The Most Ridiculous Basque Proverb

Children! Be quiet until the chickens pee.

– Basque Proverb

Original: Umeak! Isilik oiloak pixa egin arte.

chickensI had to post this proverb because it’s kind of hilarious. I’m a city girl to the core, so I’m assuming “until the chickens pee” is the same as until they wake up? Like, the kids are supposed to be quiet until morning? Right?

I think all Basque parents should say this to their children on a regular basis. Let’s make “Be quiet until the chickens pee” a thing, Amerikanuak.


The Basque Equivalent of “Sticks and Stones”

The pain caused by the tongue is the hardest one to cure.

– Basque Proverb

Original: Mihiaz egiten den mina, da azken sendatzen dena.

I’m not so sure if pain caused by words is the hardest to cure, but I definitely think it can take the longest to cure. How many times in our lives do we obsess over the negative things people say to or about us? Those words can stick with us for a long time.

I’ve definitely wasted a lot of time holding on too tightly to the insults people have thrown at me, forgetting all of the times I was complimented or recognized for my strengths.

home baseI actually didn’t talk to someone I now consider to be my one of my closest friends (“home base” from Gardnerville) for years because of something he said to me once. And what was the point of all that hurt? Holding that grudge just cut me off from an amazing potential friendship and kept me stuck in a place of feeling like a victim in my life.

So I encourage you all today to think of a time when you felt victimized or belittled by something that was said to you. Remind yourself that your value is not determined by other people’s opinions. Breathe and be grateful for your present life.

And think of the person who threw those strong words at you with love and compassion. They might just be your best friend one day.

Keep Your Friends Close

One who is everybody’s friend is nobody’s friend.

– Basque Proverb

Original: Guztien adiskide dena, ez da inorena.

Some people seem to have a million friends. You know the ones: the party people, the social butterflies, the Facebook friend collectors, the social media addicts.

Sometimes all of that friending can lead to exhaustion, feeling drained, as if you’ve given all of yourself to others and there’s nothing left for you. If we’re so focused on being there for everyone, often we’re not fully available for our nearest and dearest when they need us most.

In the case of social media, extensive time making connections online can make us feel disconnected to the people right in front of us. I see this every day in people sitting in a group with their faces glued to their phones.

Rather than tell us to stop making friends, I think this proverb teaches us to focus our attention on quality over quantity. It’s great to have lots of friends, but make sure a handful of these friends are people who will have your back. By extension, be a good friend to those closest to you. Always know who matters most in life.

Favorite Quotes from Domingo Ibarburu

Instead of picking a Basque proverb this Wednesday, I want to share with you my favorite quotes from the Elgarrekin theater troupe’s performance on Sunday. They presented the play, Domingo Ibarburu, written by Pantxo Hirigaray.

One of the funniest characters spouted off advice quotes from his amatxi and aitatxi. These sayings started profound and got more ridiculous as the play went on. And they’re hella Basque in that they all involve food.

Here are the ones I took down:

“If you give flour to someone who’s not used to eating cake, he’ll make bread.”

“If there’s not a chance of having cake, you don’t care for cake. But if there’s a chance of having cake, you become a cake lover.”

“He who lacks cakes dreams of pies.”

“A bad baker can ruin the flavor of the best cake.”

“The bigger the cake, the more people there are that love the cake.”

“A cake that stays too long in the oven isn’t worth much.”

“If you put three cakes on top of a table, it’s difficult to decide which one to eat.”

Which line is your favorite?

Small Acorns Need Not Apply

The words are big but the acorns are small.
– Basque Proverb

Original: Berbak handiak, ezkurrak txikiak.

Anyone close to me knows I absolutely hate big talk, commitments not honored, and broken promises. You know it’s real when I get mad at you for something as simple as making dinner plans you have to later cancel.

I’ve dropped more friends for having big words but small acorns than is probably healthy.

My tendency to overreact when friends bail is a little ridiculous, but I’ve been working on minimizing my reactivity over the years. I should probably explore my intolerance for flaking more deeply in therapy… But that’s not the point.

The point of this proverb is that your word is everything in Basque culture. Some might argue it’s the only true thing you have to offer. So when you go back on your word, what does that say about you and your values?

Let’s do our best to match big words with big acorns, not small ones. And if we don’t have the acorns to back us up, often it’s best to let the words go unsaid.

Snails, Slugs, and What They Have to Do with You

Oh, what a pair, a snail and a slug. – Basque Proverb

When I first saw this proverb, I laughed. First, because this one isn’t about farm animals, but randomly about snails and slugs. It doesn’t seem to fit with the theme of dogs, birds, wolves, and bears of other Basque proverbs.

Second, because I had no idea what it meant. At first glance, this proverb eluded me and just seemed silly. But apparently, it’s about people with similar flaws spending time together. (Thanks for the decoding, Buber!)

Isn’t it true though? My mind goes to recovery from drugs and alcohol, where programs essentially have you cut off ties with most of your old friends. Because if your thing is consuming mass quantities of illicit substances, then you’re probably hanging out with people who like to do the same.

While I’ve never been to rehab, this proverb reminds me of the friends I am no longer close with because I don’t want to be like them. For a while I wanted to change the amount that I gossiped, so I diminished contact with my most gossip-hungry and shit-talking friends.

While that seemed to work, we all have flaws. We can’t get away from that. Once you tackle one, there are always more to work on. So I wonder now what aspects make me a snail or a slug.

Pay attention to the people with whom you surround yourself. Are they positive influences? Do they build you up? Or are they slugs?

The Farm Animal Analogies Continue

A dog who barks rarely bites. – Basque Proverb

The people who yell or make lots of threats rarely do anything, spending most of their energy on telling people off.

Photo Credit: Andy Carter

Photo Credit: Andy Carter

Take my dear aita for example. I love him to death, but boy can he get riled up.

I got my nose pierced a couple of weeks ago. When he finally noticed (it took him an hour), he yelled and yelled. And Aita is not usually one to yell. He told me I was ugly, that I looked like a bull, that I was stupid.

He let off steam by trying to shame me. But I just let him have his moment, because I had a good feeling most of his frustration was rooted in the fact that he could do nothing about it. Maybe he really was that upset over the piece of metal in my face, but I think his overreaction stemmed more from his inability to control me than any deep-seated aversion to face jewelry.

So don’t worry about the people who rage. They just whine, yell, and threaten because they do not have the power or desire to do much else.