Now that the holidays are here, we need to have a discussion about cocktail party conversation etiquette.
As a seasoned partygoer with decades of experience under her patent-leather belt, I am here to help.
Let’s begin with topics of conversation that are appropriate for this festive milieu. Simply put, and no matter your age, the topics should be merry but meaningful, intelligent but not too taxing, breezy but heartfelt and personal but not too intimate. In other words, loyal readers, the topics of sex, politics, religion and Thanksgiving stuffing preferences are off the table.
You do not want to start a cocktail party brawl, what with all those cocktail wienies just begging to be hurled at the slightest provocation.
If this sounds rather dull and uptight — a surefire sleeping pill — let me assure you it is not. Moreover, it’s for the best. And I mean that from the bottom of my formerly foolish heart. Oh, the cheeky conversations I used to initiate during my green years. Let’s see now, I once asked a new mother if her baby was sleeping through the night. Her answer came in the form of agonizing howls. Another time, I asked a bunch of men if leaf blower horsepower mattered. The heated argument still rings in my ears. And, not too long ago, I had somewhat of a setback and blithely brought up the controversial Speedo. Who knew men could feel such passion for a sliver of spandex?
The good news is, every decade of adult life has its safe topics and most of us know what they are. Looking back — and when I was in good form and not trying to instigate a free-for-all — I believe I chatted about wedding plans in my 20s, baby room colors in my 30s, school teachers in my 40s and hair loss from raising teens in my 50s.
What are my safe topics these days? Well, since I am primarily talking with empty-nesters and retirees, I am delighted to disclose that I have found tremendous success with the following topics: teeth, napping, bargains, travel, weather and finding jeans that fit. Oh, and fiber. There’s nothing like a rousing conversation about fiber and all its stimulating benefits.
Experience has also taught me to keep conversations brief, perhaps five to 10 minutes max per person or group. Since the whole point of the cocktail party is to flit from person to person, any lengthy discussion will surely prevent this objective. How do you know when it’s time to move on? Pay attention to eyes, they glass over and look away; to questions, they dry up; to yawns, enough said; and to glass rattling, a hint that drink refreshment is imminent.
I hope you’ve found my tips helpful. To recap: No combustible topics, no lengthy dissertations on why you’ve chosen to stop eating wheat and no using pompous words like “milieu.” I only dropped that in to impress my editors. I worry they don’t think I’m very smart. I know! How could anyone who enjoys talking about the Speedo as much as I do not be a Mensa genius?
Anne Palumbo writes this column for Messenger Post newspapers. Her email is