Discussing Your Facebook Profile or Twitter Following is Now a Greater Conversational Taboo Than Death or Serious Illness

Sex and income have replaced politics and religion as the subjects that Americans would most prefer to avoid discussing at a dinner party, reveals a new poll.

More of us, meanwhile, would be happy to chat over dinner about death or serious illness than about our Facebook profile or number of Twitter followers, according to the poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Zogby Analytics on behalf of Living MacTavish (www.livingmactavish.com), a lifestyle website that advises on stylish entertaining, fashion, food and drink.

More of us, reveals the poll, would be okay about discussing the state of our marriage/relationship – or, indeed, what contraception we use – than the state of our finances.

“The sex lives of those present” and “My income” topped the list of taboo conversation topics at a typical, mixed sex dinner party, well ahead of such traditional taboos as religion and politics.

“Discussing politics or religion at a dinner party was once the height of bad manners,” says Susan MacTavish Best, founder of Living MacTavish, and a renowned entertainer, cook, hostess and lifestyle guru.

These days, however, it seems that discussing your income or personal finances is far more off-limits than either.

Taboo Subjects


Nearly twice as many Americans (59%) would avoid discussing the sex lives of those attending a dinner party as would avoid talking about politics or religion (32% each). Over half of us would prefer to avoid discussing “My income (53%) or “My own finances” (51%), the next most taboo topics.

MacTavish Best is on a mission to persuade Americans to entertain more – to unplug, unwind and to meet up more often for old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation instead of endless texting, Tweeting and Facebooking. “I want to save the world one dinner party at a time,” she said. “As part of that, I first want to help folks understand some of the do’s and don’ts of good dinner party conversation.”

Also as part of this mission, MacTavish Best ran a pop-up store in the chic SOHO neighbourhood of New York, where, by day, she sold the contents of her eclectic San Francisco home, while, by night, she hosted a series of private dinners and concerts for invited guests. The pop-up store remains open online at http://popupshop.livingmactavish.com

Emily Post, the great arbiter of American manners in the first half of the last century, advised readers of her influential 1922 book on etiquette not to hold forth in polite conversation on the “ills, misfortune or other unpleasantness’s”.

Such advice, however, might fall on deaf ears today, judging from the poll’s finding that more Americans in 2013 would prefer to avoid talking about either “My Facebook or online dating profile (22%) or about “How many Facebook friends/Twitter followers I have” than are troubled by the thought of discussing either “Death” (19%) or “Serious sickness/ill-health” (18%).

“One way of looking at the results is that surprisingly few topics are completely off-limits,” says MacTavish Best. “After all, even two out of five people are happy to chat about the most taboo subject – the sex lives of those present.”

On the other hand, Americans are far more inhibited – or, alternately, more polite and considerate – than the British. In a similar poll conducted in the UK last year, the percentage of Brits reluctant to discuss very similar subjects was far smaller – roughly half in many cases – than the equivalent percentage of Americans.

Only 32% of Brits, for example, would prefer to avoid discussing “My sex life”, compared to almost twice the percentage of Americans (59%) who would avoid similar territory. Over half of Americans (53%) would rather not discuss “My income” compared to only a quarter (25%) of Brits who would avoid it.

Meanwhile, almost three times as many Brits (39%) as Americans (14%) would be happy to discuss anything on the list of otherwise taboo subjects.

Methodology: Zogby Analytics was commissioned by Living MacTavish to conduct an online survey of 1,000 adults in the US. The survey was conducted on 11/14/2013. Using information based on census data, voter registration figures, CIA fact books and exit polls, Zogby used complex weighting techniques to best represent the demographics of the population being surveyed.

Susan MacTavish Best is a renowned entertainer, salonista, blogger, cook, and collector of curios. “Susan is Martha Stewart meets the Royal Tenenbaums for the digital set”, was how one friend put it recently in The San Francisco Chronicle. Others call her just the “Martha Stewart of Silicon Valley”.