Some Funny Questions From Visitors to The Basque Country

23 10 2014

It´s been a few years now working as a guide in the Basque Country, and I have to say that 99.99% of my guests have always been very nice and polite. With some of them I´ve made friends and we exchange emails regularly (Hi Barb!) and with some others I´ve had the pleasure to see they return again to this beautiful region. Most of my visitors are foreigners, mainly from English speaking countries (US, Australia, Canada, Britain,…) and sometimes the information they have about our way of life and culture is not very comprehensive. So I´ve received a lot of questions about the Basque Country, and some of them have been very funny:

1- “I do know that marriages in the Basque Country have always been arranged by the parents, but do you still keep this habit? Your marriage was also arranged, young man?”

My answer was: “No madam, it was only until we joined the European Union, then they prohibited this ancient custom, much to our regret”.

2- (On a wine tasting experience, when tasting red wine): “Oh my God, mine is not sweet!!, I must have taken the wrong glass”

3- More on wine tasting in the Rioja region: “Oh, so you don´t offer California wine here?”

4- (asking for a coffee with milk -café con leche- in a cafeteria in San Sebastián): “Do you pasteurize your milk?” And on seeing my puzzled face..”Hum, you may not know what “pasteurizing” means, sorry” . And then she explained it to me.
5- “So this is an anchovie, look Diane, it´s actually a FISH!!!”, on looking at a spectacular anchovie pintxo with a real anchovie on it (he thought of them as that weird thing they put on pizzas.
6- “Do you pay taxes or is everything government owned and paid?”
7- “I can pay with US Dollars everywhere, right?”
8-“Do kids go to school every day?” (a very kind lady, I answered “yes, except on weekends, summer and Christmas….”)
9- “I´d like to see the running of the bulls”…”Yes sir, but that is in Pamplona on July and it´s September”. “Oh, I thought they ran all year round…”

10- “On Mondays (day when many restaurants are closed), you don´t go to work because you can´t eat anywhere, right?”

11- “Why can´t I pay a glass of wine with a VISA?” (most bars in Spain don´t accept credit cards, and you never ever leave your visa to the bartender in case they do…trust is the word). Important to know that a glass of wine in Spain just costs 1.50eur approx…

12- “How come there´re so many kids on the street? Shouldn´t they be home watching TV?”

13- “Wow, a glass of water with no ice on it!! How can you drink it?” (or a Coke, mostly served with just an ice cube or two)

14-  “I can´t eat cheese” “Well, you should have told me earlier, you just had two pieces of Idiazabal sheep cheese” “Wow, that was cheese?? I meant pizza cheese, I didn´t know there was hard cheese!”.

And so many others that make this job a very exciting and interesting one!

IMG_20140523_160938717_HDR101_7471 101_7482

The Flysch of Zumaia, Amazing 60 Million Years Back in History

16 08 2014

Zumaia is a beautiful town that is, quite surprisingly, not visited by foreign tourism. Located on the coast, it offers a unique experience, though: the visit of the Flysch (an association of certain types of marine sedimentary rocks characteristic of deposition in a foredeep”). Its Geopark offers a stunning view of the magnificent flysch formations by the crashing of the waves against the cliffs, stretching a total of 5 miles. It can be easily seen from the Church of San Telmo, on top of Itzurun beach.Itzurun beach and part of the Flysch

San Telmo church and FlyschGeologists from all over the world come to this area to study the Earth´s formation and the different prehistoric periods, and some say that the Zumaia flysch covers up 100 million years back.

FlyschThe area is also stunningly beautiful and there´s a beautiful walk along the cliffs, that is part of the Way of St James pilgrimage. A must see during your visit to the Basque Country, taking into account also that Zumaia is close to the quaint fishing ports of Mutriku and Deba.Zumaia

I´m moving…

30 03 2010
It´s been a long time since my last entry on this blog, mainly for professional reasons but also because I´ve been contacted by the Basque Broadcasting Corporation (yes, it does sound like the BBC!!), that is,, and they´ve proposed to publish this blog under their web dominion. I´ve accepted, and the new blog will be published together with a series of other interesting blogs in English language (, at the bottom of page) most aspects of Basque life (gastronomy, sports, culture, tourism,…). The new address is, I hope you will continue visiting this blog and sending your comments or questions. Some of the entries will be new but I will also publish old ones, for the newcomers.

