Much said with few words


We had dinner with friends last night.

There is nothing unusual about that, except these were all people I did not know; people my husband, Peter, had met while taking his daily hike in Mexico.

This was not the first gathering of Peter’s friends we’ve had. My self-professed introvert of a husband has become something of a social butterfly outside of the U.S. He goes to the same botanical nature reserve to hike every day and he meets new people and forms new friendships. Peter still professes to be a shy person. He is not.

But last night was particularly special because these were not visiting Americans or Canadians or even Norwegians — all of whom Peter has met and introduced me to. These friends were the Mexican employees of the nature reserve.

We invited them over to our hotel, which usually serves only breakfast and lunch. But our kind host, Jorge, insisted they would love to serve dinner to us and they put together a feast. The temperature was cool, but everyone brought a coat (they know the climate, after all). There was a tasty appetizer and fish tacos and a chocolate mousse for dessert, and it was a perfect night — in spite of the fact that Peter really speaks no Spanish at all, I only speak a little, and three of our four guests spoke either very little English or none at all.

It helped that there was one truly bilingual person. Emiliano is only 18, but he speaks excellent English, and when conversation got completely gummed up, he would sort things out. But it was astonishing how few words we needed to have a good conversation.

I am all about words. Words are what I do, so I am used to thinking that having precisely the right word is important. And sometimes it is. But there are many ways to say the same thing, and a few hand gestures, a facial expression, maybe a moment of pantomime and the missing word can be guessed and the conversation can continue. Most of the time, Emiliano didn’t have to bail us out at all.

What did we talk about for this two-hour dinner? We talked about our families, of course. We talked about what Emiliano was going to study at college (he still doesn’t know). We talked about this town and the celebrations that had just passed and the celebrations that were about to begin. Peter asked if anyone had pets, and Marcela laughed and said she had 11 dogs.

“You have 11 dogs?” I asked Marcela in Spanish, sure I must have misunderstood.

She nodded and laughed again. “And three cats! All from the streets.”

And all the while, I wished I had a few more words. I wished I could understand just a bit better. I no longer care if I use the wrong form of a verb, or forget a word, or say something embarrassing. It makes no difference at all. What I care about, more than ever, is being able to understand these people — my new friends.

We said goodnight. Marcela gave me a headband and a pair of fingerless gloves she knit herself. Peter said he would see them all the next morning at the nature reserve. Jorge was pleased that the dinner went well, and took some pictures of the beautiful meal to put on his website.

It was a wonderful night and, for a person who is always trying to find the best words, a reminder of how much can be said using very few words at all.

Till next time,


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