6 Ways to Impress an Aita

If you’re lucky enough to be dating someone from our lovely Basque American community, the big meeting with the family is inevitable. Meeting your partner’s dad, specifically, can be incredibly intimidating.

Basque dads, a.k.a. Aitas, are remarkably tough or easy to please, depending on your perspective. Get a few simple things right, and you’ve got his approval. Get them wrong, and you will forever be known as that skinhead who took his daughter to prom (true story).

To avoid Aita’s immediate disdain, be sure not to utter any of the Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Girl’s Aita. To win him over completely, take the following advice to heart:

1. Respect his family.

Whether you’re dating his son or daughter, the #1 way to impress an aita is the same: respect his family. Do not interrupt his son or daughter (presumably your boyfriend or girlfriend) when they speak, keep PDA to a minimum (or even better, leave it out entirely in his presence), make eye contact when speaking, greet everyone appropriately, compliment him on his home, and thank him for his hospitality.

Above all else, Aita wants you to be someone who will integrate well into the family, not someone who will shake things up. Find the balance of being polite and respectful without being a suck-up, and you’ll go far in winning him over.

2. Be Basque.

Aita loves fellow Bascos, especially as potential spouses for his children. If you’re of Basque descent, you’ve won half the battle already just by your genealogy.

However, check to see if you come from a family the aita in question likes. Basques are known to have their prejudices and disagreements, so it’s no use being Basque if Aita doesn’t like your family.

If you’re a Montague, don’t be surprised if Capulet Aita gives you the cold shoulder at first. I won’t tell you to stay away from the Capulets entirely, as love is love and opinions can change, but just know you might have to work a little harder to prove you’re better than those family members of yours that Aita dislikes.

Now, if you’re in no way, shape, or form Basque: show appreciation for Basque culture. Your honey should have filled you in on the basics, so you should know a bit about it. Ask Aita about where he came from, tell him you love Basque food, or just express that you would love to learn more about the culture. Respecting his family’s roots is key (see #1).

3. Show knowledge of any of the following: agriculture, sheepherding, cattle ranching, dairy farming, landscaping, electrical work, plumbing, carpentry, construction, car maintenance, property management.

Preferably, have knowledge in Aita’s specific area of expertise, but it helps to know something about any of these topics. Most likely, Aita has spent his entire life engaged in manual labor or as part of a family that has, so showing appreciation for his background can go a long way.

To have him instantly love you, actually work in any of the fields listed above. Aita will automatically make positive assumptions about how you make good money, how hard of a worker you are, and how handy you are around the house/garage/yard.

If you don’t know anything about these manly fields, don’t make stuff up or pretend that you do. Aita can smell a fake from a mile away. Just ask him questions about his work and show interest. That’s how my charming, white collar ex managed to crack my Aita’s tough exterior.

4. Present yourself as clean cut and polite.

Ditch the ponytail, shave the beard, dress appropriately for the occasion, cover up your tattoos, take out your piercings, show up on time, and accept any food and drink offered you with a “thank you very much.” Aita doesn’t want any hippies, punks, skinheads, gangsters, or hoochies associated with his family.

Part of good presentation is making sure your car (or truck–Basque bonus!) is clean and well maintained. Yes, Aita will most certainly judge you on your vehicle of choice. Make sure you stop by the car wash before you head to his house.

5. Be prepared to answer difficult questions.

Like all dads, some aitas are quiet observers and other are a little more in your face. Prepare for the more confrontational ones just in case–even the quiet Aitas have brazen Amas for wives who would be happy to ask you personal questions.

Be able to articulate what your intentions with their son or daughter are. Practice tactfully answering whether you practice a religion, want to get married, want to start a family, hold certain political views. Being ready for anything will make you look cool and confident under pressure. Aita will respect that.

6. Bring him wine.

You can check with your boyfriend or girlfriend to see what kind of alcohol Aita likes best, but chances are you can’t go wrong with a bottle of wine.

