Friendsgiving, but make it sharing your soul like a bowl of Cheetos
October 15, 2020 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I really love throwing a Friendsgiving potluck for a group of local friends every year, and I don't want to lose the tradition to covid. But a lot of people (including me) are pretty burned out on freeform Zoom socializing, so I'm thinking of trying something still virtual but with a little more structure. Help me make this enjoyable and a little special, and not a fiasco of awkwardness.

So my nuclear-level-cheesy idea is to invite people to bring, instead of a potluck dish, a story about themselves to share, that no one else in the group already knows, based on a menu of questions or prompts sent in the invitation. (So like: "Hor d'oeuvres: Something other people believe about you that's not how you see yourself" or "Cocktail: What you most fear leaving undone before you die.")

This is a group of 10-15 adults in our 30s-40s, including several married or serious couples, most of whom have known each other and lived in the same city at least 10 years. Person-to-person closeness ranges from spouse/best friend to "we're at the same parties but don't really hang one on one".

My question is twofold:

First, what might make for good prompts? I'm aiming for 5-7 and I've looked up lists of deep conversation starters, but y'all are way more interesting. I don't need every single one to be super heavy, but for this context, I'd like them to be at least somewhat personal and meaningful. Pretty lefty as a group, so the fact that this will be a couple weeks after Election Day will bear heavily on the vibe, I think.

Second, if you're someone potentially willing to participate in something like this, what might help you feel safe and want to engage? Rather than Vegas Rules I'm inclined to go with a blanket "what's said can be repeated, but only without attribution or identifying details" and give space if people want to ask for more privacy about something in particular. I think I'll have people go in order by the "course" they pick. There are kids in some families, who are beloved by all, but maybe now old enough that kid-safe is a consideration. I'm thinking people should maybe be asked to say whether they're okay with interruptions or follow-up questions. Maybe a no-questions-asked safeword? After everyone's done with their story, then what?

This idea started the week as "let's watch a Thanksgiving movie together!" (I was leaning toward Addams Family Values) and that's about the vibe I generally aim for and have experience with, but I happened to get Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering from the library and things...escalated. If the collective wisdom of the internet is that this is Not A Good Idea, I am receptive to that too.

Thank you!
posted by jameaterblues to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love your nuclear-level cheesy idea.

If you had financial security, aka "didn't 'need' to work", what would you do to occupy yourself?

If you could replace a member of any band, which band, and which member?

Name a movie or TV show where you would be a superior replacement to one of the actors.

If you could make dinner for any one person you have actually met before, living or deceased, what dish would you make, and for whom?

Describe an event/time when you surprised yourself by going beyond your capacity, your limits, your ego.

If you could travel back in time to visit your teenage self, what would you tell her/him/them ?
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:14 PM on October 15 [1 favorite]

As a data point, this sounds like torture to me and I would not attend. That's not a vote against doing it! But if you do it I think you should be very up-front about the format (which will probably be obvious from the "potluck" assignments) and make it extremely easy and low-stakes for people to decline to come. It will only work if everyone involved is all in, which means you want anyone who might feel uncomfortable to have a zero-friction way to opt out.

For question inspiration you might turn to the 36 questions.
posted by babelfish at 9:31 PM on October 15 [19 favorites]

Be careful that you don't make people come up with five stories, then only have time for one or two each. Stories like that can lead to fun discussions, related stories, or just a lot of questions ("Why were you making your own ice cream? Was the recipe good?"), which is _good_, but might throw off your time estimates.
posted by amtho at 9:36 PM on October 15 [1 favorite]

My cousin’s wife made us tell stories about him for his fortieth birthday over zoom, it was unbearable torture and I only participated under parental duress. What you’re describing is like the evolved super powered radioactive monster version of that and there is nothing I would not do to escape from it.

