Humor – Talking About Talking
By Mordechai Schmutter
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about things you can talk about with your family at the dinner table. Because as we all know, experts say that it’s best to eat as a family. Although experts also say that you should work and support your family, and experts say that your kids should go to bed on time. What do these experts want already? Experts can’t have it all the ways.
And what are these people experts in, exactly? Eating?
Mostly, it’s about conversation. If there’s something you want to talk about with your entire family, there’s no better way to do it than over food. You don’t have to be the type of family who randomly calls everyone into the living room for a “family meeting.”
Because in truth, even if you routinely talk to all your kids on an individual basis, family meetings of some sort are important, because otherwise there’s always one kid you forget to tell things to. You also tell one kid twice.
This way, the meetings can be over food, and then the food is tax-deductible.
But the experts don’t say what you should talk about. Also, sometimes even when you do have a family meeting topic in mind, you get that done with early, and there’s still food on the table. Do you just dismiss everybody?
So what do you talk about every night? With the same people that you also live with?
I mean, Shabbos we talk about the parashah, we say a vort and someone gets out the calendar at least once every Shabbos meal. And whenever the conversation dies down, someone starts a zemer. Can we do that during the week? I don’t know anyone who sings during supper on a weeknight. Besides at camp. Or who has company for weekday meals just so there’d be conversation. Can we normalize having guests for weekday meals? You want to be the pain who, when you invite someone for Shabbos and they say they’re booked up, you’re like, “What about Monday? What about Tuesday? What are you doing for breakfast on Thursday?”
We don’t know what to say to each other; let’s bring someone else into the mix.
Anyway, this is why Chazal said you should work a dvar Torah into every group meal. Not specifically Shabbos. But I mean, our kids barely set the table; they’re going to look up a dvar Torah?
“Well, tell us something you learned in yeshivah.”
So now they have to pay attention in yeshivah just so they could have something to tell you at a meal wherein they don’t even like what you made. And then you’re like, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Isn’t that the point of all of this?
So a few weeks ago, I wrote an article in which I threw out some topic suggestions that can be revisited every night. Topics like, “Why aren’t there napkins on the table?” or how loud people chew. This topic never gets old.
But some topics do get old. So I reached out to my readers, some of whom you know, to tell me what other topics they think people should talk about over supper that may or may not be what the experts originally had in mind.
Some of these readers may have misunderstood the question. JF, for example, gave me a bunch of single-use topics, which are not really what I’m looking for, because as anyone who has to make supper every single night can attest, there are an infinite number of nights. They don’t stop coming. And you can repeat supper ideas every week or two, but you can’t repeat these conversations.
“I’m going to say that joke you liked last week!”
“Great! When you’re done, I’ll tell that story I told last week that happened at work, and then we’ll argue again about the difference between oh and oy!”
For example, one idea JF recommended was to give the names of two famous people and ask who would win in a fight. We could try that right now:
Who would win in a fight — Esav or Yishmael? — Esav was a better warrior, though Yishmael was good with a bow and arrow and could probably hit Esav before he got close. Though an arrow sticking out of Esav might just make him mad. So probably Esav, unless they fought on a sunny day, because Esav was a redhead. ESAV.
Who would win in a fight — Og or Golias? The Gemara says that Og was insanely huge, while I think Golias was basically an unusually tall person. Og also seems smarter. Og could be taken out at his Achilles’ heel by someone much shorter, but Golias’ armor was not at all effective. Og would probably fall on him and crush him. TIE.
Who would win in a fight — Pharaoh or Achashverosh? Pharaoh had the fiercest army in the world, but Achashverosh ruled 127 nations, so that’s more armies in total, though a lot of that was probably just angry civilians. But assuming it was one-on-one, Achashverosh is always drawn to be a big fat guy, while Pharaoh was said to be very short, so we have an Og-falling-on-Golias situation again. Unless Pharaoh was up on a horse, but Achashverosh would definitely know how to calm down that horse. ACHASHVEROSH.
Who would win in a fight — Bigsan and Seresh or Besuel and Lavan? They would obviously try to poison each other, but Lavan would keep switching the bowls around too many times, and Besuel would end up eating all the poison by mistake. Bigsan and Seresh would keep whispering plans to each other in a foreign language; it would be a language that everyone in listening distance already knows. LAVAN.
Who would win in a fight — Haman or Bilaam? — Haman would cast lots to see the best month to kill Bilaam, and it would come out to the luckiest month on Bilaam’s calendar. Bilaam would try to curse Haman but accidentally bentch him, so he’d overpower Bilaam. Haman would hang Bilaam on his gallows, but Bilaam could fly, according to many Midrashim. Bilaam had a talking donkey, but the donkey was not entirely on his side, while Haman had a devious wife who was not entirely on his side. DRAW.
Who would win in a fight — Halifornes’ head or Esav’s head? — TIE. Though Esav was a biter.
But there are still plenty of topics that are totally not narishkeit: [I’ve put the initials of the people who sent them in brackets.]
Who was in shul? [SI]
I don’t know why women want to know that. It’s always basically the same people, plus a bunch of people I don’t know, who by now it’s too late to introduce myself to.
I think there’s supposed to be a follow-up question coming about, “What did you say to them?” but I run home as soon as shul is over, so I don’t know where my wife is going with this.
