How To Handle Political Discussions Around The Thanksgiving Day Table With Help From Miss Manners When Thanksgiving comes during an election season, dinner table conversations can get contentious. We check in with Miss Manners to learn how we might get through the holiday without a family feud.

How To Dodge Political Squabble This Gobble Day

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's common wisdom that families should avoid talking about politics around the Thanksgiving table, but if you're hearing this, you might be in an NPR family. It's an election year, there're polls and gaffes every day. Won't it be hard to talk about car talk the whole night? Miss Manners, the writer Judith Martin, joins us in our studio. Thanks very much for being with us.

JUDITH MARTIN: I'm delighted to be here.

SIMON: First, do you agree with that old bromide, avoid talking about politics?

MARTIN: Yes, I do if you don't know what the politics are of the people. Now, Thanksgiving, you might. It's a good thing to avoid it, yes.

SIMON: Well, but conversationally, what happens at a Thanksgiving table if, for example, a Bernie Sanders supporter sits next to a Ben Carson supporter?

MARTIN: Well, let's hope that one of them doesn't hit the other one with a drumstick.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But things tend to get nasty. You know, I think of Thanksgiving as this adorable holiday. Personally, I love it. But on my column, I hear nothing but squabble, squabble, squabble. It's, do we have to go and negotiating the terms. We have to go to three different households because we have divorced parents and this. They start dictating - now, you should have it at this hour because we have to go there. Then there's the food issue. We don't eat this or that, we don't like this or that. People fight over the leftovers. I mean, I can't believe it. And do you know...

SIMON: It's America, Miss Manners, all right? Yeah.

MARTIN: Yes, and we understand good business and so there are people - first time I got a letter saying that grandma had been charged for Thanksgiving dinner, I thought it was a joke.

SIMON: What?

MARTIN: And every year, I get them. There are people who might give out food assignments. But if they don't, they say, well, it's X dollars a head. The spirit of gratitude, isn't that wonderful?

SIMON: I wonder, isn't the most hazardous topic of conversation family issues?

MARTIN: Yes, yes. The people who think it's a good opportunity to ask the single people why they're not married or the pregnant woman why she's adding to the world population...

SIMON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Or that kind of thing. It's called, oh, it's family. We can talk about anything.

SIMON: You never really cared for our brother the way I do, that sort of thing?

MARTIN: Mama liked you best, yes, and so on. I mean, yes, that's even worse. It would be better to fight over politics than to go down that road.

SIMON: Can you give us a couple of things that can be talked about, recognizing there's, you know, no immaculate answer to this? A couple of topic areas that might be...

MARTIN: Oh, how's the weather? How about that? And if that gets boring...

SIMON: But even then, the weather's getting worse - that's because the...

MARTIN: You're right, you're right.

SIMON: ...You know, climate change.

MARTIN: Maybe there isn't a safe topic. Art - what movies did you see? - sports. Anything can turn nasty if you really put your mind to it.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But let's hope that there's a certain amount of restraint that people will exercise and realize this is a day to be thankful. You're there with your loved ones, you have enough to eat. Where's the gratitude? And that's what I ask myself every year when I get all these letters. I mean, it's turned into a melee. What's a matter with us?

SIMON: Well, that's why we brought you into the studio. I don't know.

MARTIN: I know what's the matter, and I'm trying to solve it. But let me tell you, it's an uphill battle.

SIMON: Judith Martin, Miss Manners, thanks so much, and happy Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: Thank you, the same to you.

SIMON: And I hope you get the leftovers you really want.

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