Etiquette clashes can be very painful, especially at Thanksgiving. If you are dreading a culture clash this Thanksgiving, here are the things to look out for.
• When someone says, "we don't stand on ceremony here" or, "we're just casual", or in any other way announces that they don't want you to feel the need to understand their etiquette, that is a red flag. This person is announcing to you that etiquette is very important to them, and if you get it wrong, there will be a conflict. If it's impossible to avoid this person, accept the fact that when it's all over you will feel like Bruce Willis at the end of a Die Hard movie. You will survive, but it won't be pleasant.
• If you want to know if someone is going to inflexible about etiquette, try to find out where they have lived. The more places they've lived, the more flexible because they have seen other cultures and other etiquettes. The less places, as in "I've lived here all my life, don't travel much", the stricter their etiquette will be. They don't know any better, or anything different. Again, you will get beat up, but at least you will know that walking in.
• All etiquette rules are excused by an emergency, or an illness. If at all possible, arrive with a broken leg, or grieving about your house being burned down. Otherwise, there is no excuse for not getting every tiny bit of etiquette correct.
Keep in mind that etiquette is a secret language, and it can vary even among people whom you would consider to be of the same culture. So be prepared to get it wrong even when you're absolutely sure you'll get it right.
My favorite example is this bit of Minnesota etiquette - waiting to be asked three times. It goes like this
Host - Would you like some coffee? (That's number 1)
You - No, I'm fine. I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble
Host - No trouble at all. It would only take a few minutes to brew some. (Number 2)
You - No, really, I wouldn't think of imposing on your good nature
Host - But I had planned on making some coffee after dinner. (Number 3)
You - Well, if that's the case, I would love some coffee!
Host - Would you like some sugar for your coffee?... (Number 1 again)
And on and on it goes. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. I'm not kidding about this. And, at least in this culture, if you fail on this little bit of etiquette dancing, you will be considered rude. But it makes it feel so good to get home!