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How to navigate Thanksgiving with the unvaxxed and unmasked

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Another pandemic Thanksgiving is almost here. And for a lot of us, vaccines mean we get to spend it with extended family and close friends. But what if your close circle includes people who are hesitant about the vaccine or who refuse to wear masks? That can make for stressful holiday planning.

So how do we navigate those choppy waters? Elaine Swann has advice. She's an etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol, and she joins us from San Diego. Thanks for being here.

ELAINE SWANN: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So one big question a lot of people have coming up before Thanksgiving is the vaccination status of the people they might be eating with. How do you navigate politely finding out whether the people you're going to be with are vaccinated or not?

SWANN: Well, yes, of course. Asking someone about their vaccination status before the pandemic would be a little bit awkward. But this year, it is quite different. And there is a way that you can ask people about their status.

Let's say, for example, you're doing a little bit of snooping around to kind of figure out who you should invite to your event. You can ask them in a way that's not very direct. This way, people don't feel as though they're put on the spot. You can say something along the lines of, hey, what are your thoughts about the vaccine? Once you get that information, then you know whether or not you're going to include them on your guest list.

Now, let's say, for example, you say, I'm going to send out my invitations, but I'm going to create my standard. This is where you can be very, very direct and tell people very specifically, I'm only inviting folks who have been vaccinated. Tell me, yes or no, have you had the vaccine?

FADEL: So let's say you're the guest. You've gotten an invitation, but it isn't very direct. So there's - not clear if people will be vaccinated at the event. How do you find out from the host what the vaccination status of the people you're eating with might be?

SWANN: Well, this is where it's really important for us to be very upfront and honest. We have to be clear with our line of questioning. Ask directly, what are your standards for the event? Do you expect us to have the vaccine? Will you be expecting us to wear masks? What's the situation? So ask those very important questions, and ask them in a manner that deserves a yes or no answer.

FADEL: When I see my vaccinated family, I'm going to want to go in for a hug. I know that not everybody is going to be that comfortable with it. How do you find out how comfortable people are with touching or hugging or being close together?

SWANN: Certainly. Before you go in for that big bear hug, stop yourself just a moment and say, are you hugging? And ask them quickly. And if they say no, respect their position and just step away and say, well, you know what? I am so glad to see you. And just give a nice air kiss.

FADEL: So one of the things that's as present as turkey at Thanksgiving for some families is arguments, whether it's about family dramas or politics. But this year, really, it's about safety for some families - you know, some people refusing the mask or refusing the vaccine. How do you avoid those arguments? It feels like there's a different thing that's at stake here when it comes to people's health and safety.

SWANN: Certainly. As the host, it's important to set the tone for your occasion. So my recommendation is for the host to make sure that before you open your front doors, that you have a great pivot - anything from, hey, we're going to play a family game or we're going to have everybody airdrop their photos from this last year so we can look at them on the big screen or we're going to write something and put it in this basket for grandma. Whatever it is, have a great pivot ready.

FADEL: That's etiquette expert Elaine Swann. Thank you for joining us, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

SWANN: It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDAE SONG, "THANKSGIVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.