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?



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 Shabbos 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 Shabbos, and for dessert, they put out what was clearly Duncan Hines cake.  Is that okay?



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 Shabbos.  In fact, it’s more socially acceptable to just buy a cake than to buy a mix and then make cake.  This is not the kind of cake ones 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.

Dear Mordechai,

I think one of my teachers doesn’t like me.  How is that fair?



Dear R,

Look, I never get this question from teachers.

“I think one of my students doesn’t like me.”

I don’t know what to tell you.  Maybe he’s an anti-Semite.

Sure, a lot of teachers will say, “There’s no student that I don’t like.”  I’m going to say that that’s not true.  As a high school teacher myself, there are definitely students I don’t like.  Though the students I don’t like are the ones who make it harder for the other students to learn.  You decided that no one needs to know any of the stuff I’m teaching.  Not just you; everybody.  You phrase it as, “Why do I need to know this?” but you interrupt everyone else learning it to ask me.  If you have a taanah on me for thinking everybody in the room needs to know this stuff, I can have the same taanah on your for deciding that nobody in the room needs to know this stuff.  Especially since they all paid to learn it.  Someone definitely needs to know this.  If more people didn’t need to know it than needed to know it, we wouldn’t be learning it in yeshiva.

But I have to say: Most students who say they have a teacher who doesn’t like them, it’s not just the one teacher.  They’ve decided this over a bunch of years: “You know, a lot of my teachers don’t like me…  It must be them.  Isn’t that weird?”

Yeah, maybe they talk about you in the copy room.  I’m sure they didn’t all arrive at this decision independently.”

So how do you get your teacher to like you? 

Well, how do you get anyone to like you?  Do what he wants you to do.  As opposed to the strategy you’ve been using – the strategy that usually works when you want to get another kid to like you – which is walking up to him when you see him (I guess during class?) and engaging him in small talk, and maybe pulling out a snack and waiting for him to ask you for some.  Or impressing him with your athletic or acrobatic prowess. 

Why on earth doesn’t that work?  Teachers are weird.

Dear Mordechai,

I have several brown yarmulkes in my possession, but when I bought them, they were black.  How do I keep my yarmulkes from getting ruined?


 Dear Y.,

  1. Keep them out of the sun. If you have to go outside, always wear your $500 Borsalino over them. This is a wise financial decision, because over the lifespan of one hat, you generally have to buy about 10 yarmulkes. There’s absolutely no reason you should have to replace a yarmulke so often.  That’s like five dollars down the drain. 
  2. Wear a separate one to sleep. I don’t know what happens when you sleep, but sleeping is not good for yarmulkes.
  3. In fact, when you’re not wearing them, you can put them on something called “yarmulke heads”. You might have some in your bedroom that your wife has been using for sheitels. It’s time to move the sheitels off and reclaim them.  You can even use the pins to hold them on, so they don’t go sliding around. 
  4. Yes, your wife will claim that they’re made for sheitels. But clearly, the sheitel head is a man. Who for some reason has a ginormous neck.  In fact, draw a face on him to prove it.  Or go to the Styrofoam head store and see if they have any with beards.  (I’m not actually sure where to buy Styrofoam heads.)  I think the ones with bigger beards have longer necks. 
  5. Or, for sholom bayis, you can put the yarmulkes on the heads over the sheitels, so they look like Reform rabbis.
  6. Have a separate Shabbos yarmulke that you travel with in a so-called sheitel box. (“No, that one’s my yarmulke.”)
  7. If you need to wear your daytime yarmulke to bed, keep the area behind your bed clean, so when yarmulkes fall down there, they don’t get dusty. You can clean that space by swiping it with an old yarmulke. All the dust will stick to the yarmulke, and then you can run it through the laundry.
  8. Don’t run yarmulkes through the laundry. Take them to the dry cleaner.
  9. Stop using your yarmulke to take things out of the oven.

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

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.