Think of the holiday season sorta like a monthlong game of Temple Run—for every reward you can collect (Cool swag! Free drinks! Access to your girlfriend’s!) you’ve got to clear a whole lot of obstacles (Overserved relatives! Underthought presents!) Here’s how to avoid them—and, if necessary, salvage the situation.
1. You—or your girlfriend—get too drunk at the office party. If it was all-around-awkwardness (you hugged the boss or insisted on taking the mic and letting your inner Bon Jovi loose at the karaoke machine in the corner) the best thing to do is lay low, come in early, and don’t let anyone see you sweat—or vomit. But if it was a bigger faux pas, own up to it, recommends Lydia Ramsey, a Savannah, GA, based etiquette expert and author of Manners that Sell. And, if your girlfriend or wife was the one who hit the open bar too hard, simply explain that she wasn’t feeling well and acted out of character—and leave it at that.
2. You received a present—and don’t have one to give in return. Whether it was from your girlfriend’s aunt or your boss, resist the urge to rifle through your wallet and pull out a half-used Starbucks gift card in exchange—it’s obvious, and it ratchets up the awkwardness level. “Thank them profusely, explain how much you love the gift, then make sure to put them on the list for next year,” suggests Ramsey.
3. You find yourself grilled about politics. All you’re trying to do is enjoy your eggnog when your Uncle Barry lumbers toward you and demands to know who you voted for in November. The best way to disarm him? “Ask a question,” suggests Ramsey. “Everyone loves talking about himself. Since this is a topic he’s obviously passionate about, let him sound off a bit.” But if the convo becomes wildly offensive, it’s fine to excuse yourself to grab another drink.
4. You’re a dinner guest with dietary issues. While it’s fine to give a broad overview of what you do and don’t eat to your hosts before you arrive, balance that by letting them know what you do eat (I’m a vegetarian, but I’m looking forward to the amazing sweet potatoes I’ve heard so much about) and let them know how much you’re looking forward to the dinner. If you feel your diet will make it hard to fill a plate, either bring a hearty side dish everyone can share or, if it’s a relatively informal event, ask if it’s all right to only come to the cocktail hour.
5. Her dad disses you at the table. Sure, she wants a guy to stand up for himself, but she’s definitely not looking for a fight, either. In this case, it’s best to deflect and distract. “Many inappropriate comments are best deflected with humor,” says Thomas P. Farley, manners and lifestyle expert and author of What Manners Most. Respond in a jokey way by saying something like “I admire your honesty!” then pointedly make eye contact with your girlfriend so she knows she needs to change the subject, ASAP.
6. You’ve double-booked to two holiday parties. Resist the urge to fake a cough and say you’re sick. Instead, let one of the hosts know as soon as possible, and keep the details vague, says Farley. Then, a few days later, call him or her up, let them, know again how sad you were to have missed it, and set up a concrete time in January to get together.