Of course, I will maintain my independent (but non-objective and clearly biased) point of view. Hope you like the new blog!!

The Basics II (and final)

20 11 2009

So we have 7 territories and three political regions, two in Spain and one in France, that form the present Basque Country (in a wide sense) or Euskal Herria.  Two languages, Basque and Spanish. Basque spoken daily by around 500-800.000 people on both sides of the border. And 6 dialects for such a small number of speakers!! It´s possible to know the birthplace of a person by the way he speaks Basque.

Four capitals in Spain, Bilbao-Bilbo, San Sebastián-Donostia, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Iruña-Pamplona (the latter as capital of Navarra or Nafarroa, an autonomous community). The system in France is not as in Spain, divided into regions.

Excellent roads, very good public transport, a good public, universal and free health care system (as a matter of fact, when giving birth most women prefer public hospitals to private ones!!).

Currency: Euro (but many people still think in the old currency, pesetas). The rise of prices since the introduction of the Euro has been spectacular. Average salary per month (x 14 times, we get two extra wages on July and December), 1900 euros/month (gross).

Religion: food and eating. Then, Christian Catholics (95%). Churchgoers: less than 20%. A huge drop in religious beliefs and practices in the past 30 years.

Education: public and private. But…public education system has an agreement with many private schools (most of religious inspiration). Therefore, the Spanish or the Basque government pays for the education costs of all students and the wages of all teachers (except for those schools not included on this agreement, which are mostly foreign schools, like the French, or German, or American School). Difficult to explain, hard to believe, but that´s the way it is. So we have a “publivate” or “privublic” education system. Three linguistic models: A, all subjects taught in Spanish, and Basque as a subject (20%); B, 60% in Basque, 40% in Spanish (25%); D (there´s no C in Basque), 100% in Basque (55%). Something similar in Navarra, but inexistant in the French Basque Country. There are also privublic “ikastolas”, Basque cooperative schools, that teach only in Basque.

Airports: the most important one is in Bilbao, with many international flights (Europe, mainly). Then there´s a small one in SS (Hondarribia), a cargo one in Vitoria, one in Bayonne and one in Pamplona.

Cost of housing: huge, but dropping, thanks to the present 2008-2009-…recession. Still, unbeliable prices for housing. Most of the population live in apartments that they own. Apartments are completely equipped (washing machine in the kitchen, not on the basement).

Well, that´s almost all you need to know about the basic an boring aspects in Basque life. Now, let´s get in depth in some of them…

The Basics I

18 11 2009

The Basque Country, as an autonomous community within Spain, is called officially Euskadi, and has three provinces (also called Historic Territories) Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, in their Basque spelling. BUT the Basque Country, in a wider sense and referring to Basque heritage and culture, is called Euskal Herria (Basque People) and includes Nafarroa, on the Spanish side, and Lapurdi, Zuberoa and Behenafarroa on the French side. This is not easy to understand. Let´s leave it there for now, but when saying “basque” I will try to refer to the cultural concept.

The capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz (I´ll write first the Spanish name and then the Basque one), a political decision taken in 1980 when the Estatuto (Basque Constitution, more or less) was approved. Number of Basques: around three million. One of the highests standards of life in Europe (high income, good public health system, good schools, good roads, high industrialization,…, well, all this may not be that objective, but it´s widely accepted). We have our own President (Lehendakari, “the first”), Parliament, Police, Health system, Education system, Taxes, Laws,…, as an autonomous community within Spain. Vote is more or less divided 50% for the independentists and 50% for the non-independentists (Spanishtists?¿?¿?), with several parties on both sides that divide the vote in several options.

Plenty of industries, located everywhere but mainly near the capitals. Machine-tool, iron and steel factories, automotive suppliers and manufacturers (Mercedes, Volkswagen), aeronautics…and many small and medium size companies with a high level of technical expertise. Several universities. The biggest cooperative group in the world, Mondragón Corporation, an important part of the wealth of this country.

The rural world plays a very important role in our culture, but farms are quickly disappearing, and turning beautiful farm houses into rural lodgings. The landscape is very mountainous, with scattered farms on green land and forests (70% of the Basque surface is covered with trees). The coast is rugged, beaches (over 100) are surrounded by trees and are of small to medium size. The coastline is not ruined (yet) as in many parts of the Mediterranean, because of the strict enforcement of the Coast Protection Act (roughly translated).