Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Last Post as an Expat

When I left NYC to come here, the plan was to stay for one school year.  I loved it immediately.  I won’t say that it wasn’t hard – making friends in a new place, adjusting to everything different about a new culture, learning the ropes of a different job, daring to try scary looking foods and seeing new places (ok, that wasn’t so taxing); but I adored it!  I spent my first months wandering without a destination, just exploring and soaking up this new place. 

 I liked it so much here, I couldn’t actually convince myself to go back to the US except for a summer visit.  Then, it was back here for another one year stint.  We all know how that worked out though – one more year turned into three and here I am, four years later! 

I had always wanted to live abroad – travel around, meet new people and experience different cultures.  I never dreamed that my 9 month ‘working vacation’ would turn into a real life step.  I can’t begin to describe how much I delight in living here.  It’s like part of my soul was originally European or something – I adore buying fresh bread, I love looking out over the rooftops and seeing towering church spires, I relish sitting on a terrace sipping a wine or café con leche and listening to a street performer, I enjoy the challenge of trying to master a new language and I appreciate the respect that people have for customs that are older than my country.  Living in the Basque Country opened my eyes much more than I could have ever imagined.  The funny thing is, is that after being here so long, I actually know I will be ‘home-sick’ from Donostia when I go back ‘home’ to the States.  How did that happen?!

It has been an amazing four years but I am so thrilled for the next step in this adventure of life.  I couldn’t have guessed in a million years that I would come back to my country with a husband in tow but alas, I am, and am more excited than ever.   I will continue writing in the blog, but it will no longer be me sharing my expat ideas and experiences, but instead will trail our new journey in Portland, OR – a place we both have never lived.  It will be new for both of us, in different ways of course.  I hope to share some upcoming blogs with you about what Joseba finds particularly weird about the USA and our culture.  The past two years he has heard me remark ‘what are they DOING?’ and ‘why are they doing it like THAT?’ and now the tables will turn and things that I find mundane or don’t even notice will catch his attention.  It will be something that makes each day entertaining and new. 

Thank you for having read my chronologies of the past four years; I have loved sharing them.  I hope that the next phase of this journey is equally as interesting and fun to share and hopefully let you see our home through new eyes.

My last muxu,

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A hairy situation

After having lived here for four years, the unthinkable finally happened – Basque hair.  I have been going to the same hair cut place for over a year now and really have felt comfortable there.  The staff is very friendly and they always do my hair just like I want it – which is always just a repeat from the previous time, aka a trim.  So, living at my mother-in-law’s house in Orio, about 30 minutes away from Donostia where I used to get my hair cut, I decided that for my last haircut here before coming home, I should go to my regular place.  My logic was that they knew my cut and would whip it out real quick and just how I like it.  Wrong. 

Ever since I got bangs on my 25th birthday, I have been terrified, literally shaking in my boots, every time I go to the hair salon.  Why?  Because I have feared with my soul, the Basque hair.  Here, the mullet still is going strong and rat tails also decorate many a head.  The pony-tail with the shaved sides of the head is currently becoming popular.  But worst of all are the bangs – Basque bangs as I have appropriately dubbed them.  These bangs are even in the bangs category in my opinion because they practically don’t even cover your forehead!  They are cut so short that it was like you were a 7-year old girl who made a mistake with the scissors.  But people actually ASK for this!  How is it possible? 

Each time I have gotten a haircut I adamantly show with my finger WHERE I want my bangs to fall.  None of this half a centimeter of my forehead business; no no, I normally want them a little bit above my eyebrows that I’m a happy camper. The worst is when you get a hairdresser who actually has this style, I use the word loosely, of bangs, and you basically have to say, I specifically do NOT want your hair.   I say PLEASE PLEASE don’t cut them short and in almost 3 years, I have been relieved each time I have walked out of the salon. 

Much to my surprise, my regular hair dresser this time, pulled a fast one and seemed to forget how I have been getting my hair cut for over a year.  While he was chopping away, he got all Edward Scissorhands on me, and hair was flying around so much that I had to close my eyes to shield them – BIG mistake.  When I opened them I saw that he had given me not only a partial mullet (I believe his words were ‘I like the lengthy but we are going to make the top a bit more playful’) but also the dreaded Basque bangs.  I said ‘do NOT cut more’ and he proceeded to trim and then blow dried like one blow dries a dog.
I was horrified when I saw the final product but paid anyways, thinking that I could always fix it at home by blow-drying it how I wanted it done (not how they dry it like I’m a 1950s housewife and put a bunch of product in it).  I was sadly incorrect.  I guess this sort of slip had to happen at some point, and I guess I’m impressed it took so long.