But now when I’m in shul, I have to take a moment to look around and commit the room to memory. Usually while waiting for chazaras hashatz.
We’re not counting who’s done; we’re counting who’s there.
Did you call the plumber? [BV]
“I thought you were going to call the plumber.”
“No, I specifically said, ‘You should call the plumber.’”
“You said ‘we.’”
“Maybe. Are you not part of we?”
“I thought you meant the royal we.”
“I meant that I would tell you to do it, and you would do it. We. Teamwork.”
“Can’t we just do it now?”
“No, he closes at 6.”
“I guess we’ll have this conversation again tomorrow.”
“And by we you mean me?”
Is this a new recipe? [AS]
“Yeah, I got it from my friend.”
“It’s exactly like the recipe I usually make, but with one extra spice.”
“Oh. I like your old recipe better.”
“… I guess it’s not the worst.”
“Yeah, we didn’t have that spice, so I had to substitute.”
Kids love talking about whether the food you’re serving is leftovers. [HT & EY]
“You weren’t even home for Shabbos. It’s not leftovers for you.”
“I can’t eat it if it’s leftovers for anybody.”
Then they say, “When I grow up, I’m never going to serve leftovers.” Never. Mr. Never-Refills-the-Iced-Tea is going to make fresh food seven nights a week.
“I don’t like things that are reheated.”
“You eat frozen pizza!”
Who was supposed to make more lemonade? [KG]
Whoever finishes it is supposed to make more, but there’s been a thin layer at the bottom of the pitcher for two weeks now. Technically, no one finished it. Everyone’s dying of thirst, because no one wants to be obligated to make an entire pitcher that everyone will drink in one sitting just because they had the last ounce and a half.
And someone has to get up to make it during supper. Supper had to be made before supper, but the thing the kids make has to be made now, during supper, so that everyone could have a room-temperature drink and then be stepping on sugar in the kitchen for the next two days.
Parties coming up in school. [MA]
This is the one thing kids can talk about that happens in school.
Like M.A. says, his daughter told him one night, “We’re having a brachos party tomorrow!”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“That’s when everyone brings in different foods, and we make brachos!”
“Sounds like a regular party!” he said.
Pesach is in how many days? What day of the week is it? [AT]
I don’t know, even though we just covered this two nights ago.
What day was Chanukah again? And what does this mean for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos? Because we hate when Yom Tov is during the week, because we have to fight with our boss about taking off, and we hate when Yom Tov is over a weekend, because that means we have to figure out what to do for like 15 days of Chol Hamoed.
Did you hear? Another one of my friends is a kallah! [AT]
“How old was she?” we want to know.
I didn’t care how old any of these girls were until now, but now I care. It’s not a contest. We all know someone who got engaged crazy young, and we all know someone who got engaged crazy old. This one isn’t gonna break any records.
Then we ask, “Who’s she engaged to?” like the statistics for us knowing the chasson aren’t hovering somewhere around 2 percent. Usually, my daughter doesn’t know. She didn’t think to ask, because for her they were closer to 1 percent.
She says, “I’ll ask.”
And then the next night she comes back with a name, and I don’t remember what we were talking about.
You’re in my seat. [CK & EY]
This isn’t shul. But we do this anyway. The kids, I mean. They make a whole seating roster based on what day of the week it is, but they can trade, say, one good seat for two medium seats, and company messes up the seating, but also what if Yom Tov is a Tuesday? Wait, when is Yom Tov? Let’s get out the calendar again! Our calendar is super chametz.
This is just the kids, of course. My wife and I don’t fight over seats. We’ve had the same seats since forever. I sit at the head of the table, which is literally the worst seat, because I can’t reach anything. People think the father’s seat is chashuv — “Don’t sit in Tatty’s chair!” and so on — but really it’s just one of those things that the father quietly takes so that his kids don’t get stuck with it, like the ends of the loaf of bread, or orange popsicles.
JF does say that when she was growing up, her parents talked about using napkins properly: “Our parents had us put the napkins in our laps. To catch dropped food, I guess.” This assumes that all food will drop directly onto your lap. I have a son who drops a ton of food, none of it on his lap.
The weird thing is that growing up, my family ate together every night too. What did we talk about? I don’t quite remember. Maybe the lesson here is that what you talk about isn’t as important as the fact that you’re talking.
Oh, wait I do remember. We talked about table etiquette.
No elbows on the table. Why? Kids have short arms. If your forearm is shorter than the fork, you’re putting your elbows on the table. The parents are eventually like, “See? We told him for years, and now he eats correctly.” No, he just got bigger.
Stop sitting sideways on your chair! Parents love talking about this, because they forget that the depth of the chair is longer than the upper half of a kid’s legs. If your back is at the back of your chair, your legs have to be coming out the sides. And you have to sit back — that’s the other thing parents say. But also your feet have to be on the floor. And also, once you’re sitting at the back of the chair with no feet on the floor, you should pull your chair closer to the table, so you stop dropping stuff on your lap. Telling their kids how to eat was an endless source of conversation topics for parents when I was growing up.
Also, don’t eat with your fingers. If food falls on your lap, pick it up with a fork. n
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer/editor as well as a published author. He can be contacted through Inyan.
Caution: Taking the ideas and halachos expressed in this article literally can be hazardous to your health.
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