Instead perhaps what I would actually enjoy as a virtual Friendsgiving might be something like, each household is tasked with “bringing” something fun, beautiful, or thoughtful, maybe a story but also art or photos you can share via screen share, or music or videos that have been curated that could play in the background while people eat.
posted by Mizu at 12:12 AM on October 16 [11 favorites]

Do you want everyone to learn about each other, or do you want to stimulate interesting conversation?

The "tell a story about yourself we don't know" thing is kind of a team bonding exercise (I have done exactly this exercise a number of times now) and is often awkward, people really don't know what to say or think of themselves as interesting most of the time. It *can* work! But it can also fall very flat and have the opposite effect that one would hope for.

I like Mizu's idea - which is more on the conversation/sharing side - bring a cool idea you've just heard about, or a picture that really speaks to you, or maybe one you took ("the best picture you took this year"?) that you can tell where you took it and why you really like it... It still communicates things about the person, what they value, what inspires them - but leaves more space for conversation, and is less pressure on them ("Tell us what you value!!" - "Uhh...?").

And then there's meta conversation - "So.. everybody took pictures of trees? Do you think that's because this year the Outside/Nature seems more attractive?"
posted by Ilira at 2:04 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Whether or not this is a good idea completely and utterly depends on whether your friends are the kind of people who would enjoy that kind of thing. (Since it sounds like a large group, the odds that all of them would be into it are probably low, but maybe not?)

(FWIW I get stressed out about any kind of meetup where I have to bring or prepare anything at all other than food. With food at least there's always the easy out of just buying something if needed.)

I'd talk with each of them beforehand and ask them upfront, "is this something you'd love or something you'd hate?" That way you don't end up torturing people you care about, and you do get a list of people who would like to participate in possibly smaller events of that type.
posted by trig at 3:45 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]

Thanksgiving's charm is that, ideally, it's a low stakes holiday in which everyone eats a lot of food, watches TV, and naps. This sounds like it has all the potential for bad Thanksgiving vibes (admissions of conflict with other family members! long-winded political arguments! amazing new grievances!) without the good Thanksgiving vibes (marshmallow fluff, the Lions game).

Unless your entire circle of friends regularly communicates in this fashion OR you want to start some drama, do Addams Family instead. (Drama not guaranteed--there's a good chance people will just say "Uh, people believe my favorite color is green, but it's red" and then expect normal conversation/Zoom dinner.)
posted by kingdead at 5:55 AM on October 16 [6 favorites]

you can have a surprisingly spirited conversation about some silly things. one of my daughters and her friends ask each other this or that type questions all the time and whether or not canned or frozen corn is better has turned into a long running gag. see also whether or not armadillos are cute.

My other daughter recently had an ice breaker that was whether you would give up chocolate or cheese.

I would mix it up with a couple serious story questions and more lighthearted would you rather ones that don't need a story so that those that are uncomfortable sharing too much can particpate without stress. and definitely find a way to let people know they can skip soul baring if they wish.
posted by domino at 6:42 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]

I think you’ll have better success and more participation if you keep this light. So many people, myself included, find “enforced vulnerability” activities so miserable that a lot of people are going to opt out. But I think you’ll get plenty of conversation going if you keep it to topics like “which is better—canned or whole cranberry sauce?” or “would you rather” questions. I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over who is the best Muppet, so you won’t lack for passionate opinions over things that seem inconsequential.

Alternately, you could have people answer more serious questions as a celebrity and have people guess who they were at the end. My roommates used to do this with The Ungame, to some very funny results.

This could be a delightful activity for the right group. It just might be hard to find enough people because so many of us hate answering questions like these.
posted by corey flood at 7:36 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]

As an autistic introvert, I would rather spend three hours debating whether a hot dog is a sandwich (a topic about which I actually DO NOT CARE ONE FIG) than participate in this kind of pressured intimacy.

Hell, I practically had a meltdown at a work retreat with people I've known and liked for years when one of them made us do "two truths and a lie" as an icebreaker. Luckily I got paired with the organizer in the first round, because she managed to talk me down from my "This is pointless! This is bullshit! This will result in either useless trivia or uncomfortable forced disclosure!" state enough that I managed to grudgingly complete the rest of the exercise.

