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10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Your In-Laws

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« on: December 24, 2007, 01:21:22 am »

10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Your In-Laws

By Dina Koutas Poch
Updated: Dec 23, 2007

Holiday visits to in-laws, present or prospective, can test the strongest of bonds, even if you believe you could be hitting the in-law jackpot and winning a stellar extended family.
Here are 10 "in-law tips" to make a potentially bumpy sleigh ride much smoother.
1. Memorize In-law Names: Hey, Columbo, do your homework! It's easy if your in-laws are named Branford I, II and III. If this is your first time meeting the whole clan, learn who will be present ahead of time. You'll be poised to meet Great Aunt Stella's new, much younger boyfriend and not call him "boy toy" when his name is Ken.
2. Bear a special dish: The 8" by 10" baking pan is your token of gratitude -- it shows you appreciate your in-laws' hospitality. Aren't you a peach!
Also, you've guaranteed there's something digestible on the table
Also, you've guaranteed there's something digestible on the table and avoided the family specialty of "beef cups with pizza rice." Snap!
3. Embrace Your In-laws' Lifestyle: If only your in-laws posted a "House Rules" sign on their front door. At least you'd know that their thermostat never rises above 60 degrees, everyone eats dinner at 5:30 p.m., no one removes the plastic wrap from the TV remotes, and you only flush the toilet when it's number two. Imagine you're staying at an eccentric bed and breakfast. You didn't make the rules -- but you can survive them for a few days.
4. Throw Down a Secret Password: This is a sound (bird chirp), a word (sonar) or a dance number (the Worm) that advertises to your partner that you need a break when your in-laws are testing your limits. "
Hon, I just ordered a transducer for my sonar machine
Hon, I just ordered a transducer for my sonar machine" means "let's take a little time-out from the part-ay."
5. "Kalimera!" You speak English. Unfortunately, your in-laws don't. Learn a few key phrases to help you be as culturally smooth as Bono. So your mispronunciation of their regional dialect means you called your grandma-in-law a lizard, it's cool; you tried. Besides, teaching you the most mundane phrases in Cantonese is more entertaining than Yahtzee.
6. Hello, Small Talk!: Does your partner's family gab ceaselessly or sit in utter silence? If you have chatty in-laws and you're too quiet, they'll be suspicious. Too much yammering, and you're uncivilized. Ease into your in-laws' conversation style. Just smile and nod until you figure out if you're there to listen to a three-hour story about cats, or tell one.
7. Mr. or Ms. Dietary Restriction: Just like the airplane, make your food needs known ahead of time. Although there are no promises that your mother-in-law understands that lactose-intolerant means that you can't eat every dish au gratin. If you're left with nothing but bread rolls and wine, think of the pounds you'll drop this holiday season as others are stuffing themselves.
8. Accept In-law Gifts with Grace: No, you can't immediately list the "bald eagle wall clock" you just received from them on eBay along with the used mattress pad you've been trying to unload. Your in-laws want to see their gift when they visit! Tell them you love it so much that you brought it to your office. What are the chances they'll see your office? They don't even know what you do for a living!
9. Silence Your Inner Cruise Director: Recommending novels, restaurants or movies during an in-law visit can be a bust. Inevitably, your rental choice of "The Holiday" bores them to tears, and the local fish restaurant (the one with the rave reviews) gives everyone the Norwalk virus.
Sometimes it's best to be bland, boring and not opinionated -- for once!
Sometimes it's best to be bland, boring and not opinionated -- for once!
10. Your Partner, The Spokesperson: If you and yours want to bow out of the family field trip to the HoneyBaked Ham store, let your partner drop the news. If you are constantly the bearer of broken plans, they'll assume it's always your idea. Face it; your partner is a much better front man, even if you have cute dimples.
Just remember, however stressful it is to share the holidays with your in-laws, it's just as hard on them. You worry about your outfit; they obsessively clean the den. It's only a few hours or days you spend with your true love's family and you want to secure the "Best Guest Ever!" Award so you can return next year, to defend your title. 364 days and counting...
 Dina Koutas Poch, author of "I Heart My In-Laws: Falling in Love with His Family -- One Passive-Aggressive, Over-Indulgent, Grandkid-Craving, Streisand-Loving, Bible-Thumping in-Law at a Time," holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She is a writer and filmmaker living in New York City with her husband. Her in-laws live in Connecticut. She is online at
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