Save me from dinner-time silence
December 1, 2020 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest some light discussion questions/topics for family dinner conversation.

I live with my parents (in their 60s) and my 94-year-old grandmother. Currently, I am the only member of the family working outside the house, and what with All of the Everything, the three of them are stuck at home all day, bored and slightly depressed. My job does not produce a wealth of fun stories. Family dinner conversation has nearly dried up entirely and it makes the meal interminable. We are normally the kind of people who will happily go down a wikipedia rabbit hole about etymology or histories of common household objects, etc, but right now it's difficult to prime the pump and get that started.

I'd like to compile a list of light-hearted questions or discussion topics that I can drop into the endless silence to spark conversation and lighten the mood. (I would prefer to avoid current events if possible.)

To head off alternate solutions to this problem: Not eating together is not an option - sharing a family meal is extremely important to my dad and the suggestion that maybe it doesn't need to happen every day has historically not gone over well. The idea of reading, listening to something, or watching tv during the meal (either individually or as a group) is also not an option.
posted by darchildre to Human Relations (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious answer with older people esp your grandmother would be asking about how things used to be a couple decades ago. Eg.: how did grocery stores look (compared to now), what were typical school lunches, do you remember any weird or interesting neighbors, who was your first crush, do you remember any poems you had to memorize as a kid, what did your school commute look like etc. It makes for easy pleasant conversation and you sometimes find out fascinating things.
posted by The Toad at 3:55 PM on December 1, 2020 [12 favorites]

I saw this in a preview video for The Crown: the cast played a chit chat game called “Game of Games” where basically you just all vote on things you like, such as breakfast foods.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:01 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you have any boxes of old unorganized photos it might be a fun project to look at a few every night and write names/dates on the back if possible.
posted by MadMadam at 4:03 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Toad's suggestion. I love conversations like that with my grandmother.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:48 PM on December 1, 2020

So, opposite end of the age spectrum but I have an almost-8 year old and we don't usually have the postcard-ready family sitdown dinners. We eat watching TV or standing around in the kitchen a lot, he eats watching ipad a lot (yeah I know not great but believe me we are awesome in other areas and this is where we need to make thigns easier and he eats SO MANY vegetables so don't even look at me). One thing that gets him in the zone for family dinners is when we play a slow board game during dinner. Scrabble, for example, as the kind of thing that begets group conversation while you play. That said, if I suggested this to my 93 year old Dad he might think it more or less sacrilege to play a board game during dinner so YMMV.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Get a box of conversation starter cards like these - they work wonders.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:55 PM on December 1, 2020

"when you were growing up did you eat [this thing we're eating now]"... can segue nicely into interesting memories of entire ways of life, if they're interested in reminiscing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:07 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Along similar lines, "what do you think people get wrong about the [decade]"? Which is also super interesting for decades you've all lived through, since you have different generational perspectives.

(For the following YMMV - the specifics of these questions are less important than their flavor)
Why hasn't soccer/football ever managed to take hold in the US?
What current songs do you think will become classics in the future?
What kinds of stories/movies do you think will become popular in the next few years?

We've also been playing sort of a thought version of iron chef - come up with a 3 course meal where every course is red. Or a seven course meal where every course is the favorite food of a particular U.S. state or represents a different Asian country.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 5:19 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

When it's the middle of winter, is it hard to imagine how it feels to be hot and basking in the sun?

Do you remember the name of a teacher when you were 10-12 years old? How about a face?

Do you remember the smell of a certain food from when you were a small child?

Any memory questions can lead to nice stories and conversation. And memory is fickle and colorful and confusing so lots of opportunities; good luck!
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:22 PM on December 1, 2020

The memory questions are a good idea but Granny is not often up to a lot of conversation focused on her, or great at comprehension these days. I'm looking more for topics for my parents and I that she could chime in on when she feels up to it.
posted by darchildre at 5:49 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

We have a set of these cards, and (maybe because they're aimed at families with kids), they're easy to use to start a discussion.
posted by Mchelly at 5:59 PM on December 1, 2020

What don't "kids these days" know?
posted by oceano at 6:01 PM on December 1, 2020

While a box of cards is one idea, you can also just use the internet to find stuff like this. Here is the first result for "free conversation starters" on DuckDuckGo.
posted by acridrabbit at 6:03 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

To be clear I think those memory questions are just as interesting to hear a 60 yr old or 40 yr old or 20 yr old respond to. We don't need to be 90 to have interesting memories, or to appreciate interesting memories and the interesting properties of memory.

I talk to my 3.5 yr old kid and my 40 ish spouse about memory quite a bit and it's very enjoyable for all of us. If you talk amongst yourselves on those type of prompts granny may well chime in.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:24 PM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Do your parents have hobbies or projects? Could you nudge them into starting something new? That might help them to have more to talk about.
posted by emjaybee at 6:49 PM on December 1, 2020

Uhhhnnn quite often our family conversation starts with something I read on a community web log... :)

Also advice column questions (safe for my kids) or sort of ethical dilemmas.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:17 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

For the occasional dinner night, how about “News of the Weird”? Look up a few goofball news stories, “A man in Cornwall says he ‘accidentally’ ate 10 golf balls!?” Discuss such improbabilities; stay away from topics too dark or political. We also do “would you rather” questions which you can find lists online.
posted by amanda at 8:38 PM on December 1, 2020

What about a light general knowledge quiz? We do this at dinner a lot, using (in our case) the daily quiz from a newspaper. Ten questions is about the right length and often spins off into related discussions triggered by individual questions.
posted by damsel with a dulcimer at 12:27 AM on December 2, 2020

My family plays Would You Rather at dinner when we get bored. The questions are easy to think up on the spot and you can take turns so everybody contributes. It’s good because there’s not really a right or wrong answer so it’s not controversial in any real sense and you can ask follow up questions to understand why somebody makes a choice. Here’s a link if you want some help coming up with questions.
posted by smirkyfodder at 1:43 AM on December 2, 2020

I'm a fan of "if you could only have one x forever/on a desert island, what would it be?" - food, music, books, etc so it can go off in a bunch of different directions. Or the perennial Mefi favorites, things like is cereal soup or is a taco a sandwich?
posted by brilliantine at 5:59 AM on December 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Books you've read?
Have you seen %TeeVeeShow?
Read the paper, bring up articles, limit politics to very local, so arguing about Town Councilor Lee Gooberface being a dope is okay, but Congress, Senate, Pres., Scotus is a Bad Idea. City Manager, Traffic PLanner, Public Works are fair game.
Man-o-man, this Driver today who did this Thing.
Tell me about your 1st car, favorite movie/ concert/ sculpture.
1st web page you thought was cool.
How much we hate facebook, and why, and specifically why we hate it.
In some families, what reddits do you like.
posted by theora55 at 1:06 PM on December 3, 2020

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