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In Good Taste: When To 'Table' Political Talk

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Dear Etta Kate: As if dinner conversations weren’t difficult enough, now we're in the throes of the political season. How can I deflect and deal with inappropriate remarks people make at the table? These range from merely irritating to downright inflammatory. My digestion is suffering. Please help. Sincerely, “Peas” at Any Price 

Dear Peas: The struggle is real when you want peas at the dinner table but others do not carrot all. This election year seems particularly heated, rendering what is coming off the front burner cool by comparison.

Proper manners are born out of the desire to help others feel comfortable, so the standard etiquette practice has been to allow pleasantries, including anything except religion and politics, and with a total ban on topics that involve violence or gore.

That is not to say that one may not make exceptions to allow civil discussions about politics or religion, but the reality is that the civility with which one begins the discourse is difficult to maintain. Aggressive and offensive political comments are often crafted to incite arguments, rather than lucid discussions. Thus, they cause tempers to flare, turning one’s once-serene gathering into two or more warring camps. Hardly appetizing.

Usually, it is the host of the event who should define the limits of the discourse at any gathering, but it is wholly permissible for a guest to speak up about his or her discomfort when the conversation gets dicey. 

When diversionary tactics such as simple exclamations fail to bring the room back to order, such as “Oh, this dinner is so delicious!” or “Did anyone else see the latest Oscar-award-winning movie?” one is permitted to address someone other than the rude guest and say, “Don’t you find all this political mud-slinging simply exhausting? I so look forward to a few moments respite from it each day while I dine.”

You might succeed at drawing the bombastic one’s audience attention; and when their audience turns away — much like a balloon without air — boors rapidly deflate.

Occasionally, one faces the awkwardness wherein it is the host who is the bombastic one. You may sweetly cajole him or her using a pleasant, appeasing tone. “Now, Rudy, surely you want your guests to enjoy this lovely meal you provided… perhaps we should table this discussion for a time when we are not at the table?”

When the offender is someone you cherish or rely on in spite of that one major flaw, such as a family member or boss, you must define your boundaries and the other person must respect you enough not to violate your mutually-agreed-upon détente. Most importantly, you should walk out when those borders are crossed.

Etta Kate hopes you never need to, but if you must, that you will do so in a way that is respectful and discreet.

Etta Kate is the nom de plume of a business consultant who maintains anonymity to protect her clients’ privacy. If you have a question about food and dining etiquette, Etta Kate will be happy to help. You can post your messages in the comments section of this page.