Real Talk: Why Dating Basque People Sucks

A couple of weeks ago I extolled the social and cultural benefits of marrying a fellow Basque person, but let me be frank about why this is a far away dream for many of us. In a lot of ways, dating within the Basque community presents challenges. Let’s explore.

1. Pre-Relationship: Flirting, Crushing, “Talking”

Traveling around to Basque festivals, meeting great people both at Udaleku and picnics… All of those things are lovely. But sometimes you get stuck with a not-so-great situation—like if you actually find someone you want to date.

Say you meet the person of your dreams, from another Basque club. You hit it off and you’re totally into each other. Eventually it’s time to go home (whether from Udaleku or a picnic/festival/Convention/Jaialdi).

The reality sets in that your new friend lives in Elko, Rock Springs, Boise, Winnemucca, or any of the other Basque American towns hundreds of miles away from where you live. Or even worse, you fell for an actual Basque person, FROM THE BASQUE COUNTRY. Then what?

For many young people, that one festival with your honey is all you get. We’re not in a position to move, leave school, quit jobs to make the picnic romance last. And for many people, trying a long distance relationship is way out of the question.

So that’s it. You’re just left with a smidge of post-picnic depression and a hope that maybe one day your fling will miraculously work itself out and turn into something more.

2. Dating/Relationship

Now, let’s say you’re lucky enough to find someone from your own Basque club you’d like to date (and who wants to date you back!). Congratulations! That’s awesome. Everyone loves a cute young Basque couple.

But maybe a little too much… People begin to constantly ask you about your relationship, wanting to know where you see it going. People joke and hint about marriage and kids, even if you’ve only been together for a month.

Then the betting begins. Your friends and family place bets on if/when you’ll get married or if/when you’ll break up. Your relationship is completely open to scrutiny from members of your Basque community. People get all up in your business.

And you’ll definitely hear it from older people or even your peers if you show any amount of PDA at a Basque function. Everyone is happy you’re in a relationship, but absolutely no one wants to see evidence of it.

3. Break Up

The cold hard truth is that many relationships end in break ups, even Basque ones. And if you thought people were invested in your relationship before, this is the time when you find out how much they actually are.

People pick sides in these break ups. Not just your friends and family, as you might expect, but people you had no idea even knew who you were or cared about your relationship status.

Inevitably, community members pick someone to blame for the break up, and Lord help you if you become the scapegoat. Breaking up with a Basque person can be quite uncomfortable.

I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve seen time and again Bascos having to “take a break” from community events after a break up to avoid uncomfortable conversations. I’ve heard people say some really horrible things in the midst of a Basque couple’s break up.

So while many of us aspire to finding that special someone from within our communities, the reality is that dating a Basco is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of dedication and patience with nosy people.

For me, right now, it’s not even worth the trouble.

Do you think it’s worth the effort to date a Basque person? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Real Talk: Why I’ve Never Cared to Learn Basque

Basque identity is wrapped up in language. The Basque word for Basque person, Euskalduna, literally translates to “person who speaks Basque.” Some might say that to be Basque you must speak Basque.

Throughout my short life, people have asked me if I speak Basque, tried to teach me Basque, and told me I should learn Basque. There’s a small part of me that feels like I should at least try to learn Basque (mostly when people tweet me or write articles about Hella Basque in Basque), but for the most part I have absolutely no interest.

[Sidenote: If you actually want me to understand what you tweet me, please use Spanish or French.]

I figure my lack of interest is because I already speak French. I know Euskara, the Basque language, is so much cooler and rarer and makes for a great party trick, but the main purpose I would want to learn Basque would be to speak with my relatives in the Basque Country. And the truth of the matter is that I already can–in French.

Frankly, my French gets worse and worse by the year. With little opportunity to practice, I’ve forgotten what feels like 80% of the vocabulary I knew as a child. That makes communicating in French awkwardly uncomfortable, as I stutter and struggle to find the words that used to come to me so easily.