If you’re more of a green thumb, Aita also loves homegrown fruits and vegetables so bring those along. They could be an excellent conversation starter.

If all else fails with the first five steps, Aita won’t think you’re a complete loser if you at least have the decency to bring him a bottle of wine.

What other things would you add to this list? What impresses your Aita or Aitatxi?

Wedding Recap!

with the bride and groom

I didn’t go into this weekend’s festivities with the intention to write a post about it. I figured weddings are private events and that I was invited as a friend, not as a blogger. I figured I was on vacation!

But at the request of the bride and groom, Jacqueline and Chris, here I am about to tell you all about their hella Basque wedding. The recap of the actual wedding is after the jump, so click the continue link at the end of the post to find the Sunday heading.

Saturday

I flew into San Diego bright and early on Saturday morning. I felt like such a grown up, for as much as I’ve traveled solo in my short life, I had never rented a car before this weekend. I cruised up the San Diego coast to Carlsbad in my little blue Yaris, windows down and blasting Top 40. Life was good!

La Jolla Cove

That afternoon the families of the couple hosted a beach pre-party. Being accustomed to cold and windy Northern California beaches, I was not entirely prepared to face the fiery inferno of Southern California beach heat. The sand burned my feet! I was sweating! It was a little too much for me.

Not being big on swimming in the ocean and being a big fan of the motto “modest is hottest,” I wore a sundress to the beach. And I paid dearly for that choice in buckets of sweat. But thank God for our lovely hosts, who had an endless supply of non-alcoholic drinks (Caprisun! So nostalgic), fruit salad, hot dogs, and other snacks.

Other than the insufferable heat and massive leg sunburn I acquired, it was a really nice afternoon. I met some of the groom’s family, the groomsmen, and reunited with my Chino boys. Even though I had seen them all a short six days before at Chino picnic, it’s always cool to hang out with Basque kids outside of a Basque event. It’s a totally different vibe.

Sadly the bride and her bridesmaids only showed up right at the end of the beach event, as they had been running last minute errands all afternoon. Still, it was lovely to see her for a bit before the big day.

Since we were covered in sand and sea salt, the Chino boys and I showered (separately, not together) back at the hotel before dinner. We spent an amusing evening at Pizza Port, a popular local pizzeria and brewery. Various college football games played on the flat screens throughout the establishment, and we witnessed some heated discussions about football. Grown men yelling at strangers about sports… I don’t get it.

It took the place an hour to get us our two pizzas, as it was completely packed. Fortunately for us, the guys in the kitchen messed up our order so we got a free pizza! In the end, we ate a little too much. But it was freakin’ delicious.

Pizza Port

Then we went back to the hotel to jacuzz ‘n’ booze, but the hotel brochure lied to us about the pool opening hours and the pool guy kicked us out after ten minutes. Such a wild night! Continue reading

Big Fat Basque Weddings

Marriage. That’s a hella Basque institution, isn’t it?

I’ve heard of young people in the Basque Country rejecting marriage, choosing cohabitation as the preferred way to form their relationships. But here in the United States, the Basque wedding is alive and well.

This past weekend in Chino, a woman I had just met wanted to know if I had my eye on anyone. She asked me if I wanted to marry a Basco. I joked with her, “Sure! But I haven’t met any worth marrying!”

What about you?

This question comes up several times in the life of a Basque American. I remember it was even a poll question posed to campers at music camp in 2002. The older generation always seems hopeful when they ask. You know they want you to say yes. They just want to see their culture preserved and perpetuated by the young people in the communities they worked so hard to build.

These are things that can be done without Basque intermarriage, but they might be more easily accomplished if we all kept it in the family, so to speak.

Even if we pretend marrying a Basco doesn’t matter or think cultural affinity is not a politically correct way to choose a mate, a lot of us would like to marry within our culture. Finding a Basque person to settle down with would make things easier.

