Home for the Holidays -Or- Surviving Family Togetherness

The holiday season is fast approaching, and you know what that means. Besides the flurry of finding appropriately goth gift wrap for presents and worrying about what sort of gradations there are to the “Naughty” section of Santa’s list, the holidays mean dealing with one’s family.

“You’re so pale! Are you all right?” “You are not wearing that to your grandparents’!” “I think you looked better with your natural haircolor.” “Oh, I thought this was a phase — haven’t you gotten tired of it yet?” Yes, all familiar questions. But this year the Lady of the Manners gift to you, Dear Readers, is advice on how to deal with those same questions in a graceful, restrained, and polite manner.

The Confused and Sometimes Annoying Questions From Relatives, and How To Deal With Them

First off, before you have to visit them, practice smiling. Or if you’re soooo goth that you don’t smile, practice a pleasant neutral expression. Practice this until you are confident that you can maintain it even if you were in the throes of homicidal rage. This is important. Because when you are asked, for the umpteenth time, “But why do you want to look like this? You could be so pretty/handsome if you only (A: styled your hair differently. B: dressed more like a normal person. C: didn’t wear That Sort of Makeup. D: smiled. E: got some sun…),” you want to be able to look non-threatening and friendly when you say, “Because I like to,” or “because I feel it represents who I am.” (The other trick is to give your answer, whatever it is, in a friendly, cordial tone of voice. In most family gatherings, it’s not what one says but how one says it that is important.) If you are pressed to give details about What It’s All About, stick to easily-explained, family-safe examples such as literature, the Addams Family, or Tim Burton movies. If the relative quizzing you seems fairly accepting, then you can try an in-depth explanation of the subculture and why you’re a part of it.

The Clothing Issue

First of all, if you are a more historical/romantic/neo-Victorian sort in your manner of dress, you’re going to have a much easier time than others. Most parents and older relatives think it’s sweet to see someone ‘properly dressed up’, and a lot of mainstream catalogs and stores are filled with dressy clothes in dark jewel tones and black velvet. Just don’t coat yourself with white greasepaint clown makeup, and you’ll be fine. However, if you usually adorn yourself from the more…extreme and fetish-themed side of the Subculture Closet, then you have a dilemma. The Lady of the Manners’ advice is to tone it down slightly. If it’s a choice between being full-on GAF or causing a family argument, just think of it as if you were going to a job interview. It won’t kill you, you won’t be selling out, and you’ll be (hopefully) helping promote Peace On Earth and Good Will Towards Men (and Women, and everyone else).

Gifts

The Lady of the Manners is not going to give you advice on how to shop for your relatives. Hers are problematic enough, thankyouverymuch. No, this section is about that marvelous, anticipation-filled moment when you’re unwrapping a present from a family member…and it turns out to be a fuzzy yellow sweater. Don’t throw a fit. Smile, say a quick noncommittal “thank you,” and set it aside. Later, after the frenzy of gift-opening is done, go to the family member you get along with the best and ask them if there would be any chance of being able to exchange said yellow fuzzy thing. Let him or her go talk to the gift-giver if you think that doing so yourself will provoke a family argument. If there is no chance that the inappropriate item can be exchanged or returned, you can always sell it at a consignment shop, or even donate it to a charity shop. Of course, the way to ward off such problems is to either have relatives who will give you gifts in keeping with your tastes, or start subtly suggesting the idea of gift certificates as being the ideal present for you. If you can, enlist your parents’ help in spreading this suggestion to the rest of your relatives.

(But be sure to write Thank You notes for all the gifts you receive. Yes, they are tedious and annoying to do. But they are a very important touch, and are a sure way to impress elderly relatives.)

General Tips To Make the Holidays Run Smoother

Act as much like a polite, responsible grown-up as you can. Ask if there is anything you can help with, be it setting the table, washing the dishes, or entertaining any of the younger children that might be around. (Besides, most small children are fascinated by gothy relatives. After you get past the “are you a witch?” questions, it should be smooth sailing. Just make sure that your idea of “entertainment” is okay with the kidlings’ parents. If nothing else, read to them from Alice in Wonderland.) Even the family members who don’t approve of your style will be pleasantly taken aback if you make the effort to be convivial and helpful first.

Another important thing to remember is Do Not Lose Your Temper, no matter what the provocation. The benefits of being able to do this are: 1)the warm glow of self-satisfaction that you can bask in when you refuse to rise to the baiting of a pigheaded relative; and 2) knowing that you most likely just went up a notch in the eyes of any of the onlooking family.

Of course, none of this will help if your family members are truly convinced that you are demonspawn. If you have the sort of relatives that belong on the Jerry Springer show, you might want to look into how feasible it would be not to join in any familial merrymaking; it would probably save a lot of heartache and arguments if you could just be discreetly absent. If that isn’t possible, then silence is probably your best option for holiday family gatherings.

Family holidays are not fun for everyone. Unless you are lucky enough to have family that understands and accepts who and what you are, you have to work at making family parties and dinners a pleasant experience. But it can be done, and once you start making a “good impression” on your relatives, it becomes easier to get along with them. Besides, you can always console yourself that you are probably behaving better than any of them. When the holidays are over, you can go out to whatever goth club you usually frequent, and commiserate with everyone about their family holiday woes. In a restrained and polite fashion, of course.

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A Question From A Reader

Claudius Reich wrote and asked: Should you tip your tattooist/body piercer? And if so, on what kind of scale? Yes, you SHOULD tip the person who does your body modifications! Tattooists and piercers are part of the service industry, and always appreciate tips. How much you tip them depends, of course, on your opinion of the quality of work performed, but the basic range is in the 10 –15% area. Also remember to be polite to them — just because you’re paying them DOES NOT mean you are allowed to be rude or surly towards them; after all, they’re the people wielding the needles.

If any of you out there in the cybernetic wilderness have burning etiquette questions, send them to the Gothic Charm School (at headmistress@gothic-charm-school.com), and the Lady of the Manners will do her best to lead you through the maze of modern goth manners.

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