So why would I add another foreign language on top of that? Trying to learn Basque seems like way more effort than it’s worth. Even if I worked at it long enough to be successful, how would I be able to keep it up? There aren’t very many people I would be able to speak it with on a regular basis.

It seems like a mission for failure. Why learn a language just to lose it through underuse?

And then there’s the issue of which Basque to learn. My dad, aunt, uncles, and cousins all speak a specific Basque dialect from their region. If I wanted to learn Basque to speak with them, there’s no way I could learn it here in San Francisco. (Aita’s not the best teacher.) I would have to move to their region and learn from the locals.

I could enroll in a Basque language course here in the United States or online, but then I would be learning Euskara Batua, what Aita calls “le nouveau basque.” And frankly, my dad gets riled up when he hears Batua because he can’t understand it very well. Learning Batua would just give Aita another reason to yell at me.

The whole thing is just one big headache with few advantages. Sure, I could impress some people by learning Basque. But if I’m looking for a language to actually communicate with people, I don’t think Basque is it.

I’m glad schools in the Basque Country are teaching Basque and there’s a Basque language revival going on over there, but in the United States learning Basque just isn’t practical.

For the same reasons my parents taught me French instead of Basque, I’m going to focus on improving my French: it’s more useful because more people speak it.

Real Talk: Why I Avoided Men as a Teenager


I was fourteen or fifteen years old, sitting with the rest of the dance group in the front rows of Basque mass, decked out in full costume, heavy wool skirt falling just above the ankle. Behind us sat the klika.

During Communion, we performers led the line to the altar. Back in our seats, while waiting for the rest of the congregation to move through the line, a man behind me sought my attention: “Hey, Anne Marie.”

I turned in my seat to see the speaker was one of the bugle players, a man in his twenties. He had recently belonged to the dance group, and we had been friendly during dance practice every Saturday. I thought he was a pretty cool guy.

“What?” I asked him.

“Close your legs,” he smirked. “It’s starting to smell.”

The men sitting around him all chuckled and bared their teeth at me in disgusting grins. Confused and mortified, I turned around and stared straight ahead.

I locked my knees together and tried to ignore the eyes fixed on me. What was he talking about? My legs weren’t open, and I didn’t smell… It was only later I realized he had been referring to my vagina.

I think I’ve only told that story once or twice before, because it’s an incident in my life I wish to forget. A man I trusted made an inappropriate comment about my genitals–in mass, no less. That’s not exactly a fun story.

I write about it now not to shame the individual who made the comment. We all say stupid things, make bad jokes to get our friends to laugh, and sometimes forget to think about how our words will affect others.

I’m sharing this story to highlight an issue within our Basque American communities. Granted, I recognize that these types of comments are most definitely not just a Basque thing, as sexual harassment happens everywhere.

There, I’ve labeled it. Sexual harassment. I hesitate to use the term, as I know some people will claim I am overreacting to a harmless joke. But I think it’s important for us to recognize what these damaging comments are.

We laugh about the “dirty old men” in our communities, tell our young women which men to avoid. I had heeded all of the advice. I stayed away from the known creeps, those men with a reputation for lusting after young women. I did not expect to be harassed by someone I considered a friend. No one warned me about that.

While this man may not have done anything as extreme as groping me or harassing me on multiple occasions, that one “joke” left a lasting impression.

I felt uncomfortable and downright unsafe around older men, to the point that I avoided the bar at Basque events for years so that I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I developed a hostile attitude toward older men, hoping that my disdainful glares would keep them away from me. It worked, but my hard exterior also gave me the reputation of being kind of a bitch. These days I’m a little friendlier but always on my toes.

Angel Island 2009

I love the Basque community in San Francisco and I could talk it up for days, but I don’t want to give a false impression on this blog that it’s all dandy. Like the rest of society, our Basque centers are not always perfect spaces, safe and welcoming for everyone.

