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Finally, a Handy Guide to Deflecting the Inevitable ‘How Were Your Holidays?’ Question

“Do you want to come to my Fourth of July party?” Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/(c) Klaus Vedfelt

The first Monday of the New Year has arrived, as inevitable as death and taxes. Did you pack a new-year-new-you lunch of three carrots and a thimble of peanut butter this morning? Is your boss already asking you to turn things in that were weeks late last year? Are you checking your email for the first time since mid-December? Welcome to 2016. No more faking the flu; no more sugar cookies dipped in spiked cocoa.

But while there are many downsides to returning to office life, the thing that will try your patience the most today is the question — asked innocently and reflexively — “How were your holidays?” As soon as the ghost of Steve Jobs develops a spam filter for verbal interactions, “How were your holidays?” will be jettisoned to leave room for less depressing inquiries like “What shall we order for lunch?” and “When’s our next national day off?” No one means any harm by the first-Monday-in-January pleasantry, of course, but does anyone really want a reminder of good times so soon passed?

The easiest way to bypass talking about your joyful holiday vacation is to be the first person to speak in any potential conversation. Do you work in a cavernous corporate cubicle maze? The very moment you spot a colleague of yours strutting toward you, even if she’s over 50 paces away, yell something toward her. I recommend the color of her outfit or the name of her favorite baseball team. “Caroline, you are wearing the color maroon today.” Or “Are the Red Sox really gonna do the thing this year?” Either of these entrances into conversation will divert the “How were your holidays?” question, but be prepared with follow-ups when the well runs dry. “I am looking forward to the Sox season,” Caroline might say. “Thanks for asking. How were your holidays?” At this point, be sharp and steadfast: “Baseball is an amazing sport and the Red Sox are a competitive team.” She’ll be stunned into silence. One colleague down. Several more to go.

If you were working during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, you’ll surely remember what your office looks like — the colors of the walls, the small details of your paltry office decorations. Before heading in, put together an outfit that is as close to those colors and tones as you possibly can and pray that no one even notices that you’re at your desk. Send your so-called “work wife” a text message, asking her to announce loudly to no one in particular, “Oh, did Dayna have off this week, too? I remember her saying something about that.” Sure, you’re sitting right there, but you’re a master of freaking disguise. Sport two crisscrossed pencils in your hair like the harried working women of ‘90s rom-coms always did. The perfect camouflage, and a cute look to boot.

Let’s say you do end up caught in the question. Get resourceful: “How were your holidays?” someone will ask. “My New Year’s resolution was to never answer questions,” you’ll say. “How were your holidays?” your boss might demand. “I don’t remember,” you’ll whisper, then walk away. “How were your holidays?” an otherwise totally friendly person whom you actually really like will pose to you. You laugh — ha ha — then respond, “You want to hear something crazy? I still haven’t seen Star Wars. Can you tell me what happens in it?” This will entertain you both for hours.

When all else fails, head into work bright and early wearing a jazzy bathing suit, flip-flops, and a multicolored caftan. People at work will either be too freaked out to talk to you at all, or will dive right in with a healthy dose of “Already getting ready for summer?” Begin elaborately listing the details of your forthcoming vacation to Tulum (made-up or real), and by the end of your eight-day itinerary, you’ll be far, far away in your mind. Just make sure to stay away from today unless you’re prepared to make some spontaneous flight bookings.

A Plan for Deflecting ‘How Were Your Holidays?’