When I told my friends I was going to Spain, they expected Barcelona or Madrid. But when I told them Bilbao, they did not seem to understand why. Besides the business program, I think I already knew I wanted to stay away from the touristy areas. After all, I do go to school in Moscow, Idaho; another town that isn’t well-known.
When I told my friends I would be going to school in Moscow, Idaho, they said, “East Coast? You’ll be so far away!” Sad, but true. Even my friends in Oregon thought Idaho was on the East Coast, and Oregon shares a border with Idaho!
I hesitate to tell Spaniards I go to school in Idaho, but not for lack of school pride. If the West Coast doesn’t know where Idaho is, why would Spaniards?! But the Basques do know. Is the American education system failing? Maybe. Or is it their Basque pride? Definitely (there is a strong Basque presence in Idaho, but I’ll save that for another post).
Long story short, Basque people are prideful of their culture.
When I’m on the Metro, or just walking around, I try to think of what I would tell people about Bilbao: what it’s like and how the people are. I’m starting to forget what is different from America because I am starting to learn to live like a Basque.
As much as I think I fit in, I don’t. Side Story: While dressed up for Carnival, locals could still tell we were Americans! But how? We were in full costume. There must be something about how we carry ourselves.
But anyway, here are some of the characteristics I still notice:
Social Gatherings: Spaniards live life to the fullest to say the least. They embrace relationships with their family and friends and seem to always have time to get together for lunch or pintxos. They take long siesta hours during the day from anywhere from 1:30-5 p.m. (not exactly sure of the hours) and then go back to work until about 7 or 8 p.m. People never seem to be in a rush as they slowly walk through town with each others’ arms intertwined. Most nights, the children are out running around after I am already in bed around 11 p.m.
Fitness/Health: Everything is very natural in Spain. Spanish media doesn’t negatively influence body images.
My first impression was they weren’t an entirely healthy culture because their exercise consisted solely of walking, which they do a lot of. I see gyms, but it’s not as common as in America.
My first fruit purchase was strawberries and oranges. They went bad after a few days and I found myself complaining. But then I remembered I used to complain that everything in America was not local or it is genetically modified to stay “fresh” longer.
Elderly: The amount of elderly couples walking around never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes I think Algorta (my neighborhood) has a retirement center around. Nope, they are just very strong and independent people for how old they are. It’s hard to say why because we grew up two entirely different lives, but not because we are from two different countries. As much as I would like to think I will be that strong when I’m older, I doubt it will happen after the amount of stress I put on my body with soccer for the last 14 years.
Shopping: Americans can get all of their groceries and household items at Wal-Mart and be done for the day. Spain is just the opposite. There are butcher shops for meat and seafood, fruit shops, bakeries and small grocery stores. If your food stock is empty at home, you must hit many stores to fill it back up. Luckily there are many on each corner so you won’t have to travel far.
Cafes: Cafes are also everywhere. Every morning before school, I get a Spanish tortilla. In the cafe near my apartment, it costs 1 E. Around the corner, it costs 1.50 E. Across the street from school, it costs 1.60 E. And by the Metro, it costs 2 E. I have been to a new cafe everyday to check the prices. For the most part, they all taste the same. But yes, it seems like every other store is a cafe.
Manners: Mannerisms are very different from in America. While Americans (or at least the USAC students) want to say “thank you,” “sorry,” or “excuse me” any time we speak to someone, locals just look at us weird (if they even look at us). They just don’t take the time to say those things in Spain. I guess it’s just implied.
As I mentioned earlier, people walk very slow here. Many love to window shop as well. I have yet to give up my American walking speed just yet (it’s still cold!) and find myself almost plowing people over on accident. So if they aren’t walking slow enough, they will randomly stop to window shop. Or there are the people who are having a smoke break outside the cafes, but take up the entire sidewalk. I don’t complain, but I find myself just physically pushing them out of my way. They don’t get upset, it’s just common.
Even the dogs are well-behaved. It’s almost something you see out of a scary movie like they are hypnotized are something. I love dogs, and they are everywhere here. My first instinct is to pet it because, you know, usually dogs seem excited to see people, right? In Spain, it’s like they are another human. When their owners go inside, they know when to stop and not go in.
In the end: I was walking to work in heels the other day when these two little boys were running around with the soccer ball. They were running straight into me so (in my heels), I started playing with them. I wasn’t sure how they would take it, but they seemed to be smiling. I didn’t have to speak the Basque language to have fun with them. Having fun and soccer are both universal activities.
I cannot say that these characteristics are tied to the Basque Country only, but either way, the Basque pride has taught be to prideful about my own characteristics. I shouldn’t be trying to act like a Basque when I’m American, but I can pretend every once in a while.