We’re told to deal with these incidents on an individual basis as they come, which I suppose is the best least controversial way to deal with a problem. I just wish and hope that the men in our communities would remember to treat young women with respect.

I’m not saying that all of the men in our communities say awful things like the one mentioned. But I’ve been on the receiving end of enough inappropriate comments from lightheartedly named “dirty old men” to know that there’s a certain way of interacting with women that is humored at Basque American events. A way that I would like to see change.

Real Talk: Why I Don’t (Usually) Hook Up

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

Photo Credit: Amaya Oxarango-Ingram

Not until the age of 22 did I hook up with someone, in any capacity, at a Basque festival.  This was not for lack of options or desire in my younger years.  I’ve had a few awkward Basque romances in my day, but I never took them anywhere near a Basque festival out of fear of judgment.  I didn’t want to be labeled a slut for having a good time.  Also, my mom and dad would have killed me.  (Hi, Mom!  I know you’re reading this.  Don’t judge me.)

We’ve all heard stories of girls with reputations, the “sluts.”  Maybe we have spread these stories ourselves as the latest hot gossip, passing judgment to pass the time at long summer picnics.  I myself am guilty of this crime against sisterhood, so I’m not here to preach about what an awful person you are if you gossip too.

But I feel it needs to be said that our Basque communities are one of the few spaces left in our very American lives where young women are criticized harshly for expressing their sexuality, whether in public or behind closed (motel room) doors.  It’s just a known rule for us: Don’t do anything unless you want everyone you know–and, perhaps more importantly, everyone your parents know–to find out.

But finally at age 22, a curious blend of boredom and not caring anymore led me to a dark storage closet with a cute drunk.  (Don’t ask who.  I won’t tell.)  I cringe at how high school the entire thing was, but it was fun.

And the thing is, I thought I didn’t care about judgments any more.  But the guilt and embarrassment I felt afterwards told me a different story.  I was so ashamed about the hook up that I didn’t even want to tell my friends, which goes completely against girl code.  You have to tell your friends who you’re hooking up with.  It’s practically law.

For days after “the incident,” as I started calling it, a weird mix of girlish giddiness and Catholic guilt plagued me.  If it hadn’t been with a Basque guy at a Basque event, I’m positive I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

Go fly a kite

Haters, go fly a kite.

Did my friend for the night feel racked with the same tumultuous emotions?  I can’t say for sure, but all signs point to: No, not in the slightest.  He told one of my friends about the tryst very soon afterward (Cat’s out of the bag!  Thanks, bro!) and spent the rest of the summer hooking up with girls at Basque festivals near and far.  His friends applauded him for being such a stud, for having such a way with women.

Am I bitter?  Not in the sense that you might think.  I’m not bitter that he’s moved on to other people, but I am bitter about how easily he is able to do so.  I envy his freedom.  I envy the male privilege that allows him to do as he likes with very few social repercussions.  This privilege that is not afforded to me or my Basque sisters.

While hooking up is the ultimate sin, sometimes all we have to do to earn the slut label is dress nicely (“She’s trying too hard.”) or dance with one person for most of the night (“Did you see how she was all over him?”).  Do a combination of these things often enough and your reputation follows you for years, maybe even decades.

I’ve heard of awesome women in their thirties still being talked about negatively for their behavior as young adults.  I know women who have distanced themselves from their Basque communities, showing up less and less frequently to club events because of judgmental gossip.

Petty gossip shouldn’t matter, but it does.  I hate that it happens, and I hate that it leads women to feel alienated from their communities.  But gossip truly has an affect on our actions, because these are communities many of us plan on being involved in for the rest of our lives.  And we don’t want something we did in our teens and twenties to dictate people’s opinions of us now or later on.

So I open it up to you, dear readers, as I’m sure many of you have had experience in this area.

How do we fight these double standards in our communities?

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