Spending your first Thanksgiving holiday with your new in-laws? Toss your expectations out the window and get ready to blend in with your in-laws and their "merry" ways. Here are a few etiquette tips to help you put your best foot forward when you are the guest of your new spouse's family during the holidays.
1. Show up with a gift. Your husband might not have a clue that you should never arrive empty handed. A nice hostess gift will go a long way in showing your appreciation for the holiday invitation to dinner. Even if it's your husband's mother, she is still considered the host of the event and should be treated with the same care you would any other hostess. Consider her interests and taste and find a gift that shows you put some thought into the gesture.
2. Offer to help with the meal. Be ready to pitch in like a good family member should. Find out in advance what you can bring to the gathering. If your offer to bring a dish is turned down, bring a bottle of wine (not chilled so there will be no pressure to serve it) or a basket of fresh muffins that can be enjoyed the next day. Offer to chop vegetables, set the table or pass out hors d'oeuvres. If your mother-in-law declines your help, let her know you are available if she changes her mind.
3. Don't wait to be asked. Your new spouse may push away from the table and plop in front of the television to watch the game, but it's an enormous courtesy to help clean plates off the table, gather up the dirty utensils and napkins, or anything else that could take pressure off of the host. Show that you don't mind getting your hands dirty.
4. Mix and mingle. Make an effort to spend time visiting with the different family members and make every effort to make a genuine connection. Even if you are naturally on the shy side, pry yourself away from your husband or wife and take the opportunity to get to know your new family members.
5. Keep your game face on. Do not act upset if your husband's family has different traditions that you are accustomed. You may be used to eating an early dinner while your husband's family doesn't eat until 8:00 p.m. Try not to act disappointed when there isn't a pumpkin pie in sight. You'll know what to bring as a dessert next year. Consider the experience an adventure and a learning experience.
6. Respect their family traditions. If everyone sits around the piano for a giant group sing-a-long after the last piece of pie is eaten, join in. You don't really have the option of sitting it out. Roll with it and think of the traditions you'll start together with your new spouse.
7. Focus on being a good guest. Even if you've been around for a while, don't get too comfortable. Falling asleep on the couch after the meal could send the message that you are either very relaxed or extremely bored. Show up with the mindset of being fully engaged in what's happening around you and appreciative of your new family members.
You can listen to Diane discuss these tips on the Hitched Podcast, Episode 235: First Thanksgiving Etiquette
Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.dianegottsman.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.