How To Deal When You're Spending Christmas At Your Boyfriend's Parents' House For The First Time
The Debrief: Relax, but not too much. Be entertaining, but not drunk-entertaining. Try not to say 'breast'. It's a minefield.
Illustration by Anna Sudit
So, you’re spending Christmas at your boyfriend’s family home. Congratulations. You’re through to the final stages of getting into the family. Nervous? Me too, this is such a big deal! Squeal!
Ok, enough tomfoolery, let’s talk logistics, because lurking amongst the good cheer and strengthening familial ties lies potential for the kind of awkwardness that bears live-tweeting. How are you going to get through this? Here’s a handy guide...
Get a comprehensive list of everyone who will be there
That way you can buy presents for absolutely everybody who drops round, even the fringe family members and the neighbours (but not the postman. That’s overkill, APPARENTLY).
Practice your 'I have no problem with this' face
It is a truth universally known that all other families do Christmas wrong. Try not to be visibly horrified by their rituals, even though they are patently absurd, borderline idiotic and staggeringly inferior to your own family's Yuletide routine. I know it's tough. I mean, ugh, they open a present an hour so they can “stretch out the fun”? Seriously? So I just got a friggin’ battery and I have to wait until after lunch to find out what the hell it’s for? I can’t take this, I need a bucks fizz...oh, what’s that? You don’t drink before lunch in your family, even on Christmas? What are we going to do then, just sit here and look at each other? Er, no, I don’t want to pull a cracker with you, that would be cretinous at 10am, crackers are at lunch, obviously. No, don’t put the hat on, DON’T YOU DARE PUT THE PAPER HAT ON…!
Unless awkward pauses and strained smiles make you go all gooey inside, don’t bring up the fact that the obvious wrongness of their no-no-noël makes you miss your mum - in fact, don't even mention how you do Christmas at home (read: properly). Try not to even look surprised when this bunch of weirdos have sacks instead of stockings, do a weird hand-holding song around the tree, or use scissors to unwrap their presents.
Don’t get too drunk
If like some of us, getting drunk is like pouring melted butter on the helter-skelter between your brain and your mouth, keep those 'best-left-unsaid' opinions to yourself by skimping on the alcohol. Fewer calories too, you can tell yourself, as you reach for the Quality Street.
Navigate the turkey/breast minefield
'Would you like leg or breast?' Oh, kill me. If I say leg, because it’s clearly the best bit, you're stealing a leg from a family member who’s too polite to screech 'THE LEG IS MINE! WHY DID YOU BRING A LEG THIEF INTO OUR HOME?! You’ve RUINED Christmas!'. If you say breast, then you run the risk of giggling because you just said 'breast' and looking like a moron.
The sneakiest way to deal with this is to ask your man beforehand if anyone in his family has any strong preferences towards one bit of the turkey. If he doesn’t know, or shakes his head as if such a thing is trivial, you’re going to have to style it out on the day with a non-committal response - but NOT 'I don’t mind', because, if they’re British, they’ll assume you're lying and will have to begin the awkward dance of trying to guess what you *really* want. Which is so excruciatingly uncomfortable they may as well stick a hot potato in your ear.
Instead,I recommend distracting them with tap-dancey, Russell Brand-esque vocabulary, 'Leg or breast, you say? How can I possibly decide, when I am as passionate an advocate of turkey as you will ever find? Please don’t make me choose between all this majestic creature's equally delicious components!' Either they’ll chortle at your quirkiness and chuck you a breast, or they’ll give up on conversing with you because you’ve gone weird. Whatever. It’s better than nicking the dad’s leg.
Christmas is basically just a massive to-do list plus calories, so offering to help out with the many chores will be much appreciated. But don’t ask 'Can I help with anything?' That’s like announcing, 'Damn, it feels good to be a nervous guest in a stranger’s house!'
Instead, just start helping – wash up a few dishes, or grab a dishcloth if someone’s already started.
Maybe don’t just dive in with the food prep though - some people can be very possessive about their kitchens and many have also perfected the towel-whip. In this case, ask if you can be of service but be specific, less 'can I help with anything?' and more, 'shall I peel these?'
But DON’T help out too much!
Let me share a Christmas tale. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, my boyfriend was helping out with the chores and I wanted to put his head in a nutcracker. He set and cleared the tables, he did the washing up, he helped prepare food...whata wonderful guest, my family thought! After lunch I was telling a funny story. Since my boyfriend had already heard it, he decided to start clearing the table. I was just reaching the punchline of the anecdote...when all of a sudden there arose such a clatter.
I looked at my parents to see what was the matter. And lo, ‘twas my stepdad, quite red in the face, yelling “ERICA! Why don’t you help him?! He’s doing everything around here and you’re just yammering on!”...which was not the case.
I quietly got up, walked past my (perhaps mildly hypercritical) parents to the kitchen and said, 'Dude. You’re not the butler. Chill the f*** out, you’re making me look bad.'
Accept food and drink
Nothing says 'I am not comfortable here' like the constant refusal of food. (Except maybe literally declaring 'I am not comfortable here.') Some families really go for it with the Yuletide overindulgence – if your stomach can’t take actually joining in with another round of turkey, crackers and cheese, accepting the food and leaving leftovers is much kinder than refusing it.
The same goes for drinking – if you don’t drink or can’t keep up with the family drinking pace, accepting and surreptitiously losing a drink avoids those awkward potential 'why aren’t you drinking?' conversations. If your boyfriend’s ahead of you, a discreet glass-swap is another excellent trick.
Keep supplies in your room
By 'supplies', I mean anything you might need from outside your room. Water, juice, a snack – anything to stop you going downstairs at the crack of dawn and running into your boyfriend’s dad who is, for some baffling reason, naked in the kitchen, safe in the assumption that you 'wouldn’t be up this early' and that he 'thought he’d have heard you coming' and 'sorry about that, HAHAHA don’t tell my wife'.
Oh ho ho, you’re thinking, what silliness. What an irrelevant piece of advice.
Do you want to run that risk? Spoiler: you do not.
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Follow Erica on Twitter: @ericabuist
Illustration: Anna Sudit
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