The trick for a host is to keep the conversation informational rather than confrontational and better yet, keep it humorous.
As I run through last-minute preparations for a cozy Thanksgiving gathering at my house, I am thinking about polite party behavior and how some long-standing rules seem antiquated today.
A key rule for being a good dinner guest is to never talk about politics. Of course, that’s to avoid upsetting tablemates who might embrace wildly divergent views.
Nobody wants a guest to flee from the dinner table in tears as my friend Kristin McAndrews says happened at her party during a heated conversation about the merits of building the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
But nowadays the old taboo is difficult to uphold especially when a guest initiates a controversial topic. The trick for a host is to keep the conversation informational rather than confrontational and better yet, keep it humorous.
To my mind, it’s OK to bring up in light-hearted conversation — without sparking a food fight — some of today’s more goofy behaving politicians such as former president Donald Trump and self-confessed liar U.S. Rep. George Santos.
I see them as performative politicians more interested in advancing their own agendas than crafting meaningful policy to improve the world.
Like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, they are entertainers, putting on self-serving shows.
It’s perfectly polite to talk about entertainers at the dinner table. So why not discuss the politicians who are essentially entertainers?
Not all my friends agree. Fellow Civil Beat columnist Neal Milner shuns any sort of political discussions at parties saying, “a dinner table should be an oasis.”
But he says if someone launches into a political discussion, he responds by asking the person why they think the way they do.
He speaks in an inquiring rather than hostile way. He says the idea is to keep the conversation objective.
“A dinner table is a short-term venue. We are not seated there long enough to develop the deeper kind of dialogue that could be enlightening,” Milner says. “The key is not get into a hostile debates.”
My neighbor Sheila Watumull also dislikes political discussions at her dinner table. If someone starts, she says, “I say, ‘I am for Trump’ and everyone shuts up.”
Still, I maintain these political entertainers performing ludicrously to keep their names in the headlines are fair topics to discuss over slices of roast turkey and spoonfuls of cranberry sauce.
Trump, the performer-in-chief, initially ran for president to have a bigger stage than was possible on his TV show “The Apprentice.”
After his re-election failure, he has kept his show running — recently with his rants in a New York courthouse — all in the hopes of projecting himself back to the bigger stage of the White House. He is thrilled when we talk about him. Attention is what he craves.
Santos draws a $173,000 annual salary since he won congressional office — his first steady paycheck in years — but House investigators found that he used thousands of dollars from his campaign fund for Botox treatments, Ferragamo shoes and casino visits.
To be fair, it is not just Republicans who do and say weird things to draw an audience. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., running for president as an independent, is another strange-thinking politician who might emerge as a Thanksgiving table topic, but only briefly.
There is not much to say about a grown man riddled by conspiracy theories including the falsehood that “Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people” while sparing Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
But politics are politics. It is time now to discuss a few rules to guide the offering of what really matters about Thanksgiving: the food.
If you are contributing a dish to the dinner, be sure to bring it cooked and ready to serve. It is a bummer when a guest hogs up scant space in a crowded kitchen to finish preparing what they brought.
And if you are going to provide a dish here are a few traditional foods I hope you never bring to my house.
Top of the list is Jell-O. Never show up with any form of Jell-O. That includes Jell-O ambrosia salad bathed in Cool Whip or a rainbow Jell-O mold, the kind of jiggly dessert beloved in Hilo.
Milner informed me that there are only two places Jell-O is still popular in the U.S.: the Midwest and Hawaii.
Another warning: please no sweet potatoes covered with mini marshmallows. In fact, forget about any food featuring marshmallows. Too sweet, too icky.
And don’t bother baking a green bean casserole made of canned cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions from a can.
Honolulu attorney Colleen Bird tells me she also hates that traditional green bean staple, although she admits she scrapes some of the fried onions off the top of the casserole to eat.
We are in a minority. The New York Times reports the green bean dish appears on 21 million tables each Thanksgiving.
“That is a favorite dish at my home,” says my friend Amy Mijo. “We also love sweet potatoes with marshmallows.”
I am starting to feel petty writing about what’s unwelcome at my Thanksgiving table when survivors of the Lahaina fire will be sitting down to dinner this year uncertain of where they will be living in the coming months.
I am starting to feel small writing about what’s unwelcome at my Thanksgiving table when survivors of the Lahaina fire worry about their uncertain futures. And in far away Israel, Gaza and Ukraine civilians are surrounded by death, always wondering if they will be the next to go as they seek cover from bombs and unrelenting gunfire.
Bring on the Jell-O and pass the green beans. How about some marshmallow topping. We are awash in plentitude. As we bask in the warmth of friendship on Thursday, it is time to stop, if just for a minute, to say thank you.