This year’s top 10 Christmas conversation killers

Greta Thunberg, Maria Bailey and vaping: A round-up of the subjects to avoid this Christmas

 Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg


The Christmas onesies are warming on a radiator, the camp bed has been freed from the attic, and the chestnuts are not roasting on an open fire because that would be ruinous for the household’s carbon footprint. Anyway, who wants to eat chargrilled squirrel food when the place is coming down with selection boxes and five types of good biscuit?

It can only mean one thing – it’s time for The Irish Times’ annual service to international diplomacy with our list of topics you’ll want to avoid around the Christmas dinner table. Or embrace, if you like your turkey served with a gravy boatload of simmering rage.

1. Greta Thunberg

The opener “Nothing against Greta – I’m a great man for the recycling and the paper cups myself – I’m just worried about her. She’s being manipulated. You can see it in her eyes. She’d rather be at home lying on her bed and staring morosely at a screen like any normal teenager.”

The comeback “Actually, I think what you’re seeing in her eyes is contempt for the middle-aged men faking concern for her wellbeing instead of taking action on the climate crisis. Funny how nobody ever seems to worry about David Attenborough being a puppet of the Russians or a stooge of Soros.”

Fight factor 8/10. Few things are as triggering to a certain type of middle-aged man as the mere mention of Greta Thunberg. If your family has its own Jeremy Clarkson we suggest you wade right in.

2. Direct provision centres

A protest walk in Oughterard, Co Galway, against a direct provision centre

The opener “There’s a rumour they’re turning the hotel where we got married into a direct provision centre. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a racist. It’s the inhumanity of the system I’m opposed to. And I just think we should look after our own first.”

The comeback “Oh, is that so? I missed you at that rally a few months back against the inhumane direct provision system. And since you’re so into looking after our own you’ll be coming with me later to help out at the Christmas day dinner for the homeless, I presume?”

Fight factor 9/10. As towns from Oughterard to Ballinamore have discovered, there’s nothing more likely to unleash a tsunami of outrage about the inhumanity of the direct provision system than the prospect of a direct provision centre opening within a three-mile radius. It’s potentially incendiary, but this is probably a conversation worth having.

3. WhatsApp sulks

The opener “You’re always pretending you haven’t read my message even though you’re never offline, Derek. And can you please stop sending me the massage girl emoji – what’s that about? I am perfectly chill. Oh right, Sadhbh, sorry. You won’t know what we’re talking about since you’re no longer in our WhatsApp group.”

The comeback There’s no comeback here. Sadhbh quit the family WhatsApp group – she might as well have left the immersion on since Tuesday and used all the good towels that everyone knows were meant for visitors. She’s finished in this family.

Fight factor 4/10. Every family has their own WhatsApp. Otherwise how would they keep track of every cute thing the five-year-old said, and all the deaths in the parish? And every family WhatsApp group has at least a member who has flounced off in a huff for reasons no one else grasps. Never mention the flounce. You’ll never get to the bottom of it, and no good can come of bringing it up.

4. Maria Bailey

Maria Bailey

The opener “I’m just going to say it. I feel sorry for Maria Bailey. She had every right to take that case if she feels there was negligence on the part of that hotel. She was hurt, you know, and she has the same entitlement as any citizen of this country to seek redress in the courts. The outrage coming at her from the Twitter mob is pure bullying.”

The comeback “If you’re going to get up on your high horse at least make sure you put that bottle down and hold on with both hands. And maybe wait until there’s an adult around to supervise you. High horses can be lethal.”

Fight factor 2/10. Unless you’ve got Maria herself or a personal injuries lawyer coming to lunch, the potential for actual conflict on this one is probably quite low.

5. Cancel culture

The opener “You know you’re in a bad place when even Obama says “cancel culture” has gone too far. What was it he said, again? You young people think making change is being as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough? All these woke, politically correct, online pile-ons against whoever hurt your feelings are worse than fascism. You snowflakes are dying of outrage and the rest of us are dying of boredom listening to you.”

