The holidays can send even the most outgoing of folks careening into a social situation they feel emotionally unprepared for. When trapped in these situations, consider using one of these offbeat science stories to steer conversations in a less stressful direction.
Break the ice with a science joke
Maybe you don’t need an evasive conversational maneuver—maybe you just need help getting comfortable with relatives you haven’t seen since last holiday season. Even the most elemental of science jokes will surely garner a few laughs. HeHe.
Why do we cringe when other people do embarrassing things?
If it doesn’t feel too close to home after watching your cousin put his foot in his mouth at the dinner table, our recent story on secondhand humiliation explains why feeling embarrassment on someone else’s behalf—even if they don’t feel awkward themselves—is actually a sign of empathy. Will this knowledge be enough to make you stop cringing? Probably not. But maybe if you talk about vicarious humiliation pointedly enough, your inadvertent embarrasser will get the hint.
Introduce your loved ones to the extremely charismatic penis fish
It’s not a penis and it’s not a fish, but that shouldn’t stop you from spewing facts about this unsettlingly phallic creature if anyone asks why you don’t have a boyfriend.
Settle things down with a few stories about ASMR
If the meal devolves into shouting—or, even worse, gross mouth sounds—you can make your feelings on the situation known by explaining why gentle whispers seem to trigger a mysterious physical response in so many ASMR enthusiasts. We’ve even got a podcast episode all about the phenomenon, if you need to study up on the road.
Share some thrilling sports science with your favorite baseball fan
Maybe you love sports—that’s cool. In that case, you should just dive into this story on Major League Baseball’s strange surge in home runs for your own enjoyment. But if you’re clueless about sports and know you’re about to get your ear talked off about your hometown team, keep this research in your back pocket for when you need to weigh in.
Mesmerize your guests with the story of the glass harmonica
Talking about the latest and greatest TV shows and movies is great, but if someone at the table is trying way too hard to impress fellow guests with erudite thoughts on the “Watchmen” finale, unleash the show’s shocking tie-in to a real-life historical hypnotism movement—one that utilized a creepy instrument designed by Ben Franklin. From there, it’s an easy transition to telling people how much Franklin loved sitting around naked, and then the subject is officially changed.
Give your relatives a linguistics lesson
Kind of a specific use case, but: If you’re bisexual and someone is like “what does that even mean?” and you know they aren’t actually asking what it means, you can tell them all the weird meanings the word “bisexual” has held throughout history, which will probably shut them up for a bit.
Shut that fitness tracking enthusiast right up
If you’re trying to enjoy your holiday meal in earnest and really, really can’t stand all the enthusiastic chatter about daily step counts and how great it will be to burn off these calories, drop this truth bomb: The classic 10,000 step goal is totally and completely made up and has nothing to do with health.
Nazis ate poop
This is just a fact. Deploy it as you deem appropriate.