Etiquette Rules for Surviving Your Next Family Reunion

Yes, they're family, but you still have to mind your manners.

You thought you'd seen it all at Thanksgiving, when your ill-behaved uncles went head to head over turkey-carving techniques. You knew you'd seen it all when your grandmother nearly lost her mind over the unpolished silver at your cousin's baby's christening brunch. But you were wrong. Those get-togethers were just the trials; they were just little warmups for the main event: the family reunion. Any Southerner knows that reunions are the Olympics of family gatherings. There aren't medals to be handed out, per say, and you may be in a church fellowship hall, not a multimillion-dollar athletic complex, but the stamina and sportsmanship often required are oh so real. Here's how to take home the gold medal for politeness at your next family reunion.

Before You Go…

RSVP in a Timely Manner

As with any event, it's important to promptly tell your hosts whether or not you and your immediate family will be able to attend the reunion. Be sure to include the number attending as well, so that they can accurately plan for food, drinks, and other accommodations. Should this number change before the reunion, let your hosts know as quickly as possible so that they can make necessary arrangements.

Pay Attention to the Hosts’ Requests

There are often fees to cover the reunion venue, food, or even T-shirts. If this is the case and the hosts have asked everyone to contribute, be sure to submit payment, along with your RSVP, in a timely manner. Additionally, your hosts may have asked you to bring a potluck dish, family photos, or old home movies to the gathering. If you're able, it's nice to respect these requests and contribute accordingly. A reminder: Be specific when you label the bottom of your cake stand; first names are all-important when everyone in the room shares the same last name.

Brush Up on the Family Tree

You may not have seen her since you were 11, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Aunt Fannie will know exactly who you are. Save face by studying up on faces and the tangled web of who's married to whom before you arrive.

While You’re There…

Touch Base with the Hosts

It's important to seek out the reunion planners for two reasons. First, it's a chance to thank them in person for their time and efforts. And second, it's an opportunity to offer a helping hand. They may need assistance setting up the buffet, coordinating activities, or cleaning up.

Make the Rounds

We all have our favorite cousins, and we won't fault you for wanting to spend a good chunk of the day chatting with them. Even so, it's important to engage everyone in thoughtful conversation, especially those family members you never see or who may be sitting alone. Along the way, should you fail to recognize an aunt or accidentally call an uncle the wrong name, it's okay. Acknowledge your mistake with humor and diplomacy—"Oh Aunt Fannie! I was so distracted by your beautiful coat that I didn't even realize it was you in there! What a treat to see you again"—and move on.

Participate in the Activities

You may hate nature walks or think that talent shows should be relegated to middle school youth groups, but it's important to approach the planned reunion activities with a positive attitude. Your hosts will appreciate your participation (or at least your attention, if you're not a born performer), and you can consider it, at the very least, an exercise in character-building. And who knows? You might actually have a little fun in the process.

After You Leave…

Write Thank You Notes

Send each of the planners a note to express your gratitude and acknowledge their hard work. As with any thank you, be sure to make note of specific things you enjoyed or appreciated about the reunion. This is also a thoughtful time to share a few favorite photos from the event.

Reunions are a fantastic opportunity to share old family recipes. Consider photocopying your personal favorite recipe cards to distribute with everyone gathered.

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