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All I want for Christmas is to keep my foot out of my mouth

'Tis the season. For family, shopping, traveling. And parties.

Whether they are hosted by your work, neighborhood, family or friends, there are plenty of parties this time of year. Which means plenty of food, plenty of conversation and plenty of chances for your husband or significant other to stick his proverbial foot in his mouth.

We don't mean to do it, no one ever does, but this time of year always presents the chance. There's just too many get-togethers with too much good cheer being passed around for a faux pas not to occur.

Take work parties. There's always the chance of it going bad, with liquid courage giving employees visions of Johnny Paycheck along with the idea to address the boss in ways they wouldn't from 9 to 5. Or the extended family gathering where you state your opinion on crazy great aunt so-and-so only to find out the guy standing next to you is her nephew.

I found out at a recent party thrown by a friend that silence can't always protect your significant other. Not if his T-shirt does the (off color) talking for him. All a wife can do is apologize, and wonder why this is the way she finally gets mentioned in the paper.

Then there's the neighborhood party. You're at the clubhouse, having a good time, telling stories, all is well. But you've got to make a joke about the neighbor's mangy dog only to learn that it's really the dog of the guy standing next to you. Hard to work your way out of that one.

Which is why Don Gabor wants to keep you from being in that situation in the first place. A self-professed expert on small talk, Gabor has written several books, including "How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends."

"Being a good conversationalist is easier than you think," says Gabor, who must have met my mother and sister.

The New York-based Gabor, whose clients include American Express and Merrill Lynch, says avoiding 10 big mistakes will get you through the holiday party season unscathed. His pitfalls to avoid follow, with my comments in parentheses to help explain it to your husband or significant other:

' Failing to prepare several topics to talk about. (Your golf scores and fantasy football team don't count.)

' Displaying closed body language that says: "I'm not interested in talking to you." (Includes not taking your eyes off the game on TV or actually saying "I'm not interested in talking to you.")

' Remaining in one place like a potted plant. (In front of the TV with the game on.)

' Asking too many "close-ended" questions and not enough "open-ended" ones. (How's work? Good? Good. I'll just be over there by the TV.)

' Not adding on information when asked a yes/no question. (Have you always been in the Hall of Fame? No.)

' Trying too hard to impress others by talking too much. (And then, one time, at band camp...)

' Discussing taboo topics like sex, politics, religion, illnesses or personal problems. (I have hemorrhoids and I'm mortgaged to the hilt, but I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you a joke I heard from a politician I met at a brothel about a priest, a rabbi and a minister who walk into a bar.)

' Arguing over minor details, even if you are certain you are right. (I don't care how many times you say it, we do not get French benefits.)

' Abruptly ending the conversation after a negative comment or a moment of silence. (This isn't a good column? Maybe you're not a good host.)

(Silence.)

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.