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?

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Fiction Fridays: Oh, Brother

My main writing project at the moment is a young adult novel about a fictionalized Basque American folk dancing group.  Every Friday, I post excerpts from my novel draft.  Get caught up on the last installment here.

When she got home, Brigitte immediately locked herself in her room to call Maia and tell her all about the auspicious turn in her luck. Yet once Maia answered, Brigitte quickly reconsidered. She did not want to jinx what she and Patrick had going, and in truth she did not entirely trust Maia.

As best friends, they shared everything with each other, tales of boy drama included, but Maia also had a big mouth when it came to Basque people. If she told Maia about lunch with Patrick, Brigitte feared the entire dance group would know in two seconds. With Patrick being a private person, that would surely put an end to their budding friendship.

So she held her tongue and asked Maia what was new with her.

Maia sighed. “Just failing history and got into a huge fight with Joe the other day.”

“What about?” Brigitte already knew about Maia’s dismal grades. Unlike Brigitte, Maia did not place much importance on schoolwork. She was the type of person who would much rather go out or do something fun than try to focus on academics, or any of her other responsibilities, for that matter.

“He found out I made out with his friend Rob. Do you remember me telling you about that kickback from a few weeks ago?”

“I think so. You mean the one at the empty house with the pool? The guy with the long hair?” Brigitte ventured a guess. Maia went to a lot of parties.

“Yeah, that one. It was no big deal, and Joe was too busy macking on some drama geek all night to even know what I was doing. But someone told him and he freaked out.”

“What did he do?”

“He just ranted about how he was never going to take me anywhere with him again, that I didn’t deserve to hang out with his friends. He called me a slut like a million times.”

“That’s so ridiculous,” Brigitte empathized. “What’s his problem?”

“I don’t know. This was only the second friend of his I’ve hooked up with. It’s not like I’m going around trying to steal his bros away from him. We were just having a good time.”

“Totally. He way overreacted.” Brigitte pressed the phone to her shoulder and picked at her nails.

“Yeah, but it still sucked to have him talk to me like that,” Maia continued. “That was on Wednesday and he hasn’t talked to me since. He just walks around the house pretending he doesn’t see me.”

“That’s so messed up,” Brigitte judged.

“Totally. And there’s nothing I can really do about it.”

“Have you tried talking to him?” Bruno jumped down from the window seat and stalked over to the bed. He nipped at Brigitte’s foot dangling over the edge of the bed. She shook him off and brought her legs in to sit cross-legged.

“Yeah, but he just blows me off—he’ll say something rude or just walk away. I mean, I know he’ll get over it eventually, but it’s just so weird. It’s not like he and this guy were super close, so I really don’t get why he feels entitled to be pissed. Like I did something to him.”

“He’s just pissed. I’m sure he’ll come around. And hey, at least your brother used to talk to you. Adrien just locks himself in his room all the time, playing video games and God knows what else.”

“That’s still going on?”

“Yeah. At first I thought he was just really into this new game, but it’s been months now.” Bruno snuggled up to her side trying to make peace, and she stroked his back forcefully. “I try to talk to him when I see him, but he’s always so grim. It’s like everything we say or do annoys him. We only really see him at dinner, but even then he just rolls his eyes at everything.”

“Well, puberty was bound to catch up with him at some point,” Maia concluded. “Maybe the middle school attitude is just kicking in now.”

“I don’t know if it’s puberty though,” Brigitte worried. “I wonder if something else is going on. I know my mom’s stressed about it. She always looks so sad when Adrien goes back up to his room.”

“That’s too bad. Love Estelle.” The line sat silent for a moment. “Why did Adrien quit the dance group again?”

“I don’t know. He just quit everything all at once—dance, soccer, basketball, track.”

“Weird.”

Brigitte sighed. “Yeah, it was unexpected.”

“And your parents let him?”

“What could they do? He refused to go to any practices.” Brigitte thought it was a shame that he quit everything. If he had quit to do something else, that would have been one thing. But instead he chose to waste away in his room.

© 2013 Anne Marie Chiramberro All Rights Reserved

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.

Coming Down From Chino

The Chino Basque Club‘s annual picnic this weekend was epic. Here’s why:

Saturday

Even though there was a dinner going on at the fairgrounds, my parents and I opted to stick with our tradition of having dinner at Centro Basco on the eve of the picnic. After hosting the grandchildren of Monique Berterretche, Centro Basco’s owner, for San Francisco’s Udaleku in 2007, my family has been pretty close with the Berterretches. It’s great to check in with all of them at the bar.

Centro Basco

I had the veal named after my Chino bestie, Taylor Berterretche. Ever since I met her six years ago and found out she had a dish at Centro Basco, I order her veal every time.

My aita had a chicken the size of his cute little face.

