It’s fun to go out for Shabbos meals, because it allows you to get together with friends at a time that you don’t have to run, and you can sit and talk over food, which, as you’ve learned on shidduch dates, is great, because if the conversation goes bad, you can always talk about the food.
But how do you end the conversation? Most people don’t know. They try serving dessert, but then after dessert they can still end up talking for hours, and the kids are climbing the walls and the husbands are missing their naps, and there has to be a way to end this.
Wait, we can sing Shir Hama’alos!
Arguably, that’s why it was invented.
But even after everyone gets up from the table, it can keep going. Even opening the front door doesn’t help. And these are great people and all, but you only get one day to sleep, or learn with your kids, or do whatever it is you do on a Shabbos afternoon for like seven hours.
So if you’re the host, you can suddenly announce, “I have to go to Minchah,” even if you normally daven later. And then either the other husband will sit there awkwardly in your house while the women talk, or he’ll come to Minchah with you and you’ll have that awkward conversation afterward where he’s not sure whether his wife is still at your house or at his, and you try to convince him to check his house, which doesn’t take a lot of convincing. And once he’s there, he will not come back. And his wife can stay all afternoon and talk to your wife for all you care; you’re going to sleep. Unless you sleep on a chair in the living room.
But what if you’re the guest and you want to leave? I suppose you can just walk out. But how do you end it and still keep a good relationship? Sure, you can say, “Good Shabbos” or “So, anyway …” but how many times have you said that in the last hour?
If I have to walk to Ma’ariv with this guy, I’m going to be very upset.
Another question that people have, as guests, is how to pay the host a compliment that actually sounds sincere. What do you say?
Most people, when they’re looking for a closing line to signify that they’re leaving, say, “Everything was delicious.” Even if it’s not connected to what you’ve just been talking about for an hour. And only guests can say that. As a host, you don’t get to say it. Your wife will just say, “Thanks,” and keep talking.
But when you say it as a guest, you’re clearly wrapping it up, like, “Let’s end this. So everything was delicious, as we said when you were serving it …” and the hosts are like, “OK, they’re repeating themselves; I guess we’re out of conversation.”
You’re playing yourselves out. “Everything was delicious” is code for “I need to go walk it off.”
You mean it as a compliment. But it sounds very fake, because everyone says it. And you’re halfway out the door. And you say it even if everything wasn’t delicious. Like if they burned something, and you weren’t saying anything at the time because you didn’t want to upset them, and they already apologized for it. And now you’re like, “Everything was delicious … Whoops! I mean, except the chicken.”
Way to dredge that up. That’ll get you a return invitation.
Also, what if the food wasn’t good, but now they think that’s how you like it, and they make it this way the next time, and they’re suffering through, thinking that you’re liking it, and you’re not, and then on the way out you say again, “Everything was delicious,” and they’re like, “Ugh. We need to stop inviting these people.”
So saying “Everything was delicious” is kind of fake. Especially if you didn’t say it at the table. Why are you bringing up the food now? Do you want a doggie bag? Why didn’t you say it then? Can you at least be specific about what was delicious? Also, why are you complimenting the food but not the conversation or the singing? Thanks a lot. Maybe you should say, “Anyway, the singing was lovely …”
In fact, maybe by saying, “Everything was delicious,” you’re actually saying that the singing wasn’t good. Or that their kids aren’t cute. Or that the dvar Torah was word for word what the rav said in shul.
So “Everything was delicious” is just the code to get out of the house. If you’re looking for a way to believably compliment the food, you can try taking seconds. And then the hosts will think, “Oh! He really likes that!” or they’ll think, “Boy, did he not eat yesterday?” Or they won’t notice it, because of the conversation. So you have to stop the conversation dead and silently gesture to the fact that you’re taking more food.
The converse of this is to not even finish the first serving that you took. That often can be interpreted as you not liking something. So you kind of have to slip it onto your spouse’s plate and hope that she likes it. And the hosts will be like, “Wow, he ate everything he took! Even the bones! And the cupcake paper!”
So what some people do if they want to compliment the host — and what I started doing — is to pick one specific food that they liked and ask about that thing: “Can I have the recipe for the kugel? You have to send me the recipe.”
People say that, like, “You had me over, you introduced me to this kugel, and now you have a social obligation to tell me how to make it.” But it’s a sincere compliment. You know they liked it, because they didn’t have to do that. Or else they’re trying to make boring conversation. Like the conversation was so bad that they’re trying to liven it up by talking recipes.
I enjoy cooking, but there are few things more boring than hearing in detail a recipe you’re never gonna actually make. Or even one that you are. You tune out after step one. You can’t even get through reading a recipe in one go. You have to keep referencing it. You read all the steps and throw out the box, and then you have to go find the box again to read “Step 3: Fish the box out of the garbage to look up the cook time.”
So I definitely recommend asking for a recipe. You don’t even have to eventually make the recipe. They won’t wonder about it if you don’t make it the next time they come to you, because they’ll figure, “Why would they make that food for us if we’re the ones who showed them the recipe?”
Sure, you can just say, “The kugel was good,” but then it will be conspicuous that you didn’t say that about everything else. If you’re asking for a recipe, you don’t have to worry that they’ll wonder why you didn’t ask for the recipe for everything. There’s only so much you can hold in your head. And you really can’t ask for every single recipe anyway, or you’ll be asked to leave. “What, are you opening a restaurant?”
The only risk here is that you might compliment a specific thing, and they’ll say, “Oh, we bought that. We don’t know the recipe. Let me check the box for ingredients.”
And then you can slip out while they check.
But hosts definitely take recipe requests as a compliment. It means that your guest is sitting there, thinking, “This is a good kugel. I would like to make this kugel at home so that I could eat it without having to go to these people’s houses. No offense. I like the kugel, but not enough to have to put up with them for another meal.”
But at least they like the food. Or maybe what they want is to be able to make it for their company, and everyone’s going to compliment them on it, and they’re not even going to do it b’sheim omro. They’ll just take credit. I know this, because I’m taking credit for this kugel right now and I didn’t invent it either. I don’t know how to invent a kugel. I can’t invent any recipe that I can’t taste while I’m making it.
And then their guest will come to your house on a later occasion and you’ll make the kugel and take credit for it, and they’ll be like, “This is the same kugel that other person made.”
So what I like to do is leave out one key step or ingredient. Nothing major. I don’t leave out the baking, or the potatoes. Just something minor. That way, their guests can taste it and think, “It tastes OK,” and the hosts will go, “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. It was so good when we ate it at the Schmutters’ house.” And then they mention my name.
And then their guests will be like, “Let’s go to the Schmutters’ house.”
OK, so far I haven’t tried this. But I’m pretty sure people have been doing it to me. Or maybe I should have asked them to give me the recipes after Shabbos so I could have actually written them down.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.