by Victoria Li, Ava Ransbotham & Angela Tao, Opinions writers
graphic by Emily Cheng
“What college are you going to? Do you have a boyfriend? A girlfriend? Your grades are good, right? Are you a vegetable lover now?”
Relatives’ faces blur together as questions come faster than you can process the words. With the arrival of the holiday season (and endless family gatherings), now really feels like a bad time to be an introvert. But don’t worry! Whether you’re hosting or visiting, we have some tips and tricks to help you prepare for these lively events.
Your family won’t be crashing your house forever. We promise. Take advantage of breaks — just because they’re your family and they only come once a year doesn’t mean you owe them every second of your time.
For many of us introverts, small talk is not our strong suit, and the prospect of filling an entire dinner with sparkling conversation can feel daunting. The best way to handle the pressure is to shift the conversation onto the other person. Shockingly, other people actually like to talk. Hard to believe, we know. Ask them a few questions to get them rambling about that one time with Joe back in ‘79, and you can nod and smile your way through the entire dinner.
For conversation starters, instead of asking “Do you like this?” try “How do you like this?” You’ll shift the weight of the conversation onto them.
On the flip side, don’t be afraid to give longer responses. Your family members probably don’t feel that same looming sense of awkwardness. When they ask a question, they aren’t just filling the silence — they care about your response. They want to get to know you, for you. Be yourself! When you share details (think interests, hobbies), the conversation erupts.
If the thought of speaking more than absolutely necessary scares you, that’s okay! To avoid excess conversation, don’t leave any loose threads in your answers that your relatives can pull on. Be quick, either with little detail or including everything in one go.
Now, what if the party is already in session? Find something to do! Keeping busy is the most basic way to avoid awkwardness.
If you don’t want to interact with others all that much, read a book or engage in an otherwise quiet activity in a less busy area of the house. Be careful with the phone! Try to stay away from electronics for the most part, as they can make you seem disengaged from the group.
Now, what if you’re ready to take the leap and branch out a bit more? If you’d like to participate in an activity with other people, try a family-friendly movie or offer to help with tedious tasks such as cleaning and cooking (favorite grandchild points are like gold, people). Board games or charades are also perfect: you can be part of the group without having to contribute much verbally (except for shouting random words, of course).
Of course, your social battery will eventually run out. When this happens, scope out a quiet spot to retreat when you’re getting overwhelmed. Hallways on the edges of the social hotspot are cool, or even your room if the party’s at your house.
If you’re worried you’ll offend people with your disappearance, let your parents know you need a little break. They can cover for you in a way even extended family can understand. Pull out a book or put in some headphones and listen to what you need before going back into the frenzy.
Before you know it, it’s dinner time! But what if you don’t understand the etiquette or the cuisine? This may be unnerving, as etiquette can be drastically different based on culture. Elbows on the table? Talking while others are eating? Where to put the napkin? Which fork or spoon is used first? And don’t even get us started on chopsticks. But don’t be frightened — what is important is to be observant.
Look around the table; see what other members of your family are doing. And of course, if you’re lucky, and your host has sat you next to a close family member of yours, you can always ask for a little help. Asking may feel a bit embarrassing in an unfamiliar environment, but trust us, it’s better than the embarrassment of messing up.
You made it through dinner! Everyone is stuffed and relaxing on the couch. However appealing, try not to slump onto the couch in a turkey-infused coma, though; make sure to maintain your polite stature to set your image as the quiet but amiable party kid you are.
It’s the end of the night, and everyone is leaving (finally). Of course, you have to send everyone out with the appropriate goodbye. We all know how awkward it is to stand by the door while your parents are chatting the guests away, but think positively. We promise you’re not the only one who feels awkward.
When you ultimately begin to hear “Well, it’s about time…” or “My goodness, look how late it’s gotten!” your brain will naturally bring itself back into the moment, just in time to say a proper goodbye, which takes little mental energy. Just space out and keep a small smile on your face — you’re almost there! Hug when hugged, wave when waved at, throw in some “Thank yous” and “It was so nice to see yous” for good measure.
Finally, the last of your relatives have been waved out of the door. Congratulations! You’ve survived (hopefully unscathed!) an extended family visit as an introvert.