The comeback “Okay boomer. It’s not about hurting our feelings, it’s about standing up for the vulnerable. We wouldn’t have to be so outspoken about climate change, misogyny, racial justice and LGBTQ inclusivity if your lot hadn’t left us with so many messes to clean up.”

Fight factor 6/10. Make no mistake, this isn’t merely an academic row about political correctness – this is an opportunity for full-scale inter-generational warfare. If you’re going to indulge in a bit of millennial bashing it might be wise to remember whose generation was responsible for Trump and Brexit, and whose merely gave us instagrammable food.

6. Carbon footprints

A “carbon footprint”

The opener “Did you know the traditional Christmas dinner produces about 23.5kg of CO2? That’s the equivalent of each of you driving 125km to get here. And I’m not even counting the food miles from that Australian Shiraz, the Christmas tree or those single-use crackers. And don’t get me started on those ridiculous lights outside. Are you sure you don’t want any of these vegan pigs-in-blankets? They’re actually quite inoffensive.”

The comeback “Yeah, no, I did read those articles you sent around, thanks. Could we lay off the carbon shaming for just today? You’re simmering with so much self-righteous passive aggression over there you’re trebling our carbon footprint all by yourself. We’d all feel better if you had some proper food.”

Fight factor 5/10. Reliably controversial. We say this every year but it bears repeating: nothing kills a festive mood quite as quickly as sanctimonious commentary on other people’s dietary or lifestyle choices.

7. Vaping

A man vaping

The opener “Nobody minds if I vape here, do you? It’s only vapour. You won’t smell it. And it’s lashing outside.”

The comeback “Yes, I mind. I didn’t carry you for nine months and give birth to you without an epidural to have you lose your jaw in an accident with an exploding cigarette. Or watch you poison your lungs with mango-flavoured nicotine. I read there’s 7,000 chemicals in one of those things. Go on outside. But put up your hood.”

Fight factor 7/10. Vaping may be helping people to stay off cigarettes but the jury is out on how much healthier it really is. Still, we repeat: avoid commentary on other people’s dietary or lifestyle choices.

8. RTÉ licence fee

The opener “I wouldn’t mind but I never watch anything on RTÉ, only the news once in a blue moon, and I can get that as easily on Facebook. And the odd bit of soccer. I’m not forking out €160 per year so they can pay the likes of Marian Finucane €300,000 to work four hours a weekend. Four hours! A weekend!”

The comeback “Didn’t you just say you watched the Toy Show? And Dublin Murders? Plus you’ve the radio on every time I come over. What the RTÉ bashing misses is that the top 10 earners only account for about 1 per cent of the cost of running RTÉ, and the vast majority of the staff are not well paid at all. I agree it has its problems, but if you value public service broadcasting – which apparently you do – you should be prepared to pay for it.”

Fight factor 6/10. One of the enduring mysteries of the Irish psyche is our ability to get completely worked up on the subject of RTÉ presenters’ salaries.

9. Morning-after drinking

The opener “I’d better not have that Irish coffee. Sure I’ll have to take the car out in the morning and they’ll be out there waiting to get the likes of me off the road. Shane Ross is killing rural Ireland. I guarantee you, you’ll never see a morning-after checkpoint on the Stillorgan dual-carriageway.”

The comeback “It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. You only need to let one hour pass for every drink you’ve had before you drive again. I think you can probably have the Irish coffee.”

Fight factor 8/10. Don’t be fooled – this isn’t merely a discussion about the biochemistry of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. What’s at stake here is the entire rural-urban ideological divide.

10. Smartphone addiction

Using a smartphone

The opener “They haven’t taken their heads out of those phones once all day. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with them. Does anyone even know what they’re doing on there? Watching porn and buying drugs on the dark web, I suppose. When you were children you would all have been outside playing on your bikes until you were called for dinner.”

The comeback “They’re 11. They’re probably doing dance challenges on TikTok. It’s actually very creative. Anyway, this is the world they’re growing up in whether we like it or not. Plus you’re the one that wouldn’t let them play out on the road earlier in case they got kidnapped by paedophiles.”

Fight factor 5/10. Criticism of someone else’s parenting or their children is always best avoided. That goes for you too, granny.

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