Other Basques already know what to expect from your overbearing Aita(txi) or Ama(txi). They already have friends at Basque events, so you wouldn’t have to go through the routine of introducing them to the culture and to your social group. They could be your mus partner without hours of instruction ahead of time. They get the whole Catholic thing and know how to behave in church. You could easily agree that your children should join the local dance group, go to Udaleku, and learn how to play handball or pala.

These things seem superficial, but to some of us they are very important. Having a Basque partner means intimately understanding one another’s background and possibly less negotiating over cultural activities (in theory).

I am honored that this weekend I get to witness and celebrate the wedding of my friend, Jacqueline. We met as teenagers at Udaleku and over the years, we have: traveled to Boise for San Inazio weekend, worked at two Udalekus together, and run a half marathon with a couple of other friends to raise money for the American Cancer Society in honor of our friend, Jaime Brown.

Exhausted after a long Udaleku in San Francisco

Exhausted after a long Udaleku in San Francisco

Plain and simple, Jacqueline is an amazing person with whom I’ve shared some great and challenging experiences. She deserves all of the happiness in the world, and I’m sure her Amatxi and Aitatxi are pretty happy she found a nice Basque boy to marry.

Oh right. Did I mention she met her fiancé at Bakersfield picnic? How cute is that?

I am so happy to share in their joy and show my support for their union this weekend. So happy that I will take a three day break from posting on Hella Basque.

The last installment of the McDonald’s chapter of Fiction Fridays will appear here tomorrow, but don’t expect any blog posts Saturday through Monday.

Congratulations, Jacqueline and Chris! May your life together be filled with love, caring, respect, and hella Basqueness.

Tim Allen Plays My Aita on Last Man Standing

Last-Man-Standing-TV-Show

With Last Man Standing‘s third season starting up on September 20th at 8:00 PM on ABC, I want to let you know that you should be watching this show. Anyone with a Basque dad or grandpa needs to watch this show.

The premise of the sitcom is that Mike Baxter, played by Tim Allen, is a manly man dad living in a world of women, a household made up of his wife, three daughters, and young grandson. He is constantly at war with his daughters’ interests, life choices, and boyfriends.

Mike Baxter is like an American version of my Basque aita. Some of the situations that the family find themselves in are so close to home it’s hilarious.

Todd VanDerWerff at The A.V. Club aptly describes the competing values presented in the show that are so relatable to my family and many other immigrant families (not just Basque) in the United States:

At its best, Last Man Standing can reflect some of the anxieties of Allen’s generation—like the thought that these late Boomer parents want to raise their daughters to be independent, then fall back on tired old gender stereotypes when those daughters really are independent—and provide a kind of comedy attuned to red-state sensibilities (ironically, since it’s set in bluing Colorado).

Objectively, the macho man trope Tim Allen always seems to play can be tired, ridiculous, and sometimes downright offensive. But I can only shake my head and chuckle at these episodes when I think of my own dad and his over the top reactions to some of my adolescent decision making.

TIM ALLEN, NANCY TRAVIS, HECTOR ELIZONDO, MOLLY EPHRAIM, CHRISTOPH SANDERS, ALEXANDRA KROSNEY, KAITLYN DEVER

While Mike Baxter may be like your aita or aitatxi, Basque American actor Hector Elizondo playing Mike’s boss, Ed Alzate, is icing on the cake. Many women of my generation might know him better as Joe the limo driver from The Princess Diaries.

The writers of Last Man Standing incorporate Elizondo’s Basque heritage in his character, occasionally bringing in jokes about the Basques being proud, noble, and vengeful people.

If you were to watch any episode, it would have to be Season 1 Episode 20, “Animal Wrongs,” in which a young man in their workplace discovers he has Basque blood in his family tree. He tries to impress Ed with the news and boy, does it work!

Ed starts calling him “my little Basque brother” and sets out to teach him all of the ways of the Basques. While the portrayal of Basques might be very stereotypical, the results are comical.

It’s amazing to see references to Basque people on a major network sitcom. Not only that, but some of the comedy of the Baxter family is quite relatable to Basque families. It’s a basic show with a simple premise, but the execution is delightful for anyone with a Basque man in their life.

