Jewish Journal


August 20, 2012

Shabbat Dinners | Keep it Light, Keep it Brief



Because I’ve never made a bad decision or mistake in my life, I have decided to pen an advice column. 

Dear Arta,

I’m anxious regarding what to talk about when I attend Persian family parties.  What is acceptable conversation fodder to avoid social awkwardness?

Keep it light and keep it brief.  Perhaps perplexingly, no one cares about your problems and everyone cares too much at the same time—neither is good.  One must remember, a party is not the venue to splay open your soul to an unsuspecting aunt or to keep your mom’s dad’s sister’s son-in-law’s wife’s brother from getting to the bathroom with your sob stories. 

People are there to do a few things at these gatherings, including, but not limited to, in no particular order: play backgammon, re-gift the same bottle of Chivas Regal that has been going around the family since 1986, wonder aloud why kids wear shalvar’eh goshad, eat tahdiq, and ask any relative in high school if he/she is going to go to Harvard or UCLA.

No one is expecting you to say “bad” when they ask how you are doing. Just say you’re doing well and move on. Which brings me to another point: If you are at any time dealing with someone over 60 disregard these rules and simply ask them how they are doing 300 times, then ask them if they have seen your mother, and get the heck out of there before you smell like Brut aftershave for the rest of your life.

For your convenience, I have complied a list of acceptable topics one can discuss at a party: Jokes about Armenians, jokes about Muslims, jokes about the opposite sex, jokes about Elat Market, jokes about how fat your cousin got, the Lakers, Downtown LA, living anywhere other than Beverly Hills, being a doctor, being a lawyer, or simply make a joke about how if you don’t get married within 5 years everyone will start talking behind your back.

For extra credit, if you end up getting cornered by a past-his-prime uncle, mention your multiple American girlfriends as often as possible, even if you’re 11, and they are a complete fantasy.  Lindsay, Katie, and Vickie are example of names every Persian boy should memorize to aid in convincing your 20 years-married cousin that the gene pool is indeed thriving in your guise. 

This is literally all these people want to hear and there does not have to be a shred of truth coming out of your mouth, nor should you feel bad for it.  You know you’re lying, they know you’re lying; EVERYONE knows you’re lying.  It’s ok, no one cares, they would rather hear a good story about some mystery blondes, or at least an allusion to one, rather than hear about how you can’t find a job, still live at home and couldn’t get into USC etc. 

In fact, if you are ever in a jam and need to instantly impress/throw off any male relative, do what I do and simply say the word “Amsterdam.”  After that, the less you say the better.  No story you could hope to conjure up will compare to anything their imaginations will dream up and telling them anything will only serve to diminish the power of what you have just invoked.

“If you can remember any part of your trip other than the airport you probably wasted your time there.”  That sentence has turned me into a living legend in my family. Of course, not everyone is so blessed to have engaged in their own European escapades and to those of you longing for a place to call your own to be the backdrop of your own lies, I have two words for you: Las Vegas.

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