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Lessons learnt in the Basque Country

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I spent my summer teaching English to six to eight year olds in the little town of Andoain in the Basque Country, Spain.

Basque regionOne month is the longest I’ve ever spent away from home before and sure, it was fantastic in terms of improving my Spanish language, as well as gaining experience in working with children. But I think what’s better is that I learnt 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.

Basque hospitality is better than English hospitality, it's real

Basque people are really friendly and hospitable. Everywhere I went I was told to ‘make myself at home’ or ‘take whatever I need’.

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 genuinely meant it, as if I could take a big handful of whatever snack was available and they wouldn’t smile politely then make comments behind my back.

I actually like the rain

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 (which was much more frequently 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.

A Basque woman is a very particular type of woman

I basically spent my 31 days hanging around with a group of Basque mothers, and I managed to observe what they were like. I think it’s known that Spanish families usually have a strong matriarchal figure, 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…) I was suffering from my usual ‘trying to make sense in another language’ nerves.

Then I looked around at them and thought ‘you would never come across a dithering and delicate little girl like me 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. They were all truly lovely, but they didn’t mess around with politeness measures, or worry what anybody thought of them, and they certainly would never put up with any nonsense.

Pintxopote

Why we haven’t adopted this in England I just don’t know.

Pintxopote is basically a bar-crawl every Thursday night.

It works like this; everyone gets together at around 7pm in big groups and goes off to a bar to have one ‘Pintxo’ (pronounced ‘pincho’) which is small Tapas (the bars there are constantly lined with plates of various different Pintxos) and one ‘Pote’ which is a small glass of whatever drink you like. You pay for this 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 goes on until 9pm but the drinking goes on for as much of the night as you would like…

(I had a couple of tired Friday mornings.)

I’d love to work in an Art Museum

Just a strange, random, personal epiphany I had whilst visiting various galleries around the Basque country; I’ve never really considered it before, but working in an international art museum where I could use my different languages and marvel at artwork all day long would be really, really awesome.

“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 peek 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 it’s not just any type of drowsiness. Modorra is a drowsiness that only comes when the weather outside is hot, you’ve eaten a huge lunch, and are ready for your afternoon siesta.

This one word, I think, highlights some 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.

Mountains are inspiring

I never realised quite how flat and boring 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 inspire me to create!

All of a sudden I wanted to be a photographer and painter and artist, so that I could try to capture the abundance of natural beauty.

Travelling alone is refreshing.

This lesson is last, but not least.

At the weekends I would travel to a nearby city like San Sebastian, Bilbao or Pamplona and spend time exploring by myself. I thought I would be lonely, but this wasn’t the case; 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, gazing off into the distance and thinking about how I could spend the rest of the day my way.

It was fun to get lost in my own thoughts, and I think it’s really important to learn to enjoy your own company.




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