One way I survive the holidays is to treat the family parties like exercises in anthropology. You know, like Margaret Mead living with the cannibals of Paupa New Guinea.
The researcher must exercise care and not attempt to deduce too much information from the interviews. While tempting, the venue is artificial and the research subjects might be "playing" the researcher.
Consider the following, slightly fictionalized exchange.
Me "So, when do you graduate?"
Twenty-something said "I graduated two years ago."
"Interesting. What did you major in" I asked.
"I had a dual major. I majored in Political Science and Economics." T-s replied.
My eyebrows went up, surprised.
"What have you been doing with yourself since you graduated?" I asked.
"Oh, I have been working as a community activist and campaigning for Richard Slimy at the grass-roots level." T-s replied. "But I am ready for a change so I am going to stop doing that."
"What do you see as the next step in your life?" I asked.
"I was thinking of taking a gap year and traveling. Then I will apply to grad school" the T-s said with assurance.
"What would you major in?" I asked, making the expected small talk.
"I am leaning toward a Masters in the Humanities but I might go for the money and go to law school or get an MBa." the T-s said, buffing her fingernails.
"Humanities?" I queried. It didn't seem to fit with the other two.
"Yeah. It is kind of my fall-back. The faculty already approved my thesis." T-s said.
"Which is...." I asked, leading her on.
"Gender fluidity of Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus as Revealed by Authoritative Translations" she replied.
"Doesn't sound like the kind of discipline with a lot of jobs." I responded as kindly as I could.
"I know. That is why I plan to get a Ph.D afterward." T-s said.
"In Humanities?" I asked.
"Oh, no. I would get a Ph.D in Ceramics Engineering." T-s said.
Face twisted into a frown. "Do you think a Masters in Humanities will prepare you for Ph.D level work in Engineering?" I asked.
"No problem." T-s said.
Thinking this through and counting on my fingers I stated the obvious "So you might actually start getting respectable paychecks when...when you are twenty-eight?" I asked.
"Something like that" she said.
"Maybe things are different now," I said "but it seems to fly in the face of time-value-of-money."
"What is that?" she asked "Time value of money."
"It is a basic concept in economics. A dollar today is more valuable than that same dollar next year."
"Oh, you mean inflation." she said.
"Nope, inflation is different. Inflation is loss of purchasing power so you really aren't talking about the same dollar." I explained.
"Time-value-of-money is what creates money markets. Some people are willing to forgo consumption and invest their money but only if they will receive more money in the future. The collective knowledge of the crowd sets the rates." I said, proud of having worked the word "collective" into the conversation.
"That is immoral" T-s stated with all the certainty of a twenty-four year old.
"Actually, the Christian Gospels speak of the master leaving servants money and becoming very angry when they did not invest it. That, and the government would shut-down tomorrow without access to borrowed money." I replied.
That is when I heard the words "Pumpkin Pie".