If you want to get caught up before Season 3 kicks off: Season 2 of Last Man Standing is available on Hulu Plus, or you can buy all episodes through iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

An Open Letter to my French Cousins

Bonjour!

I get the feeling from your side of the family that you’re disappointed at how Basque I am. At how much pride I take in Basque traditions, and how little I know about the region of France my grandparents came from.

In my defense, I’d like to explain to you why growing up Basque was so much better than growing up French in San Francisco. I hope at the end of this post, you will understand. It’s nothing personal. I was just exposed to so many more Basque social events than French ones.

Perks of a French Upbringing:

1. Speaking French as a first language

I have to admit, this one’s pretty cool. I get to communicate with my extended family in France, I have an easier time traveling around Europe, and I get to read a lot of great poetry and literature in its original language. (Hi. I’m a lit nerd.)

Watching The Lion King (a.k.a. Le roi lion) in French–not so cool. I seriously didn’t see the original version until I was an adult. Such a deprived, privileged childhood, I know. I don’t feel sorry for me either.

2. Eating delicious food

It’s no wonder I was such a tubby child, with all of the croissants, pains au chocolat, and pâté I consumed in my early years. I love food, so growing up eating French food was pretty sweet.

Here, I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t think of any other reasons why being French American in San Francisco was awesome. So let’s just get started on why growing up Basque was so much more fun.

Perks of a Basque Upbringing:

1. Instant friends!

Going to the Basque Cultural Center every few months for a holiday lunch and getting to play with the same kids in the Kids’ Room between courses lays the foundation for friendship. Then you get old enough to join the dance group or get involved in handball and pala, and those friendships are set.

By the time you’re an adult, you’ve known a bunch of people your whole life and you see them all the time. While school friends may come and go, Basque friends are forever. You always know someone when you go to a Basque event, even if you haven’t been in years.

2. Parties all the time!

Like I said, Basque clubs host a party for every holiday. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you know all about Basque summer picnics and how awesome they are. There’s practically one every weekend from May to September! Growing up Basque provides no shortage of parties.

3. Summer camp!

The North American Basque Organization’s annual Basque summer camp, Udaleku, brings together Basque kids between the ages of 10 and 15 from all over the American West. It’s two weeks of having fun, making friends, and trying new things. If you don’t have many friends in your local Basque club, Udaleku gives you the chance to make plenty.

I’d say a big chunk of my current friendship were solidified at Udaleku.

4. Folk dancing!

Although I spent a lot of my youth complaining about how I hated going to Basque dance practice every weekend, I really loved it. Folk dancing is such a random, interesting activity for an American kid to grow up with.

When it came time for the dances of Basque festivals, I had favorite dances, knew all the steps, and had a fantastic time. It’s impossible to be bored at a Basque festival if you know how to dance!

There you have it. Growing up immersed in Basque culture and community gave me lasting friendships, priceless memories, and unique experiences on a much greater scale than growing up French.

So sorry if I tell people I’m Basque before French. Sorry if I forget to mention I’m French at all. It’s cool to be different. And being Basque is definitely that.

Bisous!
Anne-Marie

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Basque Country

While I’m proud of my Basque heritage, my trips to the Basque Country have always been bittersweet, usually leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. There are so many things to love about the Basque Country, but there are also a lot of aspects of the culture I could do without. I want to share both of these with you, because I know several other Basque Americans share my ambivalence.

Before people chime in with comments about my view of the Basque Country being completely off, let me preface these lists by pointing out that my main experience of the Basque Country has been on family trips. As such, most of my time in the Basque Country has been spent visiting (older) relatives on farms and in rural communities in Behenafarroa. I have never lived in the Basque Country, and I definitely see it as an outsider.

I cannot speak for the entire Basque Country, but here are my observations of the small pocket I have experienced.

I love:

  • The food
    I swear everyone comes back from the Basque Country at least five pounds heavier, because the food is amazing. Visiting people’s homes, they’re happy to share with you all of the homemade pâté and foie gras you can eat. And don’t even get me started on my aunt’s homemade sausages!