I would strongly recommend keeping prompts light, funny, and trivial.
posted by Lexica at 10:58 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]

A nice safety valve is to allow anyone who wants to modify the question and answer their modified question. Even light "fun" questions can be tricky. For example, I don't really listen to music, I haven't had a favorite band in forty years. So, if asked what band I would like to be in, I would be trying to guess the most innocuous answer since it's embarassing to say I don't care. But, knowing the question was coming around to me, I might offer the substitute question of "if you could magically be able to play an instrument what would it be" in which case I could share something more comfortable and authentic that has a little story with it.

Also think through the time constraints. With 10-15 people, 5 minutes a per person mean you are going to need a hour to answer one question. Also, someone has to have the job to make sure each person is at least invited to participate, if you run out of time or someone gets overlooked that person will notice (might be relieved or hurt but they will notice)
posted by metahawk at 11:45 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Can you involve your friends in the question-drafting process? Give them the premise, ask them to each write 2 questions that fit the theme and then send them to you. They can only write questions that they would be comfortable answering in front of the group. You draw them out of a hat during Zoom time, going around the "circle" to have people respond. Everyone has the right to pass if they don't want to answer, and they can ask for a different question or pass altogether, as they wish.

It's a cute idea overall, and you know your friends so you know best whether or not they'll be into it.

I wonder if there are some options for retaining more of the feel and tradition of the potluck Thanksgiving, though. If you're all local, could you have people make a dish (with that number you could have 2 people do pie, 2 do mashed potatoes, etc.), package it in individual portions in little foil containers, and then drop it off at your place the day before Thanksgiving? Then you distribute the different dishes into big paper bags so that there is a full meal for each family unit according to the number of people in that family, and they come pick it up Thanksgiving morning? Obviously you do a no contact hand-off each time, leaving things on the doorstep, etc. You'd need massive fridge space for that one night, but everybody could have the traditional (microwaved) meal, made by friends, eaten "together." I know for myself and many others, doing the whole Thanksgiving meal for just 1 to 4 people feels ridiculous, so many of us will be missing the traditional favorites this year. If I had the option of a potluck I would totally do it.

I would also suggest considering playing some games together as a way to socialize. A quick google turned up this link, which suggests free online versions of things like UNO, pictionary, etc. That's my favorite holiday activity (after cooking and eating), but preferences vary.
posted by philotes at 11:55 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

We did a "memory feast" where everyone cooks one dish that sparks a memory for them (because of when they learned to cook it, what happened in their life during a memorable time that they ate it, because it reminds them of someone, whatever. Can even be takeout food, if that has a memory associated with it for someone). Then everyone shares the memory - and the recipe.
posted by Mchelly at 1:48 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]

You could ask everyone to do a Your Story, Our Story about Thanksgiving food.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on October 16

Please consider doing something silly and loose and interactive and with a low bar for entry. Tell bad jokes. Have a tournament bracket of awesomeness. Everybody loves nostalgia because it ties to our shared, rather than private, experience. So Worst Music Videos or something. Superfight is a fun card game you can play online. Get people to loosen up and connect without pressure; that is what people are missing right now.

Right now too many people (myself included) are trapped in solitude and doomscrolling and anxiety, and having to tell digital representations of people of varying degrees of intimacy what I’m worried I will fail to do before I die sounds like hell on earth.
posted by argybarg at 8:08 AM on October 17 [4 favorites]

Yeah please keep it light. Nothing self-revealing. Torture for many of us. Plus the kind of people who actually do enjoy telling stories and thinky-thoughts about themselves tend to be attention hogging gasbags; so you would be doing everyone a favor by not opening the door to it.

Instead something more like "what are we looking forward to doing when this stuff's all over?" or "fictional character you'd want to celebrate Thanksgiving with" (which won't stay on format, but will hopefully spark some light conversation.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:41 AM on October 24 [1 favorite]

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