Life Lessons Learnt in the Basque Country

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Kia Marie Hunt
Student of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Birmingham. Travel writer with a passion for culture, illustration, and learning new languages. If I'm not blogging about my latest travel adventures (or art-journaling), you'll find me eating, walking in the park, or re-watching La La Land!

Living and working in the Basque Country for one month was a fantastic way to improve my Spanish language, as well as gaining experience in working with children.
But I think what’s better is that I learnt so many cultural lessons, and I even found out things about myself that I never knew before. So don’t worry, this isn’t a boring long list of Basque and Spanish vocabulary, it’s a list of the more interesting things that my month away taught me…

1. Basque hospitality is better than English hospitality, its real:

This may be just a personal opinion, but from what I’ve seen, Basque people are really friendly and hospitable. Everywhere I went I was told to ‘make myself at home’ or ‘take whatever I need’. And, sure, the English pride themselves on being ever so polite, and we too will tell our guests “Mi casa es tu casa.” But, unlike in England, I felt as if my Basque hosts actually meant it. As if I could take a big handful of whatever snack was available, and they wouldn’t just smile politely then talk about how rude/greedy/terrible I am after I’d left the room.

2. Rain isn’t actually that bad:

This honestly shocks me. I always thought the most utterly awful and complaint-worthy thing about living in England was the fact that it rains all the time, because rain is horrible and gloomy. But, every time it rained during my stay in the Basque Country (rain was much more frequent than I had expected) I had a lovely overwhelming feeling of home. It made me reconsider my opinion on rain, and I realized it’s really quite comforting. As long as I have an umbrella, mind.

3. A Basque woman is a very particular type of woman:

I basically spent my days hanging around with a group of Basque mothers, and I was able to observe what they were like. I think it’s known that Spanish families usually have a strong matriarch, but the Basque women I met were a certain special type of women. Whilst we were sitting at a bar for Thursday night Pintxopote (another fab aspect of Basque culture, explained later…) and I was suffering from my usual ‘Oh dear I have to try to make sense in another language’ nerves,  I looked at them all and thought ‘you would never come across a dithering and delicate little girl like me from here.’ They are not girls; they are women. Strong, dark-haired women with bigger than average calf muscles. It’s difficult to describe them without making them sound overly masculine or scary, which is not what they are. I want to stress that they really are lovely, but they don’t mess around with politeness measures and certainly wouldn’t put up with any nonsense. feminism

 4. Pintxopote:

Why we haven’t adopted this tradition in England I just don’t know. Pintxopote is basically a bar-crawl every Thursday night. It works like this; everyone gets together at 7 pm in big groups and goes off to a bar to have one ‘Pintxo’ (A small Tapas; the bars there are constantly lined with plates of various different Pintxos) and one ‘Pote’ (A small glass of whatever you like to drink) for a special, set, and really cheap Pintxopote price. Parents will sit around and socialise while their children play together, or students will go out and treat it like we treat our sacred student night. And after they finish in one bar, it’s on to the next! The eating Pintxos goes on until 9 pm but the drinking goes on for as much of the night as you would like… (I had a couple of tired Friday mornings.)

5. I’d love to work in an Art Museum:

Just a strange, random, personal epiphany; I’ve never really considered it before, but visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao and other art museums in and around San Sebastian made me daydream about working in an international Art Museum, where I could use different languages and stare at artwork all day long: that really would be awesome!Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

6. “Modorra”:

Okay so I lied a little when I said there wouldn’t be any Spanish vocabulary here, but this word isn’t just a word; it’s also an interesting look into another culture. This word doesn’t really have a proper translation into English, look in a dictionary and it will probably say “drowsiness,” but I learnt that this isn’t just any old type of drowsiness. Modorra is a drowsiness that only comes when it’s hot and you’ve eaten a big lunch and are ready for your afternoon siesta. This one word, I think, highlights a lot the differences between here and there. Here, it’s never really hot enough to be tiring, we don’t eat much for lunch (whereas in Spain, lunch is a ridiculously large meal- another lesson learnt) and siestas aren’t a part of our culture. “Modorra” doesn’t translate properly here because you can only get it in Spain.

7. The mountains are inspiring:

I never realised quite how flat England was until I was surrounded by the dramatic mountainous landscape of the Basque country. And that’s when I learnt another personal lesson; great scenery and views apparently are a great inspiration to create! All of a sudden I wanted to be a photographer and a painter and an artist, in order to capture the natural beauty.Basque Country

8. Travelling alone is really refreshing:

This lesson is last, but not least. At the weekends I would travel to a nearby city like San Sebastian or Pamplona and spend time exploring by myself. I thought I would be lonely, but I felt so much freedom. The best thing about having a solo adventure is that you can do whatever you feel like, whenever you want. There’s no consulting with people about ‘what to see next’ or ‘what time to go here, and what time to go there.’ I’ve never truly been able to take as long as I’d like in a clothes shop before, and I’d  never been able to casually decide to stroll to the seafront, stop at a bakery on the way, then take my time eating a delicious pastry while sitting on the pier and gazing off into the distance. It was fun to lose myself in a new city and in my own thoughts, and I think it’s really important to learn to enjoy your own company.

(And it seems that since this trip the author, Kia Marie Hunt, has done a lot more travelling alone! Visit her blog Aspire to Amble for fascinating tales of her year exploring exciting parts of South America, like Uruguay and Brazil!)

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Kia Marie Hunt

Kia Marie Hunt

Student of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Birmingham. Travel writer with a passion for culture, illustration, and learning new languages. If I’m not blogging about my latest travel adventures (or art-journaling), you’ll find me eating, walking in the park, or re-watching La La Land!

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