Four tips for surviving the holidays. None of which works

Columnist Steve Lange explains why holiday tips from etiquette experts (like "simply retire to your room early with a glass of wine") are insane.

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It is that time of year, once again, to revisit the national etiquette experts' "Tips for Surviving the Holidays."

These tips, though, appear to be written by people who belong to the type of extended family that would, during a holiday party, allow them to — and this is an actual piece of advice published in an actual magazine — "simply retire to your room early with a glass of wine."

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Expert advice #1: "Just say, 'Today has been great; I am going to start winding down.' This will allow you to reclaim your evening by relaxing in your room."

Why this advice wouldn't work for normal people: On my side of the family — I'm guessing in many families — if one of us, say my wife, Lindy, attempted to leave the party early by announcing she would "reclaim her evening" by "retiring to her room with a glass of wine," she instantly would be berated by dozens of family members speaking in the hoity-toiti-est of British accents.

"Why pish posh, Lady Melinda! Will you indeed be retiring to your private quarters to recline on your fainting couch?" That sort of thing.


Then, if Lindy did go up to her room alone with a glass of wine, within three minutes her quarters would be filled with Langes. If you're going to drink during a family holiday party, you're sure as hell going to do it with the rest of us. That is not an option.

Expert advice #2: "Allow yourself to relax, no matter what is happening around you."

Why this advice wouldn't work for normal people: Whenever our extended family is visiting my parents' house, and the phone rings, nearly every person in the house starts screaming "Phone! The phone is ringing! Is anyone going to get the phone? Will someone answer the phone? Phone!"

For a first-time visitor — say, one of my nephew's new girlfriends — the first time the phone rings must be downright terrifying. Many of these young women never come back.

It has evolved into a family tradition. Especially if the definition of "a family tradition" can be expanded to include a group of humans screaming in a manner reminiscent of the scene in every monkey movie in which a bunch of monkeys go crazy and start screaming.

Expert advice #3: "Break the rules and do your own thing; they'll respect you for it."

Why this advice wouldn't work for normal people: We regularly spend the holidays at my parents' house. They own a tiny dog, and, when little Lucy wants to "do her business," she nudges a tiny bell hanging by the door. Whoever is closest has to let Lucy out.

Seems simple enough. Except that on holidays many relatives apparently believe that bringing a dish to pass allows them to board their animal at my parents' house for a day. There are multiple dogs. You have two chains — red for bigger dogs, green for Lucy. You have to attach the bigger dog first.


As soon as you start to let one dog out, every other dog in the house runs to the door. And every single person in the living room starts yelling things like "You just let Lucy out!" or "You hooked a big dog to the green chain!" or "Lori's kid ran out the door when you were letting Lucy out!"

Or "Why, M'Lady Lindy, you must be rather flibbertigibbeted from your solo wine drinking, and therefore unable to let the pooches out in the cricket way." And so forth.

There is a phenomenon called task saturation, which is a condition that affects firefighters and police officers and pilots when faced with multiple tasks in high-stress situations. You can witness this phenomenon first-hand every single time someone lets a dog out at my parents' house during the holidays.

I am terrified of what will happen if, at some point, at the same time someone is attempting to let dogs out, the phone happens to ring.

Expert advice #4: "Create your own itinerary, and stick to it. Remember, this is your vacation, too!"

Why this advice wouldn't work for normal people: Anyone who ever has been to any relative's home for any holiday knows this is the most insane thing anyone has ever said.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Opinion by Steve Lange
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