Top Four Backhanded ‘Compliments’ My Grandma Gave Me This Thanksgiving


Like all White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or WASPs, my grandmother is a master of the backhanded compliment. See, WASP culture is one that demands constant and relentless judgement disguised as pleasantry. Throwing shade is something she’s been training for her entire life, and as the matriarch of my family, Thanksgiving is her time to shine. And with that in mind, here are the top four backhanded compliments given to me by my grandma this Thanksgiving.


You don’t look as bad as I thought you would!

According to my sister, my grandma began crying when heard that I’d shaved my head. My curls are a source of pride for her: a symbol of the diversification of her historically Anglo family. I’m sure she came to Thanksgiving expecting to be greeted by a bald butch troll. When she saw me, though, she immediately said that I “didn’t look as bad as she thought I would,”and “no matter what I do to my body, I will always have a pretty face.” Thanks Grandma!


Can you believe she’s an honors student? She got a ‘C’ in Algebra, you know.

For many years, I had undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD, which resulted in poor school performance and many behavioral issues. Unfortunately, my grandma seems to have lost her ability to make new memories starting in 2008, so she still thinks of me as the disruptive middle schooler I used to be and never fails to express shock at my ability to do well in school.


It’s okay that you didn’t dress nicely because you helped cook all day.

My grandma rolled up to Thanksgiving in her nicest Coldwater Creek sweater set. I’m not impressed by how nice she looked — it’s easy to put together a good outfit when your daily activities include downloading virus-ridden toolbars onto your desktop computer and removing cat hair from a sofa with a lint roller. I, on the other hand, was wearing jeans and my camp hoodie because I had been cooking for 6 hours, and my outfit did not meet the standard of my pearl-wearing Episcopalian grandmother. But, she reassured me, it was okay that I looked sloppy because I’d clearly put a lot of work into my butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. And, according to my grandma, with practice, one day I will get my pie crust right. Not today, though!


You are such a wonderful young woman. Which is surprising, because you were such a nasty little girl.

My grandmother was one of my primary caregivers during my formative years. We would routinely clash, and I’ll admit, a lot of the times it was my fault — I was a teenager! But frequently, the conflicts we’d get into would be over what I’d consider to be generational differences. For example, one time she told me that my shorts were too short, and that I was just “asking for trouble”. Once I got older, I learned to just ignore my grandma’s snide comments, and our relationship is better for it. My grandma recognizes the improvement in our relationship, and brings it up every time I see her, but not without adding how horrible I used to be!


BONUS: (to my Uncle, her son): You know, David, you sure do have a lot of opinions on fashion for someone who wears sweatpants every day.

Let it be known: no one is immune from my grandma’s shade, and when it’s in defense of me, boy am I grateful for it. The above comment came from my grandma in response to my Uncle’s relentless critique of my appearance. My uncle David, unable to wrap his head around my shaved head, asked me if I was gay, because my shaved head made me “look gay.” After responding in the affirmative (I am, in fact, gay), he was silent for a long time. My grandma, despite being old and WASPy, is a certified gay ally and responded to my Uncle’s bigotry with one of the most epic burns of the evening. Good luck recovering from that one, Uncle Dave!




Thanksgiving is a time for food, family, and roasting the shit out of your relatives. At 82 years old, my grandmother has mastered the art of the burn. We can only hope to all be as ruthless as she is in the sunset of our lives.

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon