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I spent my June teaching English to 6-8 year olds in the little town of Andoain in the Basque Country, Spain.
One month is the longest I’ve ever spent away from home before and it was a fantastic experience. I learnt many cultural lessons and I found out things about myself that I never knew before.
1. Basque hospitality is true hospitality.
Basque people are really friendly and hospitable. I was constantly told to ‘make myself at home’ or ‘take whatever I need’.
The English pride themselves on being polite, and we too will tell our guests ‘mi casa es tu casa.’
But, I felt as if my Basque hosts were being truly sincere, not just following conventions of politesse. I honestly could have taken a big handful of whatever snack was available and no one would have batted an eyelid.
2. I like the rain.
This honestly shocks me. I always thought that rain was horrible and gloomy.
Yet, every time it rained during my stay – which was a lot – I had an overwhelming feeling of home. It made me realize that rain can be really quite comforting.
3. Basque women are very special.
I basically spent 31 days hanging around with a group of Basque mothers, so I learnt what they are like.
One night, while we were sitting in a bar, I was suffering from my usual communicating-in-another-language nerves. I looked at them and was struck by the thought that none of them could ever have been the dithering and delicate little girl that I felt like. Strong and dark-haired with bigger than average calf muscles, they are direct and certainly don’t take any nonsense. But, they’re not masculine or scary at all. They’re real women and they’re truly lovely.
England needs to adopt this. Now.
Pintxopote is the Thursday night bar-crawl.
Everyone gets together at 7pm and goes off to a bar to have one ‘Pintxo’ (A small tapas) and one ‘Pote’ (A small glass of whatever drink you like) for a special – really cheap – Pintxopote price. Parents sit and socialise while their children play, and after they finish in one bar, it’s on to the next!
The eating goes on until 9pm but the drinking goes on as long as you like…
This word doesn’t really have a proper translation into English, look in a dictionary and it will probably say drowsiness, but ‘Modorra’ is the particular lethargy that only comes when it’s hot, you’ve ate a big lunch, and are ready for your siesta.
This one word encompasses several cultural differences. Here, it’s never hot enough to be tiring, we don’t eat much for lunch (Spanish people have ridiculously large lunches!) and we don’t really do siestas.
That it doesn’t translate properly proves that Modorra is innately Spanish.
6. Travelling alone is refreshing.
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 a solo adventure is that you can do whatever you feel like, whenever you want.
For the first time I could take as long as I liked in a shop, casually decide to stroll to the seafront, spontaneously stop at a bakery on the way, and enjoy a delicious pastry while sitting on a beautiful pier.
I enjoyed getting lost in my own thoughts, and I think that’s a really important lesson.
Written by Kia Hunt
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham