Norman Rockwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving dinner for my family this year won’t look like a Normal Rockwell painting. It’s not a bad thing; there simply isn’t a table large enough for all 25 of us who will be converging on my sister-in-law’s house on Thursday. With that many guests, Thanksgiving is much more suited to be a potluck that is served buffet style. There will be a table in the dining room, but also one in the living room and the basement. (I can’t imagine how long it would take to pass around food to everyone if we were sitting at one giant table!)

According to AAA, my family will be just a very tiny fraction of the nearly 51 million people who will travel to someone’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. That means that a large number of us will be guests in someone else’s home Thursday. Below is a reminder of what the proper etiquette looks like for being a guest for Thanksgiving dinner.

1. Arrive on time. If you don’t know when you should arrive, ask! Showing up early can stress out a host who feels they must entertain you (even though they’re not ready for you). It’s also impolite to show up late and make everyone wait for you.

 2. Show your appreciation for the work your host has put into the meal – even if it’s a potluck. This means bringing a small gift in addition to actually saying “thank you.” A bottle of wine is a nice gesture, but only if you know that your host drinks. An alternative to that can be a small bottle of olive oil. Flowers (already in a vase or other container so your host doesn’t have to dig one out) or a small box of chocolates are other traditional gifts that go over well. If your host has gone above and beyond, you can always send a thank you note in the mail after you’ve returned home.

3. If you’re bringing a dish to share, also bring serving utensils. Thanksgiving dinner tends to have a lot of side dishes, and your host may not have enough for every dish. By bringing your own, you also save the host from having to wash and put away one more item after everyone leaves. Don’t want to take home a dirty utensil? You’ve got several options: wash it yourself before leaving, wrap it in paper towels, cover part of it with a baggie, or put it in a separate bag that you can throw away after you get home.

4. Take only your fair share. Those sweet potatoes may be your favorite dish, but you have to leave some for everyone else. While I believe a polite guest always takes at least one bite of a dish that is served (barring any dietary restrictions), that rule is for smaller meals and doesn’t apply to a potluck where there may not be enough of a dish for everyone to have some.

5. Don’t bring up politics. Or argue them with someone who does. Best to just change the topic. “We could probably argue all day about that, but I bet we all agree that Aunt Jane’s pumpkin pie is the best around.”

6. Help with clean up. Don’t expect your host to take care of everything. At a minimum you should clear your own place at the table and put away the anything you may have brought with you. Want to do more? Wash any dishes that are stacked in the sink or ask your host what you can do.

7. Don’t ask to take a plate of leftovers if you aren’t offered one. Thanksgiving leftovers seem to be one of the few times that everyone actually wants leftovers (because they’re delicious!), but by default they are left for the host to enjoy as a reward for hosting.

 8. Make a graceful exit. If the invitation has an ending time, then you should be on your way out the door before that time. If there wasn’t an ending time, watch for clues from your host and the other guests to make sure you don’t overstay your welcome. Be sure to say goodbye (and thank you) to your host(s) as you leave. 

Whether you are a guest or a host this year, I hope you have a good Thanksgiving holiday.

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