1 December 1998
Vol. 224, No. 6, ISSN: 0010-9541
Your Merry can be his Scary Christmas unless prep him on your parents.
I hate the holidays. It's not the busting wide-open of my piggy bank or the endless reruns of It's a Wonderful Life.
You see, my family lives abroad, so I spend the holidays with whomever I'm seeing at the time. That's not such a bad thing. Okay, it can be a very bad thing, unless--and this is important--you tell me your family's house rules. So here are some questions you need to answer before you drag me home:
How do I address your parent? Do I call your dad "Bob"? "Mr. Anderson"? "Mr. Bob"? I once insulted a girlfriend's parents by not calling them Mom and Dad, even though I had never met them before!
What's the proper bathroom etiquette? Which towel is being used for a bath mat and which is your mom's thee towel? An ex-girlfriend had a father who liked to brush his teeth in the nude, a fact I only discovered when I asked if I could borrow the toothpaste.
What am I allowed to look at/ touch/consume? Can I look through family photos by myself and forage around in the fridge? One year, I was the first out of bed, and helped myself to one of Grandma's muffins. (Okay, more than one.) When my girlfriend's family arose, they linked at me like I had gone joyriding in the new family van. Everyone knew Grandma's muffins were not to be touched till Christmas dinner. Everyone, that is, except me.
Can we sleep in the same bed? Some parents don't care; others demand we sleep in separate beds and then ignore footsteps down the hall after lights-out; still others would mount my head over the mantel if I attempted any mounting of my own. So before I drop my bags--and pants--in your room, let me know whether we're shacking up or I'm sharing a bunk bed with your little brother.
What's a good present to give? Years ago, I managed to offend everyone in my girlfriend's family without even trying. I bought her the same watch that her dad did. I handed a big box of chocolates to her mother, not knowing she was diabetic. And I gave her little sister earrings, which she called "sexist" and threw back at me. You don't have to pick out the gifts, but just give me a heads up on what might backfire. And finally, How do I deal with your holiday dinners? These meals are supposed to be joyous but are often marked by long stretches of silence, punctuated occasionally by boozy debates. Last year, I got into trouble when I casually mentioned my woman had given up meat. That got her and her mom into a fight over the validity of vegetarianism, after which they ignored each other for two entire hours. I broke the silence by talking to her dad about movies--only to be treated to a drunken diatribe on the brilliance of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
After saying all this, it might be hard to believe that a guy could ever enjoy the holidays at your folks' house. Truth is, I'd prefer to spend them alone with you. So the last rule is, please promise that we can do that next year.
SIDEBAR: What she didn't warn me about ...
"She neglected to inform me that her folks don't speak a word of English!"
"It would've been nice if she told me I was to lead her family in a hymn!"
"She should've warned me not to bring up topics like `sexgate.' Her dad has very strong opinions."
"She never mentioned her three big brothers who are very protective of their little sister."
"I talked her aunt's ear off for 20 minutes, then learned she's deaf!"