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I remember, when my husband and I were dating, he called me “gordita.” Gordita, in Spanish, is equivalent to “fatty.” I looked at him as I touched my waist and asked him, “How can you say that?” I knew I wasn’t fat. In fact, I was too thin, but I felt hurt and insecure by his comment anyway. He quickly reassured me, “Elana, in Mexico, ‘gordita’ is an affectionate term. It’s like saying ‘cutie.’”

That was just the first of many cultural nuisances to which I have had to accustom myself since being together with my husband. The next one was with my mother-in-law, who called me every day, three times a day. I felt like I was being interrogated by the KGB each time she called to ask me, “What are you doing? What did you do? What are you going to do?”

Communication has become instant, but it’s also become more difficult

Later, I learned that my mother-in-law is just a gregarious woman who calls everyone that she loves and cares about. I learned that my responses really didn’t matter, and the questions weren’t really an interrogation, but a means of saying, “I’m here if you need me. I’m just checking in.”

A hundred years ago, most people either married the “boy or girl next door,” or they married a relative. They knew the culture and family of their spouse, and certainly spoke the same language. Now, with telecommunications and rapid transportation, matches have become multicultural. I have Canadian friends who’ve married French, Americans who’ve married Israelis, Brazilians who’ve married Spaniards, not to mention myself, an American who married a Mexican. Communication has become instant, but it’s also become more difficult.

Through trial and error, and now years of experience, I’ve come to realize that communicating is not about talking and “listening”; it’s about understanding. When you hear a loved one or friend say something to you that seems to be invasive or hurtful, ask yourself, “Does this person want to hurt me?” You know in your heart that the answer is, of course, no. So why did they say it? I don’t know, but maybe we actually didn’t understand what was said, and you have to know that it wasn’t said to hurt you.

Sometimes we have to take a step back to try to understand the other person and really hear what they are trying to tell us. Even if you do marry your next-door neighbor, each person is a world of his own, and brings his own language into any relationship. Relationships take work, and it takes time to learn the art of understanding. But if you start out by judging the other person favorably, you’ll see your negative reactions fading away, and you’ll have an easier time communicating.

Originally from northern California and a Stanford University graduate, Elana Mizrahi now lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children. She is a doula, massage therapist, writer, and author of Dancing Through Life, a book for Jewish women. She also teaches Jewish marriage classes for brides.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Raymond Bastarache NB. Canada September 21, 2015

one the beginning Beautiful I understand where, at the Tower of Babel, when G-d confused those builder's at the Tower with multi-languages...........made it hard to adapt with each other in communicating one with another. (the work was halted). As mentioned in your article, relationships takes work, especially adapting to a foreigner of a different culture? Nevertheless, everyone understands "love and kindness" along with compassion. Shalom. Reply

Anonymous jerusalem May 2, 2012

Interesting that the difference between a nuance and a nuisance (assuming it's some kind of typo) is "i"s", too much me. Reply

Nachman Azusa, CA via May 1, 2012

Very funny I am from Mexico too. When i saw the title of this article, "Gordita", it caught my attention and when i read it i couldn't stop laughing. Yes, in some aspects the Mexican culture is very different than the American culture. I think that the reason why the word "gordita" is used in an affectionate fashion is because, not long ago, people use to believe that a fat person is healthier than a slim person. So, to be a "gordito" (man) or a "gordita" (woman) was something good. Reply

Justin Roth Staten Island, NY May 1, 2012

This article tries to justify Loshon Hora According to the Chofetz Chaim, words that can be understood to mean something derogatory about another individual, whether or not it is meant to be interpreted this way, is contrary to the rules of Shmiras HaLoshon (guarding one's speech). People should take more care with how they speak to and about others. If they do not, this can lead to several violations of mitzvot. I say, if one has a shred of doubt about whether or not their words will affect another person negatively, the prudent thing to do is to not say anything. Then, we can all live in a more peaceful world and hasten the coming of Mashiach, G-d willing, very soon! Reply

Malka Miami, Fl. May 1, 2012

communication Short and sweet! Elana says so much here, in so few words--no chance of her message being lost among too many words! I'm sure that's why many singles express that they're looking for a spouse who strives for kind, clear communication. "Kind" since the source of the words should be from the attribute of lovingkindness, and "clear" since he or she wants their partner to have a priority for his or her heart-felt messages to come across the way they were meant to sound. And in all that great focus, the receiver of the message also needs to stop and think if there are any cultural "fliters" that need to be engaged to order to hear the message as it was intended...(parenthetically, if a cultural mode of speaking is still a bit hard to "hear," tweek it a bit so it sounds "nicer" to your spouse) A great lesson here for shalom bayis (peace in the home)! Keep up the good work! Reply

Anonymous Voorhees, NJ/USA April 30, 2012

comunicating Understanding & accepting the warmth that comes from a true friend is the fuel needed to nourish our soul...and in the end...will create a long lasting relationship based on a caring friendship that will enrich our life forever! Reply

Isabel Mercado Weslaco, TX, USA April 30, 2012

Try telling your husband "viejito." The word viejo means an old man, but it is also a term of endearment for your husband. "Viejito" means little man in Spanish, but for a wife to tell this to a husband, it is very affectionate. Your story is beautiful, by the way. When we go to a Mexican restaurant and I order a gordita (corn tortilla stuffed with beans and potatoes), I say to the wait staff: "A gordita for the gordita." Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel May 11, 2008

Thank you Thank you , thank you for another beautiful and sensitive article that puts things into real perspective. Continue your great work and incredible chizuk (strengthening). Reply

Esther Atlanta, Ga December 31, 2006

I love the story; I understand it 100. I am spanic and I grow up with the same Terms. My brother in low when he talks and calls my sister he says "Gordita" I can tell the way he say it is with respect, love, kindness. The first time that my husband heard my brother in-low to say "GORDITA” to my sister, HE WAS SHOCK. How my brothers in low, call my sister that name. I explain to my husband the other meaning of the word. Still until know he does not like that to be use as love, dear...Unfortunately I had to learn where was coming from and the person was saying "GORDITA" because in Latin American countries also people that who wants to be cruel use it. I miss that so much been with my mom,sisters and friends. Here in USA it is your family Husband and kids. I also have realize how lucky I am what I have, I need to apreiciate it and work a lot to be happy and help others.

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