    Even the non-Basque food isn’t too bad. I had fried egg on a pizza for the first time at Zubiondoa in Ossès/Ortzaize, and now I have to eat it (la reine, I think it is?) every time I visit the Basque Country. The Chinese buffet outside of Bayonne also greatly exceeded my expectations.

    Literally, I feel like all I do when I visit the Basque Country is eat. After a week-long trip of sitting around for hours gobbling down course after course, I ate nothing but crackers for two days straight when I got home. I could not imagine wanting to eat ever again. (Leave it to the American to binge eat her way through a vacation!)

  • Marché day
    Aita at bar des americains
    Every Monday in St. Jean-pied-de-port and every Friday in St. Palais. That’s the schedule, and you don’t mess with it. I think marché days have always been sacred for me, because they bring all of the tourists and locals out of the woodwork. Visiting in the summer, you’re bound to run into at least one Basque American family you know from back home.

    The shops and stalls are super cute, and I love watching my aita reunite with all of his old friends and enemies in the bars. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting down at the bar’s outdoor seating for a drink between a petit tour of the shopping and the afternoon pilota match.

  • The sceneryCountrysideAnyone who’s seen pictures of the Basque Country can tell you it’s a gorgeous country. Lush green mountains, adorably picturesque towns, beautiful coastlines. The Pyrenees have innumerable trails to hike through, and I could take pictures of Basque farmhouses for days.
  • The history
    St. Jean-pied-de-port
    The Basque Country has so much amazing history! Plenty of old buildings to explore and historical sites to visit. I haven’t seen nearly as many as I would like, but I’m definitely going back one day for more. For history buffs, the Basque Country is a fascinating region to visit.
  • The bestas
    While I wish I had more young Basque friends to go around to the summer bestas with, the few I have experienced have been memorable. I love the idea of these small towns coming together to host activities and dances for one weekend, creating a big outdoor party for everyone to enjoy. The community spirit of it all is so quaint, and I love how similar the dances are to those at Basque American festivals.
  • Seeing familiar faces on people I don’t know
    Even though I know very few people in the Basque Country, whenever I go out to the marchés and bestas I see countless familiar faces. I feel a surreal sense of being at home when I see strangers who look like friends and family from our Basque American communities. It solidifies for me a real sense of identity and belonging, that this is the land my father came from.

Now for the rest…

I hate:

  • The fact that everyone knows who I am, but I have no idea who anyone is
    It’s a little unsettling to walk through a village with people’s eyes following me. They all know I’m the American. Pretty much everyone knows who I’m related to, how long I’m visiting, and why I’m there. They talk to me like they know me, but I’ve never seen them before in my life.
  • The lack of guard rails on narrow, windy mountain roads
    That shit is terrifying! I’ve prayed the hardest in my life on car rides through the Pyrenees. It doesn’t help that whoever’s driving usually loves to tell me all about the people who have crashed and died on the road we’re traveling on. People get their kicks at the petrified American’s expense.
  • People making comments about my body
    Some trips they say I’m too fat (in French, costaud which Google translates to “beefy”), others I’m too skinny. Either way, their judgment of my weight affects how they talk to me over food. If people think I’m too big, they make jokes if I help myself to seconds. If they say I’m too thin, they pressure me to eat food far beyond my comfort level.

    I’m sure they’re just concerned, but I could do without so much attention on my size. It could make a girl insecure…

  • Anti-American sentiment and political discussions
    Why people think it’s cool to talk about U.S. politics to us over the dinner table, I don’t know. Different cultures, I guess. Since I was raised to not talk about politics in polite company, I find it very uncomfortable when people bring up what’s going on in American politics–especially because I usually disagree with them.

