If you belong to the normal average dysfunctional family, you know very well that clan gatherings may turn into somewhat painful occasions.
Nicolas, mon nefioo. Drama king. Set himself ablaze after Christmas dinner
In my very colorful Belgian family, tradition dictates that, prior to any meeting, the matriarch create a fabulous table centerpiece. The floral arrangement (elevated from simple bouquet to original work of art over the years) comes in handy in the midst of any argument.
Over the screaming and typical exchange of insults, you can always hear my mother bellow in a screeching voice: “Has anyone noticed my centerpiece?” It’s code for “you ungrateful children, I’ve carried you 9 months in my womb and cooked a wonderful dinner for you and now you are ruining everything for me and if you continue, I’m just going to leave the table and kill myself.” Mildly embarrassed, we generally quickly drop the bone of contention and utter a few admirative comments for the masterpiece.
I noticed these last few years the rapid erosion of the centerpiece tactic. One night, after a complete breakdown where both my sister and brother ended up covered in chocolate mousse, I devised a new strategy. When all else fails, one must import a foreigner. The thinking behind the new scheme is that people generally carry themselves better in the presence of a stranger. You must however follow four essential rules:
- Your foreigner must be well-behaved: experience has taught me that the host family matches the degree of civility exhibited by the guest.
- Your foreigner must not be acquainted with the local language. For an American family, a mere English-speaking Canadian just won’t do. Think South or Quebec. By forcing your family members to express themselves in an unfamiliar vernacular, you greatly reduce the risk of infighting .
- You must not sleep with your foreigner. This rule ensures repeated use of said foreigner.
- After three utilizations, the foreigner must be replaced. When the family begins showing too much ease, your foreigner has become “a friend of the family” and it won’t take long before your relatives revert to their bad habits and drama.
My foreigner Robby