Where are the Basques?

After two weeks of living here in San Sebastian I’m finding myself in an unexpected predicament – I don’t have a single friend who is actually from San Sebastian.

I’ve got tons of new friends, but every one of them is a foreigner.  Even my apartment has only one Spaniard, but she wasn’t born here either.

I’m starting to wonder, where are the Basques?

San Sebastian has been frequented by people from across Europe since summering here was made fashionably by Queen Isabel II in the 1840s.  This trend is only increasing as surfers and backpackers have found its combination of beaches, pintxos, and nightlife an irresistible draw.  Lots of people come here to study Spanish (like my roommates Nick and Kevin) or to participate in the trans-European study abroad program, Erasmus.  I can see an invisible line separating the local people from those of us who have come from abroad.  I intend to cross this line.

Basques have a reputation of being ‘closed’ and ‘cold,’ preferring to keep to themselves.  The Basque language is an invisible tie that separates us from the locals, one that I cannot see myself mastering without years of practice.

Furthermore, Basque social scenes are characterized by cuadrillas, a rough translation of ‘cliques.’  That is, most people have a group of four or five friends that they always roll with, from youth all the way to adulthood.  Boys with boys, girls with girls.  Foreigners like myself usually come and go without ever joining a cuadrilla.

I’ve never been a fan of cliques, but this seems to be the way of the Basque Country.  Rolling with the locals is the only way to learn a about a culture and that is precisely what I intend to do.

I have faith.  I realize that I just need to switch up my social scene a bit – spend less time in the bars geared towards Erasmus students and more time in local hangouts.  Luckily, I stumbled across a super underground bar frequented almost entirely by locals.  I’ll be spending more and more time there over the next few months.

I realize I must find a balance between hanging with my fellow foreigners and the locals and not neglect one group at the expense of the other.

Little by little, I will immerse myself in the life of San Sebastian.  I am busy setting up intercambios (language exchanges) with locals, branching out to meet the local CouchSurfing community, making friends through surfing, and meeting people out at night.

Little by little I will join this community, I remind myself.  Little by little.

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