) While you can certainly navigate the mine-field of holiday parties and family gatherings without lying, I have to say, I think a few creative fibs make the whole thing more entertaining.

Note: Your first line of defense against any of these attacks should always be alcohol. However, drunkenness should be avoided, as it will only give your relatives more ammunition for detailing all your personal failings at the next family gathering. A buzz is a fine thing to cultivate.

Special Note: The Snarkist is not legally or ethically responsible for your choice to employ any of the following advice, nor for any consequences thereof.

The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!

Situation #1: One of your relatives/your significant other’s relatives/a family friend/a complete stranger asks you about your career/life goals.

Solution: You are employed in a respected industry or vocation. You tell the truth. You wait for him/her to be impressed or express his/her support.

Alternate Scenario: You are employed in a vocation of which this person will not approve. My best friend K has chosen a career in social work, and her relatives never get tired of telling her how the residents of the girls’ home K works at are worthless delinquents that are ruining our society. She just loves seeing her extended family.

Solution: Tell the truth. Immediately launch into a story that will induce shock and horror, such as the crack dens you routinely spend time in so that you can get to know the girls’ parents. Mention your friend Da’shawn, who is a dealer that was arrested twice on counts of assault, but Big Jon totally jumped him first, and he had to make use of the weapon at hand to defend himself, and if that weapon happened to be a hatchet, so be it…

Alternate Solution: Tell the truth. Immediately launch into an explanation so filled with jargon and elevated-sounding terminology that you will sound as if you’re speaking Martian. Wait until the other person’s eyes glaze over, then excuse yourself to get more wine/help your father with the dog/use the restroom/get the fuck out of here.

Alternate Solution: Reply that you’ve taken a job with Amway and begin to make a sales pitch.

Situation #2: Your cousin/boyfriend’s sister/girlfriend’s actually-older-than-her niece has recently had a baby and the experience has TRANSFORMED HER ENTIRE LIFE THIS IS WHAT HER BODY WAS MADE FOR HER ENTIRE EXISTENCE HAS BEEN CREATED FOR THIS MOMENT. She expects you to regard her sticky offspring with the same near-religious ecstasy she does, and oh yeah, she also wants you to hold the thing.

Solution: Feign illness. Cough, wheeze, feign the urge to vomit, make any physical or verbal indication that you could transfer germs (!) to Her Precious Child, young and thus without a developed immune system. Try to include a story about recently being in a foreign country — not Italy or Switzerland, more like Guatemala or Thailand, somewhere she thinks of as third-world and imagines has children running around without shoes, licking the floor for scraps — and eating something suspect/touching strangers/visiting a village prey to an outbreak of Mysterious Fatal-sounding Illness. She will immediately pull Her Precious (Her preciousssss) away from your diseased fingers and run off because “I think I hear someone calling my name.”

Alternate Solution: If the new mother is not squeamish, or is well-traveled, or is a bad parent, she will not care about your purported illness and simply want to push her child into your arms so that she can run off to have her first 15 minutes of sleep in five months. In this case, you will need to hear someone calling your name. I suggest your mother, who, if she is anything like my mother, will have spent the last two days preparing a Christmas feast that could feed an entire battalion. Mention to your cousin/friend/significant other’s relative you just met that her strong, primal bond with her infant has touched you, and that you suddenly feel that you must find your own mother in order to give her a hug, thank her for all she has done raising you, and whisk her into a chair with a glass of wine so that she can relax while you finish the cooking.

Alternate Scenario: The person shoving the child at you is the child’s father, and he will be less impressed by your sudden need to go relieve your own father from his task of sitting on the couch drinking wine (even if he is having to talk to  your conspiracy theorist grandfather) than the child’s mother was by your tearful desire to assist your own mother.

Alternate Solution: You have something in your eye. Reach toward the child making a cooing noise, then recoil with a shout of pain, placing your hands over your eye. Blast! An eyelash/particle of dust/2×4 has become lodged in your eye, and while you would love to hold the Precious Child right now, you simply must rush to the restroom to discover the cause of this pain, as it is simply too much to bear.

Potential Complication: You are a female, and thus even if you escape holding the child, you will, at this time or another, be asked about your own child-bearing plans. That biological clock is tick-tick-ticking away, you know!

Alternate Solution: If the child’s mother/father is a sensitive and politically liberal person, pause, then begin to say something about a miscarriage/abortion, then become choked up and break off your explanation. Excuse yourself to regain your composure.

Alternate Solution: If the child’s mother/father is not politically or religiously liberal, and you don’t care about scandalizing or horrifying her/him, perform the same routine as above, then run, and be prepared to avoid this person like the plague for the rest of the gathering. (Potential Complication: this person might try to talk to one of your parents about your unfortunate reproductive issues. If this would be a problem, do not use this solution. If your parents are reasonable, simply warn them either beforehand or as soon as possible that this emergency lie had to be used.)

Alternate Solution: If you are at the dinner table with many, many people and don’t wish to break out your Kate-Winslet-in-Revolutionary-Road-style acting regarding an unwanted pregnancy, begin to give an explanation about your admirable future child-bearing plans, then suddenly get something in your eye! Rush to the bathroom to examine it and rid yourself of this excruciating pain! Wait a few minutes, and by the time your get back to the table, the conversation will hopefully have moved on.

Situation #3: Your grandmother/uncle/happily-married-cousin/snotty nine-year-old nephew asks about your romantic life and/or marriage plans.

Solution: You are in a happy relationship with someone your relatives would approve of, but he/she could not be present for this gathering. Happily tell the truth about this person. (Congratulations, bitch.)

Alternate Scenario: You are in a relationship with the boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife that you have brought with you. If your relative has forgotten/does not know/thinks that person is some third-cousin-twice-removed whose name is unknown, kindly introduce your significant other. If your relative does not approve because “Forget about Orthodox, she’s not even a Jew! What?! Are you trying to kill me?! If your grandmother were alive to see this, etc. etc.” Both you and your significant other should quietly eat/drink/sneak away while this person becomes too wrapped up in his/her own ranting to notice.

Alternate Scenario: You are in a happy (or unhappy) relationship with someone your relatives would not approve of, or you’re in an unhappy relationship with someone they would approve of and you don’t wish to talk about this person. Or you are single and are just f-ing tired of being looked at with pity and told that eventually you will find someone, or that you are an independent person who doesn’t need a boy/girlfriend, or that you will never be able to stay married because no one will ever love you (Wait, only my grandmother says that to me on Christmas? Oh…)

Solution: Make up a significant other that your family would approve of, but say that you have just started dating and don’t know how everything will progress. Be careful not to make this person sound too good, otherwise when you are forced to reveal at the next family holiday gathering that you’ve broken up with your fictional girl/boyfriend (you can’t keep the lie up too long, or your family will want to meet Henry/Racquel), you will continue hear about this failed relationship for years. “Why aren’t you still dating that engineer from Harvard? He sounded so lovely. I bet he has a nice girlfriend, now. Someone who appreciates him. Yep, you snooze you lose, don’t you?”

Alternate solution: You like to fuck with people, especially your relatives, so you say that you’ve been seeing a performance artist named Sven who is best known in the art world for building a nest made of his own hair and then sleeping in it for a month in the field beside a gas station. Say you are thinking of moving in together (into his nest?). Ask your brother to pass the potatoes, and then refuse to discuss your relationship further.

Alternate Solution: Announce that you’re gay. Ask your brother to pass the potatoes, and then refuse to discuss it further.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay, and your family approves. Employ any of the above scenarios without their heteronormative trappings.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay and your family does not approve. Tell them you’ve decided to move to Beirut with your lesbian girlfriend Shauna, a fire-eater in the circus, or to take up a nomadic lifestyle with your Hell’s Angels boyfriend, Rick. He’s forty-nine. You are not. Enjoy dessert while your relatives scream and moan about how you are ruining your life.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay and your family does not approve and you want to get through this goddamn meal in peace, for once, for the love of God! Tell them you’re in a heterosexual relationship with a nice boy/girl named Thomas/Laura, with whom you like to walk to the local lake and feed ducks.

Alternate Scenario: You are bisexual or pansexual and don’t want to have to explain to your family what that is. Announce that you have recently started a heterosexual relationship with one of your professors, or your boss if you are no longer in school. If your boss is of your same sex, announce you are dating your boss’s wife/husband.

Alternate Scenario: You are bisexual or pansexual and don’t want to have to explain to your family what that is, but you don’t want to scandalize and horrify them and deal with the resulting years of radioactive fallout. Announce you plan to enter a nunnery/monastery and take a vow of celibacy.

Alternate Solution: Say that relationships seem so futile in the world today, considering global warming, the economy, high divorce rates, etc. Stare sadly into you peas as you speak for a minute or two about the depressing state of the planet, then excuse yourself to use the restroom. Terrified the evening will become a downer, the host/ess will have changed the topic of conversation by the time you get back.

Alternate Solution: Excuse yourself to use the restroom/remove the eyelash from your eye; while in the bathroom, swig from the flask you have under your skirt/in your jacket pocket, or from the bottle you stashed under the sink.

Alternate Solution: Excuse yourself to use the restroom/remove the eyelash from your eye, then walk out the front door, enter your car, and drive away.

The Wingman: How Not to Hit on Someone: “Luke, I am your father”

November 6, 2011 § 3 Comments

There are certain things a person knows by instinct not to say to a someone when you’re chatting them up at a club/bar/bar mitzvah. “I wet my bed until I was 17.” “I went to prison for exposing myself to a minor.” “I think Kings of Leon is a really good band.” Such statements are what we women call “red flags,” as in, “Grab his giant red flag and use it to hail a cab to get the hell out of here.”

When Albert Einstein famously said, “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former,” he must have been standing in a bar watching his friend tell some woman that she reminds him of his mother, before his mother was committed to the mental ward when he was nine. I am continually surprised by what people will say aloud, but I am continually shocked by what men will say to women they’re trying to have sex with.

The following story brings you today’s advice from the Wingman: if you’re trying to pick up a younger woman, don’t tell her that you have a son her age.

My junior year of college, I was studying abroad in Oxford. One weekend, I ended up in a hotel on the coast of Wales, miles from anything that could be considered a city and at least a few miles from the nearest small town. After dinner at said hotel, my friends and I contemplated what to do for the evening. Being without a car, our choices were to drink in the hotel bar, or to sit in someone’s room and stare at each other.

Upon entering the bar, we heard a ruckus coming from a private room. Walking by, we saw thirty or forty people (mostly men) drinking enthusiastically. A few of them were wearing sombreros. If I were at home in California, it would be odd but not entirely improbable to see a group of drunk men wearing sombreros in a bar, especially if there’s a Chevy’s nearby. In Wales, however, I’d have been surprised if anyone could even identify a sombrero. (A month or so later, I threw a Cinco de Mayo party with a few of my American friends; when we invited some British guys to the party, one replied, “I don’t know what Cinco de Mayo is; we don’t have any Mexicans here.”)

After getting our own table and a pint apiece, six or so of us Americans, the majority being female, were talking and drinking for a half hour or so, at which point a spectacularly drunk Welshman wearing a sombrero threw himself into an empty chair and began to talk at us about I have no idea what. I do remember thinking that I wouldn’t mind wearing a full-body condom: this guy was skeezy, if entertaining. Another Welshman – older, more composed, less sloppy drunk, and more conscious of personal boundaries – also sat down, and we preceded to have a strange conversation with them about many things. (The older one told us that drinking Guinness in Dublin was better than sex. “Oh, my wife will kill me. It’s almost as good as sex.” My friends and I traveled to Dublin two months later.)

Mostly, they wanted to know what we were doing in Gwbert, the “town” the hotel was nearest too, pronounced like a mix between “Gilbert” and “Goobert.” Actually, they wanted to know what “the fuck” we were doing in Gwbert. Apparently, as Americans traveling the British isles, we were getting it all wrong. Even Welshman don’t want to go to Gwbert, our new friends informed us, they themselves were only here for some team-building thing for work that was mandatory.

Last year, apparently, they went to Spain on their team-building trip/reward vacation, but thanks to the economic downturn, this year they were in the middle of nowhere Wales. At this point in the evening, my friends and I discovered the reason for the sombreros: all the employees at this event had been playing a game in which they were split up into teams, with each team representing a country. By this point, many other drunk Welshman had begun to pour into the general bar area, so our only-somewhat-tipsy friend could point out the cowboy hats (the U.S.), canvas safari-type hats (Australia), berets (France), and triangular straw hats (China), in addition to the aforementioned sombreros (Mexico).

Around this time, other Welshmen, on their way to being plastered themselves, tried to join our group, apparently thinking our original two guests had been hogging us – or rather, hogging the five or so young American girls. They were initially less interested in our two male friends, though by the end of the night, they were loving on them too, with an enthusiasm that the term “homoerotic” doesn’t quite capture.

One by one, or in pairs, we peeled ourselves from the table, ostensibly to use the “loo” or something, after at least one new Welshman had become quite grabby.

At our table, the Welshmen had been buying us drinks – pints of cider and beer – girls and guys both. On my way to or from the bathroom, I stopped to say hi to a male friend that was chatting with another Welshman (younger, seemingly less creepy, cuter if not truly cute), and suddenly found myself with another new friend ready to shower me in free drinks.

