How’s life in Spain going, Hui? Enjoying all the tapas?!
“Well, er, I’m in Spain but not really.”
Every time someone from home asks me how life is going, I have to give them a little introduction to the Basque Country. So here it is:
Unless you are really into history or geography or know someone who is Basque, you’ve probably never heard of the Basque Country.
Or maybe you have, GREAT! But for those of you who haven’t…
The Basque Country is a region in Northern Spain and Southern France.
Wait–how can one place be in two different countries?
Because the Basque Country is an autonomous region, which means they rule themselves.
They have their own government, tax system, health care system, education system, and even their own president. So essentially, they are their own country, just within Spain and a tiny bit of France.
Now imagine living here.
It’s a country within a country.
Ok, I’ll stop.
So How’s the Basque Region Different From the Rest of Spain?
Well, in many ways.
Let’s start with the…
Before coming to the Basque Region, I was under the impression that the Basque language was somewhat dying (thanks Anthro 101) but nope, it’s well and alive.
Today, over 900,000 people speak Basque. You can hear it along with Spanish in Bilbao, or if you live in a tiny town like me, pretty much everyone speaks it.
To make things even more confusing, there are actually several dialects of Basque but the government’s been working really hard to unify the language by creating one official language, which they call: Euskara (“Basque” in Basque).
And in case you’re wondering what it looks like…
The Basque language is a mystery.
It’s not related to any European languages at all and no one knows when it was developed or where it came from.
The only thing linguists have been able to conclude is that it predates all of the languages in Europe.
Although it looks difficult, I sort of enjoy learning and speaking it.
What else is different?
Although Basque people look more or less like Spaniards, their culture, customs, food, and everything else are different.
Generally, Basque people have the reputation of being a bit more “closed off” compared to their southern neighbors.
Is this true?
Well, I haven’t traveled enough of Spain to confirm this but in general, I have noticed the locals around here are a bit reserved.
To give you an example:
I often say hello to the people on the streets but only some of them will say it back. The rest will sort of just look away.
I have a few theories about this:
- People assume I’m a tourist, which they get a lot here, so they are tired of saying hello to strangers who’ll only be here for a few days.
- They honestly don’t care as long as you’re not causing trouble.
- This might be stretching it–but given the history of the Basque people (who faced intense discrimination from the Spanish government for decades) they are now very wary of outsiders. The only reason I say this is because I’ve noticed the older generation are usually the ones that do not say hi back.
But those are just my theories and obviously, this isn’t true for every Basque person. A lot of people are very nice and friendly once you speak to them.
Basque people are famous for their PINTXOS, which are like hors d’oeuvres on sticks that you can get at almost any bar.
And if you go into a more traditional sit-down Basque restaurant, you’ll find tons of seafood. Basque people LOVE fish, anchovies, eels, squid, prawns, etc. They also love bean stews with sausages, ham, cheese, and so on and so forth.
Then (my personal favorite) they have tons of yummy pastries!
And last but not least (I saved the best for last) the geography of the Basque country is…
Emerald green mountains, soft sandy beaches, and crystal clear water can be found everywhere.
The first time I arrived, I thought I walked into a dream or a computer wallpaper.
Take a look for yourself:
It’s been over 3 weeks and I’m still trying to process the fact that I live here.
But do you want to know something even crazier?
Two years ago, when I was in California, I made a little wish on the beach.
I told myself, “Someday I’m going to live by the beach. I don’t know how and I don’t know when but I’m going to make it happen.”
And I did.