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?

Aita Calls Bullshit on My Swearing Habit

After weeks of not checking Hella Basque and relative peace in the Chiramberro household, Aita read the recap of Jacqueline and Chris’s wedding.

The only thing he had to say about it: “You used ‘bullshit!'” Aita did not approve of my choice to drop two swear words in the post. Out of a 2,214-word piece, those were the two words he singled out. He told me I shouldn’t write swear words, because it isn’t polite. He said using swears diminishes my class and that I should aim to be classy.

This seemed pretty rich to me coming from the man who taught me to fully appreciate the word “bullshit” in all of its glory. In conversation, Aita and I swear together and it’s hilarious. But somehow writing swears down on the Internet is too much for Aita to handle. I guess he wants the world to think his little princess is classy.

He would rather I put on a false persona for my blog, to present myself as someone polite and dignified. But what’s the fun in that? And where the honesty in that?

If I’m angry or feel strongly about something, I’m going to probably include some swear words. It just helps to get my point across. I’m not going to pretend to be cool with things when I’m not. I’ve tried that and it hasn’t really worked for me.

Although some of the posts on this blog can be pretty fluffy, Hella Basque is not about sugarcoating our microcosmic Basque world.

Here is my commitment to you guys to keep swearing and writing passionately, despite Aita’s disapproval. As a reader, I appreciate when writers are honest and vulnerable. So here I am on this little blog of mine, striving to be the kind of writer I would love to read.

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.

Aita’s Piperade Recipe

Calling all cooks!  Do you have a recipe you’d like to see featured on Hella Basque?   Go to the About page and fill out a contact form.  Drop me a line with your ideas and recipes!  You will receive full credit, of course.

After my review of Piperade, a few of you wanted to know Aita’s piperade recipe so you could make your own. I finally got him to sit still long enough to explain his process to me.  I’m told his piperade has a lot more garlic than most, so keep that in mind when trying it out for yourself.

Aita’s Piperade

Servings: 4-5
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
5-6 tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
7 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Anaheim peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks
2 oz. Jambon de Bayonne (ham)
1 Tbsp. sugar
Salt
Pepper
Piments d’Espelette or paprika (optional)

1. Boil a large pot of water. Add whole tomatoes to boiling water and let boil until the tomato skins crack. Drain tomatoes and peel them. Place the peeled tomatoes back in the pot and mash with a potato masher. Heat tomatoes to a boil, then simmer until soupy, about 10-15 minutes.

2. In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium high. Fry onion and garlic until softened and browned. Add Jambon de Bayonne to pan and flash fry for 2 minutes.

3. In a separate frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium high. Cook peppers five minutes until tender, but before they go limp.

4. Add onion, garlic, Jambon, and peppers to the tomato pot. Combine with 1 Tbsp. sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in Piments d’Espelette or paprika for an added kick, if desired.

Enjoy!

Aita & Lady

For a different variation, also check out Chef Mimi’s Piperade recipe.  It looks good too!

Afterparties Aren’t All That

At the end of the night, Basque festival dances usually break out into several afterparties.  Among the young ones, these mostly revolve around dance groups.  At Convention, the beauty is that if you have friends or family from different towns, you have a number of affairs to choose from.  Should I go hang out with Salt Lake?  Crash at Chino’s motel?  Sneak onto the Oinkaris’ party bus?

Last weekend in Elko, I said no to all of these options.  For the first time, I was faced with the question: “Why?”  Why would I not come?  As I’m usually all about the afterparties, I had some explaining to do.  I made polite excuses to my friends about how I had to be up in early in the morning for the drive, but normally lack of sleep wouldn’t stop me.

Here’s the real reason.  I was heeding the wise words of my aita:

Nothing good happens after 1:00 AM.

Continue reading

Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Girl’s Aita

5 things not to say to a girl's aita

If you’re dating a Basque woman and things are going well enough for you to meet the mythical aita, know that there are a few things he does not want to hear:

1. I’m not Basque.

For some reason, Aita has a slight obsession with knowing where his daughters’ beaux come from: ethnically and patrimonially.  He always wants to know who the family is, and if he doesn’t know them, he straight away assumes they’re scum unless proven otherwise.  It’s inevitable that he learns you’re not Basque.  Just try to understand that this is hard for him, and you might need to step up your game a little more than usual to win him over.

2. I’m Unemployed.

Why would Aita want to hear that?  If you are unemployed, come up with a more creative response.  (Suggestion: “I’m applying to grad school.” Aita loves himself some higher education.)  He just wants to make sure his darlings are taken care of, and he’s not going to like you from the get go if you can’t do that for him.  I’m sure you have plenty more to offer, but sometimes Aita only cares about dollars and cents.

3. I’m a vegetarian.

If you lead with this, Aita most definitely will not respect your manhood.  Much of his life has revolved around preparing and eating mass quantities of meat, so you might as well just tell him you’re an alien.  Pick at the lamb if you can, or just avoid family meals until you’re ready to deal with the consequences of this statement.

Tour Guide Aita

4. I don’t drink.

While some might think this line will show you to be a conscientious and responsible person, Aita will just take it as weakness.  What do you mean you don’t drink?  Alcohol consumption is one of the foundations of Basque social life, so Aita will not understand what’s wrong with you.  He’ll either think you’re a pansy or a recovering alcoholic, and he doesn’t want either of those things for his little princess.

5. I don’t know anything about farming, gardening, plumbing, construction, or raising sheep.

Whatever Aita’s forte, make sure you’re mildly acquainted with it before the big meeting. Do a quick Google search, learn something, and hold on to it for dear life in case the topic comes up.

I will never forget how one of my sister’s friends blew my dad away with a story about how he helped someone uproot a palm tree.  At first Aita (a gardener in his past life) was aloof and silent, putting on his intimidating front, but once the palm tree anecdote came up, he was all smiles, laughter, and bottomless wine refills.  Find a way to establish yourself in Aita’s realm of knowledge, and you will surely melt his little heart.

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