May 16, 2024
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My Compliments to the Chef

Welcome back to “How Should I Know?”—the column that always seems to know the wrong thing to say.

Dear Mordechai,

What’s an original compliment that I could give to my friend about her baby?

B.H.

Dear B.,

This is not an easy question. No matter how close you are to someone, if you see their baby, you have to compliment it. This is not a time for constructive criticism.

A lot of people go with, “It’s so cute,” but that isn’t original and possibly isn’t even true. So I say that a great compliment would be, “Your baby smells great!”

It’s a great compliment, because unlike cuteness, this one speaks to their parenting skills, so it’s a direct compliment to them. I have teenagers, and they never really smell great.

I mean, why are we all judging babies by just one thing—looks? Babies are people. You can’t judge a person just by looks. Maybe he’s smart. Maybe he’s a huge baal chesed. Though not yet.

You can’t say, “Your baby is a huge baal chesed!”

So what else is there to say about a baby?

“Wow! Your baby’s a good cook!”

“Boy! Your baby has a nice personality!”

“Wow! Your baby has wonderful yichus!”

“Wow! Your baby is so funny!”

There’s nothing else to say. All you have are your five senses. But when it comes to compliments, people rely on just one. Though how can you compliment it using your other senses, really?

“Your baby sounds incredible!”

“Your baby is so soft!”

“Your baby’s delicious!”

So all you have is smell.

The only thing is that you can lie about the cuteness of a baby. It won’t really make a difference in the parents’ life; it’s not going to affect anything. There’s nothing that they would do differently if you’d be honest about their baby’s cuteness level.

But you can’t really lie about how a baby smells. You can’t say it smells great if it does not. At best, it will be like if you go to someone for a Shabbat meal and they mess up a recipe, and you tell them it tastes delicious, so they make sure to make it taste like that every time you come for the rest of your life.

Dear Mordechai,

I went to someone’s house for Shabbat, and for dessert, they put out what was clearly Duncan Hines cake. Is that OK?

T.S.

Dear T.,

I don’t know. It’s definitely frowned upon. Society has agreed that it basically tells your guests that you didn’t bother doing the work, besides making the whole Shabbat. In fact, it’s more socially acceptable to just buy a cake than to buy a mix and then make the cake. This is not the kind of cake one makes for guests. It’s the kind one makes when they don’t have guests. It’s every family’s dirty little secret.

Of course, your problem here is that you don’t want to eat it, but you do want to be polite, which means eating it and complimenting them, and if you compliment them, they’ll make it every time you come. They’re already making you hold their stinky baby.

Personally, I don’t like Duncan Hines cake. I think it’s because you can taste the chemicals. Unlike your homemade cakes, where you can taste all the nutrition.

But the best kind of cake for me is a cake I don’t like. That way I feel like there’s cake; I’m just not eating it. And it helps me lose weight, because it’s a scientific fact that if there’s cake in the room and you don’t eat that cake, you lose weight.

Maybe that can be the compliment.

“Thank you for making a cake that I don’t have a taivah to eat!”

Here’s the thing: If you’re a guest, you don’t have to eat the cake. It’s the only thing that’s socially acceptable not to eat. You can always say, “I’m sorry, I don’t eat dessert these days.”

And even if they see you eating cake in shul the next day, you can say, “Oh, I was weak.” Or, “I only don’t eat cake on Friday nights when it’s raining.” Everyone has their own weird cake rule.

Though even if you don’t eat it, you don’t have to come off as rude. Just tell them it smells good.

Got a question for “How Should I Know?” Your question smells incredible.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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