Ten top Christmas conversation killers
As families and friends get together over the holidays, here’s our guide to 10 hot-button topics to avoid if you don’t want a bloodbath over the turkey
Photograph: Purestock/Getty Images
It’s almost that time of year again: the time when we get together with loved ones, off-duty colleagues and friends we haven’t seen all year to indulge in too much food and wine, to laugh, to reminisce and to brawl. We’ve all been there: one injudicious remark about stay-at-home parents and you’re suddenly at the centre of an incident that makes the aftermath of the Arab Spring look like a game of pass the parcel. So here’s our cut-out-and-keep guide to the top 10 hot-button issues guaranteed to turn the most serene Christmas gathering into a bloodbath.
1. Breastfeeding in public
The opening gambit “There’s a time and a place for everything. I know this isn’t very politically correct, but I saw a woman whip out her breasts in a cafe the other day to feed a child who must have been at least two – and, yes, I was very uncomfortable. I don’t see why she couldn’t just have found a more private place. It’s like some of these women are using their children to make a political statement.”
The comeback “Whipped them out, did she? Stood up on the table and ripped off her shirt while gyrating to Rihanna? Let me guess: by ‘private place’ you mean the filthy toilets. Or maybe you’d prefer her to let the baby scream. This society is obsessed with breasts: we have 12ft breasts plastered across billboards advertising crisps and perfume, breasts in newspapers and breasts on airline calendars – yet an inch of exposed chest and the back of suckling baby’s head is offensive? I find it offensive that you think a mother should let her baby starve lest you be put off your vanilla slice.”
Fight factor: 6/10 It’s always amusing to watch your elderly Uncle Frank make a boob of himself trying to talking about nursing mothers without using the word “breast”, but this can be a very polarising issue. Avoid it unless you’re very sure of your audience.
The opening gambit “I don’t think I could have an abortion myself, but does anybody know what they would do until they’re in that situation? It’s rarely black and white. I think, in the end, the woman has a right to choose whether to continue with a pregnancy.”
The comeback “I’ll be honest. I’m disgusted by the idea of abortion, yet the Savita case forced me to accept that there are some very limited circumstances in which it is morally permissible: where the mother’s life is in danger, where she has been the victim of rape or where the baby has no possibility of life outside the womb. But outside those circumstances I don’t think it’s ever justifiable.”
Two hours later “Her body, her choice. Nobody has the right to force anybody else to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term. And less of the hysteria: we’re not talking about the destruction of a human life here; we’re talking about the removal of cells from a woman’s uterus to prevent them becoming a life.”
Four and a half hours later, after the turkey has gone cold “I’m sorry, but on this issue it is black and white. The wilful destruction of another human life is wrong in all circumstances.”
Fight factor: 10/10 We couldn’t even split the arguments into two sides: this is one issue that’s guaranteed to produce a huge bust-up. Avoid at all costs.
3. Private schools
The opening gambit “Private schools are outdated bastions of classism and elitism, churning out generations of unbearable, entitled, rugby-playing brats. Survey after survey has found that the highest points courses in universities are populated with children from private schools. Even if I wanted to – and I don’t – I couldn’t afford to send my children to one of these ‘top feeder’ schools, yet I’m expected to subsidise the education of all the little Tiernans and Chloes whose parents can. How is that possibly fair? The State is supporting educational apartheid by funding private schools.”
The comeback “ ‘The highest points courses in universities are populated with children from private schools.’ Thank you. You’ve just made my argument for me. It’s not just about educational advantage: it’s also about the culture of the school, the facilities and the extracurricular activities – and, yes, even the rugby. While we’re talking about fair, how is it fair that my child gets less State subvention than yours? It is not the State subsidising my child’s education: it’s me – as a taxpayer and as a parent, supplementing the cost of my child’s education – who is subsidising State-funded schools. Oh, and if the State withdraws funding for private schools, you’ll be paying 100 per cent of my child’s education. Happy Christmas.”
Fight factor: 7/10 We can wallow in the illusion that Ireland is a classless society until the subject of fee-paying schools comes up. Watch the festive mood disappear in the time it takes to say, “Mind you, the traffic on the Rock Road is so atrocious we briefly considered Clongowes.”