    A lot of my relatives have expressed disapproval of whoever is President of the United States at the time of my visit. Which brings me to my next gripe…
  • Casual racism and xenophobia
    So much hatred of gypsies! Distain for British families buying vacation homes in the Basque Country. Jokes about how ridiculous it was that a black man in the marché spoke Basque. And my uncle literally named his black and white cat Obama. Because that’s so funny.Coming from the Bay Area, it’s a little shocking how little comments here and there add up to create such a negative landscape against anyone who is different.
  • Partying until the break of dawn (sometimes much later still)
    I know, I know. Call me boring, call me an old lady, but I’m a morning person and I hate staying up late. For a good party, I’ll stay out until 4:00, but 7:00 AM? That’s a little much. Staying out that late (or early, I guess) completely messes with my sleep schedule for days and makes me physically sick. I would much prefer starting the party earlier and getting to bed while it’s still night.
  • Over-hospitality and marathon meals
    Summer vacation Europe 2011 047
    People are major food pushers in the Basque Country. I have yet to find the balance of accepting enough servings of food to satisfy (i.e. not insult) my hosts and not stuffing my face to the point that I hate myself.

    Not only do people insist I eat a ton of food, they also insist I drink. People definitely give me a hard time for not drinking alcohol, but they certainly look at me like an alien if all I want to drink is water. Is it so hard to accept that I like to stay hydrated and save my calories for the foie gras?

    On top of the over-hospitality, I dread six hour sit down meals. Getting together with family to share a meal is not a simple affair. Course after course after course gets served so slowly that by the end of the dinner my butt’s asleep in the chair. I know Basque culture can be very anti-fast food, but does it have to be so pro-slow food?

Bring on the comments! What do you love and hate about the Basque Country?

Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Boy’s Ama

Sticking with the theme of my post on Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Girl’s Aita, let’s show the amas out there some love.

1. I don’t want kids.

Related: I don’t want to give birth – ew. I’ll adopt or get a surrogate or have a C Section.

Ama wants needs grandchildren in her life. Maybe not now, but definitely some day. And if you’re not going to pop them out for her, then what use are you? Don’t even try to join the family. Ama cares more about her future career as a grandmother than your personal preferences.

2. I don’t cook.

Ama’s all about the food. She takes great pride in her cooking and makes sure her kids are well fed at all times. She wants someone who’s going to take care of her son, and a big part of that means cooking for him. She will question your care taking abilities and your very femininity if you don’t at least make an effort to cook.

The waves of feminism have come and gone in Ama’s book. You can have a career and all that jazz, but you’d better make sure you’re in the kitchen some of the time.

3. I’m not hungry.

Related: I already ate. I’m full. I’m on a diet.

Don’t come to Ama’s house if you don’t plan on eating. She will pressure you to eat, whether you want to or not. Ama respects a woman with a healthy appetite and an appreciation for her cooking, so leave the skinny jeans at home and accept everything she offers you.

Even if it’s just to taste, eat what she offers you. It’s about more than just the food. Her feeding you is a gesture, a welcoming into her home and heart, so don’t blow it.

(Thanks to Fred Alfaro for this suggestion.)

4. I’m not Catholic.

While being in charge of the family’s nutrition, Ama is also the spiritual leader of the family. She’s the one who made sure everyone said their prayers, went to Catechism, cycled through the Sacraments, and attended church every Sunday. So she’ll be damned if she’ll let you come in and wreck her hard work.

While your religious beliefs may not affect her son’s, they sure will play a big role in how you raise those future grandbabies. It’s true that not all amas are super religious, but even the less strict Catholics of the bunch might still have a strong opinion when it comes to the grandchildren’s religious upbringing. Be prepared to fight that battle.

5. I love tattoos, piercings, and rough unprotected sex with your son.

Just kidding. Well, sort of. If you love tattoos and piercings, Ama will probably just assume the last part of that sentence to be true. After all, good girls don’t like tattoos and piercings. Only kinky, dirty girls are into that stuff. American girls.

So if you have any tattoos and piercings, I’d recommend not flaunting them on your first visit. Keep them covered up as best as you can until you gain Ama’s trust and respect in other ways.

What are some things your ama wouldn’t want to hear?