For teenagers, family gatherings can mean embarrassing compliments, difficult relatives and endless boredom. Experts recommend keeping cool, closing your eyes and just pressing on. It's also a good idea to clear up points of argument before the family sits down together.
"Ah, how you've grown!" That's a ritual statement many teenagers have to listen to when family celebrations are held. Most would prefer not to go at all but there is no getting out of grandma's 80th birthday or an aunt's silver wedding anniversary.
All you can do is follow the advice of Jutta Stiehler, a member of the agony aunt team at German teen magazine Bravo, and to say to yourself "Even the worst gatherings come to end sometime."
"Everything is a matter of negotiation," she also recommends clearing up possible points of division with parents before the celebrations begin.
Fundamental discussions about what to wear or table manners should not be conducted in front of relations, if possible. "Perhaps you can make a deal with your parents," says Stiehler.
An agreement could be along the lines of 'today I'll behave myself and next week I can go to a party'. The important thing is not to try and blackmail your parents."
"The problem is that parents' and teenagers' perceptions are often very far apart," says Andreas Engel, a child guidance officer in Bavaria. Family gatherings often turn into the moment when long-term grievances boil over.
An all too familiar topic of discussion is clothing. Some parents have a basic problem with how their kids dress and a family party can become an opportunity to drive a point home.
Experts advise both parties to maintain composure in an instance like that. "From a certain age onwards, from about 13 or 14 years, parents should be giving their kids more room for manoeuvre," says Engel.
But teenagers should also be prepared to back down occasionally, according to Stiehler. "It's usually not worth your while always trying to be against everything." However, there is no reason why a young adult should be forced to give up their identity just because they have to meet the cousins.
There are also a few basic rules to follow, according to Marion Hackl, an etiquette coach from Hamburg. "It's always a good idea to shower and wash your hair. Don't overdo things like wearing too much hair gel or excessive makeup."
She also advises adopting a more reserved approach such as not rushing to the buffet or drinking too much alcohol. That's because families have a very good memory. "Insulting a relative with a low tolerance level can end up being a topic of discussion for a very long time."
But how do you handle the worn-out observation "My, you have grown big"? Hackl recommends not getting worked up too much. "Respond politely and don't forget to smile." In most cases it's easier to stick out a conversation like that when you participate actively and engage with your own questions.
But if things end up becoming too much it's okay to take some evasive action along the lines of "Hey, there's Aunt Inge. I want to say hello to her."
Stiehler agrees. "You should not forget that compliments like those are well meant." But it's another case when, for example, an older man makes inappropriate or suggestive comments to a young girl.
"If that happens you're allowed to clearly say 'I don't want you talking to me like that'," says Stiehler. It's often the case that potential problems like that are known about in advance so you should clear them up with your parents ahead of time.
Avoid looking bored
But not even the best survival tips and good intentions can protect you from boredom. Stiehler's advice is to avoid trying to divert your attention by checking your mobile phone or playing with a game. Doing that only serves to put your disinterest on display for all to see.
"It irritates relatives and parents and makes everyone unhappy in the end." It's better to withdraw for a while and step outside or move into an adjacent room. Boredom is another point worth talking about with parents before the gathering begins to work out when it's okay to take a break from proceedings.
But what do you do if the gathering is absolutely awful? "Then it's okay to leave," says Hackl. You should personally say goodbye to the host and excuse yourself with something like "I don't feel so good this evening." Which, in fact, is not a lie.
(Sapa, December 2010)
Christmas with the in-laws