The holidays can be hard enough when you’re dealing with your own family, but the Thanksgiving/Christmas vacation sometimes provides an (unwelcome) opportunity to finally meet your boyfriend’s family.
So what should you do if his mother asks you to come to Christmas dinner? Or if you’re bringing him home, and you want him to make a good first impression?
1. Don’t show up empty-handed. Nothing makes a more favorable first impression than a present. Bare minimum is a nice-ish bottle of wine (plan to spend at least $30, brands like Yellow Tale are off-limits). If you’re going to be staying for more than just dinner (or if you just really want to kiss some ass), bring something else too.
You never want your host to feel obligated to serve whatever you bring, so don’t bring something like a fresh-baked apple pie (or really anything ready-to-eat), especially if you’re just staying for dinner. If you show up with a green bean casserole that won’t last more than 24 hours, your boyfriend’s mom is going to feel like she has to put it on the table. But what if she made a green bean casserole herself? She either has to serve both (which means the guests are going to compare and her offering will be found either superior or lacking—both of which are equally unappealing) or skip hers.
(Along the same lines, throw the bottle of wine in a nice bag so that the family doesn’t feel like they have to open it (although, in most cases, they probably will).)
But wait, you say, I make this amazing tiramisu brownie sundae that there’s no way my boyfriend’s mom is planning on serving! Doesn’t matter—it might not go with her menu, or Grandpa Nelson might be deathly allergic to chocolate. A food offering adds stress to an already stressful occasion for the hosts, so even if you’ve competed on Top Chef, no bringing perishables unless you’re asked.
Chocolates or, if you’re traveling, regional specialties from your home state, are OK as long as they’re gift-wrapped and clearly not meant for immediate consumption. Maple Syrup for New Englanders, cheese for French people, whatever.
But ask your S.O. for suggestions—unusual board games can make a great gift for some families, especially around the holidays when we’re desperate for entertainment that can appeal to three or four generations.
Don’t make it too personal—or too extravagant. No fancy picture frames, no jewelry, no candles you’ve been meaning to regift. Try to find something that the whole family can use.
If you’re really stuck, you can always bring a nice bouquet of flowers.
2. Ask questions. If you’re meeting his family for the first time (or even if you’re tight with his family but taking the plunge with the aunts and uncles), you might feel like you need to tell them your life story, to sell them on how wonderful you are. You don’t.
You’ll actually make a much better impression if you try to get to know them. Chances are, your boyfriend’s given them the low-down on your education level and current career. No one cares what you do on a day-to-day basis, and no one wants an hour-long rendition of the summer you spent backpacking through Thailand. If they want specifics, like what your parents do for a living, they’ll ask. If they don’t, you’re better off charming them by showing them how fascinating you find them. Ask cousin Suzy about her college applications, get his mom to tell you about her degree in art history. It’s flattering when people take a genuine interest in you, and once you’ve flattered them, they’re more likely to remember you favorably.
3. Don’t dominate the conversation. You may be the novelty at this year’s table, but the family still has traditions and catching up to do. Go with the flow, and remember that you’re there for decorative purposes. Sure, they invited you for a reason, but their holiday comes first. The more you smile and stay out of the way, the less you disrupt them.
Holidays are a chance for people to wax nostalgic, to celebrate the one thing that stays the same no matter how many new wrinkles each guest brings. Even if it’s fucked up, there’s comfort in the fact that nothing’s getting better, and the more you shake things up, the less your presence will be appreciated.
4. Send a thank you card. Yes, it might feel old-fashioned, but no one’s going to be upset/offended if you don’t send one, and everyone will be, at the very least, flattered if you do.
This means snail-mail—even if the invite came electronically.