Turns out that, due to the volcano that had lately erupted over Iceland, spouting veritable tons of ash and grounding all planes, the Welshmen’s boss was stuck in Italy and had not been able to attend the company retreat. This retreat included booze – an open tab with the hotel bar that the boss’s second-in-command, seemingly the most sober of the bunch, was exceedingly lenient with.

Suffice it to say, we all (American and Welsh alike) got plastered; I’d barely have finished off half of a pint before I had three Welshmen trying to order me another. It was even the same for the guys.

Over the course of three or four hours, I had long, hilarious conversations with a number of Welshmen, ranging in age from late twenties to early sixties. At one point, I was standing with a girlfriend talking to this Welsh guy who I believe was named Mike (though we had to retrospectively reconstruct this fact the next day from various pieces of “evidence”).

Mike was in his mid to late forties and was hitting on my friend hard. As this was all progressing, my friend or I made a comment on about the tattoo on Mike’s forearm. It appeared to be letters.

It was, Mike told us. In fact, it was an ambigram (ambigrams always make me think of that Dan Brown novel where ones saying “fire” and “water” get burned onto a bunch of priests’ chests; an ambigram is the script of a word that reads identically if turned upside down). Apparently, this ambigram spelled out the name of Mike’s son, which I think was Thomas but may have been Taylor or something else starting with “T.”

Having a tattoo of your son’s name is a rather sweet gesture, and mentioning this to a girl you’re chatting up could, in fact, win you sensitivity points, as long as you mention that you’re divorced, which Mike immediately did (got one thing right). Yes, the “I have a kid” revelation can work in your favor, provided it is not followed by another.

Mike then told us that his son Thomas/Taylor was a teenager. He may have been sixteen or seventeen, I don’t remember precisely. What I do remember is thinking, “At twenty-one, (Friend) and I are closer in age to your son than we are to you.”

After Mike told us a bit about Thomas/Taylor, during which time I was amusedly silent, drinking my pint, I moved on to another, potentially less creepy group of Welshmen/my American friends.

My friend did not run screaming from Mike. She did not even excuse herself to go to the bathroom and then conveniently fail to return. She actually continued to talk to him for a while, before rejoining the drunken group which, by this point, I believe was singing “Lean on Me” a cappella. We proceeded to sing many things a cappella, including an old S Club 7 song that I was pretty well into at age ten or what have you, until we Americans were wearing the sombreros and berets and swaying in time to the “music,” our arms thrown around Welsh shoulders.

Well, some of us. I was much less about the touching with drunk men I had just met, but generally, the end of the gathering was very lighthearted, a sort of “We Are the World” facilitated by copious amounts of alcohol.

The night in the bar of this Gwbert hotel was – despite the fuzziness-inducing effects of seven or so pints – quite memorable. Even now, though, a few years down the line, I’m astonished at Mike’s decision to throw out, “Oh yeah, so I have a sixteen-year-old son.”

Having a tattoo of your son’s name, okay, that’s sweet, that could win you some points. Noting that said son is almost my age: not so much. This just seems like a no-brainer – you should lie.

If you’re in your mid/late forties and you’re trying to sleep with a twenty-one-year-old American that you met in a bar maybe an hour ago, you’re probably not concerned with establishing a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. This is fine – it’s the contract of the skeezy bar hookup, and if the girl goes for it, she’s not picking out wedding china in her head in the meantime.

Ergo, LIE. You’re “sweet” and “sensitive”? You have a son that you love? Great, say he’s a toddler. Get the most out of this you can. He can be five at the most. Six or seven is pushing it – that’s the age when a kid starts to seem like a person rather than a tiny, adorable talking doll that you can make say inappropriate things.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT tell the younger woman that you have a kid almost her age. You do not want her to do the math and realize that you could be her father. That in and of itself is not necessarily a dealbreaker, but if you’re trying to seal the deal, you do not want the girl to be connecting you with her father. She looks at you, she immediately pictures her father: it’s a big mood killer. The kind that requires she go take a 45-minute shower and you go away.

So lie. Tell her about the cute castle that little Tommy/Taylor made with blocks a few days ago. Tell her how he called you “Mama” for two years, because he apparently thought it was a nice all-purpose parent name. Tell her about something shitty your ex-wife did to you, even, if you like. Make up whatever endearing stories you like. Just do not open your mouth and let, “I could be your father” slide on out. She’s not that drunk.

She could never be that drunk.

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