1. Your new favorite TV shows. Netflix, HBO, Amazon, and Hulu have gone mainstream, which means shows like Broad City, 30 Rock, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and the like are probably pretty familiar to your family by now. So go ahead and wax poetically about how much you miss The Sopranos. If your family is a little less glued-to-the-tube you can always mention the judges you prefer on The Voice or which products you loved from Shark Tank. TV talk is generally pretty safe but beware land mines. Don’t touch the specifics of a case on The Good Wife. Legal conversations can lead to political conversations, which can lead to… Eek! Boy, did your cousin have an axe to grind about Men’s Rights Activism or what?
2. Where you’d like to be in five years. Do you want kids? Do you want to move? All great topics! The question of “How’s work going?” is bound to come up. Rather than complain or discuss the salary of benefits you are/are not/should be receiving it’s better to lead the conversation towards goals you have for yourself. Would you like to change positions? Wanna get promoted? What if you want to break into a new field? These are all exciting topics for you and your family. Bringing them up can hopefully mean positive support from everyone. One of them might even have the name of somebody you can network with. For the love of all that you hold dear please do not discuss work if you work in politics or for a non-profit social cause. If that’s the case then do your best to ask your family members what they hope to be doing.
3. A current project you’re working on. Are you crafty? Are you writing a book? Decided to finally try to build you own PC or redo your bathroom? Then get cracking! Lots of people have lots of projects in their lives that they’re passionate about. If you don’t happen to be that type then perhaps your grandmother or cousin is. Take this opportunity to find out! It’s better than discussing Ferguson with your racist uncle who keeps saying “thugs.”
4. The new toy you can’t wait to get your paws on. Boy do those new iPhones or Motorolas or Microsoft Windows Phones look great! Which do you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Winter Solstice/your next birthday? Do you want a new Xbox or Kindle? The new Apple Watch seems like it’ll be really useful for health nuts. Pick an item, even one you’d only want if it were offered to you for free, and covet away. Let the kids carry the conversation to what toys they’d like or trips they’d like to take with their parents. The point is we aren’t discussing Obamacare and that’s awesome.
5. The food. It’s in front of you and it’s probably the focus of your day. So discuss it! Are you gluten intolerant/vegetarian/lactose intolerant/allergic/etc.? Great! Do your best to share your gastrointestinal wisdom in a positive and exciting way. Something I tend to discuss is a meat-free way to make stuffing. I also like to dissect just how difficult the dessert was to make. Not only will the chef appreciate the attention, you might even learn something! If a conversation about how much gravy you like leads to discussion of new immigration legislation then it was probably unavoidable.