At the end of the meal, Monique the owner ended up buying our dinner. Such a sweetheart! And her daughter Bernadette bought our drinks. They treat us like kings over at Centro Basco. Gotta love the Berterretches!

Centro Basco love note

After dinner, we headed to the fairgrounds. My parents followed their friends who wanted to see the stage production, Domingo Ibarburu, which they had scheduled to show after dinner. I tagged along to see who was around and where the party was going to be later that night.

With JesusI can tell you the party wasn’t at the fairgrounds. So I met up with some friends for a kickback. It turned out the aita whose house we were at is a Hella Basque fan. He walked out into the yard to say hi to everyone, and when he saw me, he was all, “Hella Basque is in my house!” It was super cute.

Thank you, sir, for giving us a venue for our catch up on Saturday night. Also, thank you for having so many awesome religious statues in your yard.

If you want to see what we got up to, I have a video of one of the drinking games up on the Hella Basque Facebook fan page.

Sunday

Chino mass

Chino, only for you do I go to mass. This was my eighth Basque festival of the summer, but the first where I actually attended mass. I go to Chino’s mass mostly to see all of my friends dressed up in costume. The dance groups there have beautifully varied costumes, and the Besta Berri men are a uniquely Chino sight.

I noticed in the walk up to mass that Chino’s klika sounded really good. Maybe they actually practice? (*Ahem* Step it up, San Francisco. SoCal’s bugles put us to shame.)

Other than that and the appearance of the Biotzetik Basque Choir from Idaho, mass was standard.

Although there was one awkward moment… The priest was about to move on to the Prayers of the Faithful when a group of singers interrupted him by belting out Sinesten Dut. The priest was flustered but admitted he had forgotten the song.

Now maybe it’s the years of mass I sat through in all girls Catholic school where you’re expected to sit there and shut up, but I thought they had a lot of nerve to correct a priest in the middle of his mass. Was the song really that important? To some people, I guess it was. I just thought it was a shame it made mass longer.

Afterwards, lunch was standard, the same as usual. The line went way out the door.

lunch line

On the menu: steak, chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, salad, bread, and cheese. The salad dressing was delicious, and the cheese was strong.

Continue reading

On the Road to Chino

Chinooooooooooooo, I’m coming for you!

This weekend is literally one of my favorite weekends of the year. I am celebrating my 10th consecutive Chino picnic. Where does the time go?

Chino picnic is my all-time favorite Basque American picnic, and Chino people are my all-time favorite Basques. I’m even writing a novel about it. Could you already tell I love Chino?

I am beyond excited for this weekend, but I’m trying to keep my expectations low. Yes, there will be downtime. It will probably be too hot for this San Franciscan to bear. I will probably experience boredom throughout the day tomorrow. But those things are all manageable, since Chino picnic is consistently awesome.

I realize I haven’t really explained yet why Chino’s Labor Day picnic is amazing. So if you’re wondering why I love it so much, here are a few reasons:

  • So many young people come out for Chino picnic! The dancers have been nothing but nice to me over the years, even when I was that random girl from San Francisco who didn’t know anyone. I’ve made a lot of good friends in Chino, merely by showing up to the picnic every year.
  • I usually only get to see my amazing SoCal cousins once a year at Chino picnic.
  • The dance is usually really lively, since Chino has such large dance groups and the picnic attracts many people who love to dance.
  • People bring their American friends for the dance. I always meet new people at Chino picnic, and the new faces keep things fresh and fun.
  • I LOVE CENTRO BASCO. Love their dinner, and I die for their breakfast on Monday morning. I also love when they keep the bar open after the dance. Perfect for afterparties!
  • There’s a skate park across the street from the Chino Fairgrounds. I try to get away from the picnic in quieter moments (after lunch or after the dance performances) to watch the skaters. It’s a cool way to break up the traditional picnic day, and it gives me a minute to recharge before the long day and night ahead.
  • Handball games at the Aphessetche trinquet. Although they’re not hosting games this year and showing Domingo Ibarburu at the fairgrounds instead, the handball games are usually a highlight for me. Aita and I would go together–him for the games, me to sip on a Coke and see who’s around. It’s a chill way to lead into the weekend.

Basically, everyone should go to Chino picnic at least once. It’s amazing.

The parents and I are getting an early start this morning, as Chino, California is about a 7 hour drive from the Bay Area. I won’t post tomorrow or Monday, but look out for the Chino recap on Tuesday.

Also, like and follow the Hella Basque Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for updates throughout the weekend.

If you’re going to the fairgrounds tomorrow, I’ll be handing out the last of my Hella Basque stickers. Get yours before they’re all gone! If you don’t know me, look out for my Jaime scarf out on the dance floor tomorrow night. Say hi!

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.