The key to surviving boring holiday parties is to treat them like a game show you must win at all costs

Drink up.
Drink up.
Image: AP Photo/Larry Crowe
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Children put up with a lot. They can’t drive, they have to go to school, and they don’t have any money unless adults give it to them. And on top of all this, they have to tolerate adults telling them that they are not allowed to be bored.

Adults love to tell kids that they can’t possibly bored, because here is a book or whatever. Come on, now. Think about how heavy a thing this is to lay on a little kid. Imagine telling a child that it was their fault that they were sad. It’s nonsense.

Adults lie to kids all the time, but this is the biggest lie of all. It’s not true that there are no boring things, only boring people. There are many objectively boring things that you are obliged to put up with as a kid, and the bad news is it only gets worse. Meetings, for instance. Filling out paperwork. Queues. It would be much better for adults to tell children the truth: that there are many boring things in life that must be endured. And chief among them is attending cocktail parties.

Because of the way human civilization has been set up, parties are hard to avoid. I’m not saying this is right, I’m just saying that this is the way it is—parties cannot be avoided, especially at this time of year. But the experience can be improved upon. I have been avoiding boredom at parties for years now, and I can tell you that I have become very good at doing so. Some basic tips:

1. Have a drink.

Have another drink! Drinking is fun, and it will also help you cope with all the hammered people talking about their first triathlon or how much they hate their boss. Ultimately, part of the reason everyone gets drunk at parties is to make each other seem more interesting. Think of it as medicinal.

2. If the party is at a house, assign yourself tasks.

Volunteer to mix cocktails, or arrange the cheese and crackers in an intricate pattern, or run out for more ice. This gives you immediate and viable outs whenever the party starts to feel unendurable.

3. Treat the party like a competition with yourself.

Pretend that you are on a TV show called Tell Me A Secret, and it is your job to get party-goers to confide something to you in as little time as possible. Most people actually do have a weird crush on an unsuitable celebrity or a good story about the time they got arrested or a surprising knowledge of facts about space; it’s just a matter of drawing those stories out.

The humane way to go about this is to offer a confidence of your own. The crueler and more effective way is to get the conversational ball rolling and then just say nothing. Wait for the other person to fill the silence. It’s amazing what people will say to avoid an uncomfortable silence. I once had my most apparently dull classmate tell me that his parents were first cousins.

4. Ask people what they think the scariest movie is.

I don’t know why this works, but it does. Talking about why The Blair Witch Project or Gremlins scared them to death animates people in a remarkable way. If you ask someone this question and they say that they have never watched a scary movie, do not despair. Ask them how this came to be. How in their whole lives have they never watched a bit of a scary movie?

5. Bring up The Shining.

Did they know that The Shining is without a doubt the most terrifying movie to ever exist? Do they disagree? Make them explain themselves. If the person you are speaking to has not seen The Shining, then you can describe the plot in detail and see what they have to say about it. This is a good excuse to wander into a discussion about haunted houses, too.

6. Discuss famous people with colorful personalities. 

For example, you can talk about what an incredible legend Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is. Even if you don’t care about soccer (I don’t care about soccer), he is a great, great person to talk about. He says amazing things (“I can’t help but laugh about how perfect I am”), and is married to this powerful Swedish babe-businesswoman 11 years his senior, and their sex life must be remarkable. I offer him to you, to talk about for as long as you need.

7. Ask your conversation partner what they normally eat for lunch.

This question is a winner because you may get to learn about creative budget-friendly recipes or good lunch options in your city, or simply marvel at the fact that some people can eat bologna sandwiches literally every day for years and not have a problem with it.

8. Excuse yourself to go pet the dog.

Dogs are always good and interesting, no matter what.

Treat parties like a game, with specific rules, and you should be okay. This advice does not, of course, cover how to cope with all the enraging, terrible conversations about politics that you will be obliged to have over the next few weeks. It is widely understood by now that 2016 has been a Bad Time All Round, and this is true, on a worldwide level. And one of the worst things about it has been everyone’s opinions. Everyone is having an opinion about everything all the live-long day, and over the next few weeks you are going to have to listen to them all, condensed, over drinks. There should be a word for “waiting agitatedly for someone you dislike to say something deeply offensive.” Perhaps, this year, you will be the one to invent it.