 But, take this blog as a warning – when you see me, please do not gawk or gasp.  I have a mullet and practically no bangs, I’m aware.  I am just waiting for it to grow out so I can go back to regular Amanda hair. 

In a sense, I guess you could say that I have truly become Basque with this haircut – no easy feat.  No souvenirs are needed for me – I have it on my head! 


PS – This pic was taken a couple of days after the initial shockingly bad haircut.  It isn’t exactly my favorite hair do but I will admit that after all that ranting above…it’s not SO bad.  It’s already growing!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Everything I know I learned in the Basque Country...not totally but some stuff!

As I near the end of my time here, I was looking back at my experience and what a ride it has been.  It is true that travelling alone, or moving to a different country alone in my case, really opens you up and teaches you so much about yourself.  Besides the amazing self-discovery aspect of this journey, there are also concrete things that I have learned of or about while here that I can only attribute to my time here.  Some things silly, some things useful, whenever I reference them, they will always be planted here in the Basque Country.  Here are a couple examples:

-      *   The word archipelago.  It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t know this word existed until I moved here.  It was in my Spanish class that it came up and I couldn’t figure out what it meant.  I looked it up in the Spanish-English dictionary and there it stood, staring at me – the same word!  My teacher tried helping me by pronouncing it different ways thinking that maybe it would jar my memory about what this word was.  No dice.  Now that I know the word, it does come in very handy – talking about our trip to Sweden especially!  However, because I learned it in Spanish class and have never heard it in English, I truly don’t know how it is pronounced in my native tongue.  Hopefully, if it comes up in a conversation when I go home, I can commit the English one to memory!

-       *   Forks are used for many things we eat with our hands.  Here it is customary to eat the following with a fork and knife – hamburger, pizza and French fries.  Growing up in the States, this option would never have crossed my mind!  How much more difficult dipping your fry in ketchup is if you have it poked on the end of your fork!  And hamburgers?!  It almost has the word HAND in it!  I mean, if it is a massive-too-big-to-fit-in-your-mouth burger then maybe, but a little one that your hands can easily grip?  Come on!  

-      *    Lack of dryers.  When I moved here I was shocked at the fact that my apartment didn’t have a dryer.  How were my clothes to dry in the humid and rainy weather?  Four years later, it is still something I really miss about the States.  I know NO ONE here with a dryer.  Everyone either hangs their clothes outside on a line, in an internal patio on a line or inside on a clothes drying contraption.  No warm towels when you get out of the shower.  No warm sheets to put on your bed.  No instant wrinkle-disappearing (I still manage to never iron though, touché.)  None of that good stuff.  While overly excited to get home and throw everything in the dryer, I am now afraid of how much stuff will shrink…at least it will be toasty!

-        *   Kilos and Meters.  Apparently, I weigh 50 kilos and measure 155 cm.  This means nothing to me.  I have no concept in my head of these scales.  Even after four years I can’t guess how much someone weighs or how tall they are.  The same goes for kilometers.  This morning I did a hike – 7km!  Which to mean sounds like a marathon, but it’s only something like 3 miles – nothin’.  When we go on a trip, the road signs are of course with kilometers so when a sign comes up saying how close (or far away) we are from the destination, I can’t gauge how long 200km is going to take.  This is due in part to the fact that I also can grasp km per hour.  The regular highway speed here is 120km/hr.  If I really take time to think about it, I can process it, but I always think in pounds, feet, inches and miles.  Don’t even get me started on cooking with their grams and our ounces!  Constant internet conversions are involved in each thing I bake.

-         * Ham is delicious.  When I told everyone I was moving here they all told me – oh wow, you’re going to eat ham all the time.  I don’t like particularly love ham.  Easter dinner – meh, I’m fine with potatoes.  But, to my amazing surprise, there are different kinds of ham than that here!  The ham that everyone spoke of was not these hams that you throw in the oven (called Jamón York here) but instead the delicious Jamón Serrano which is a cured ham that I happened to love, probably a bit too much.  Now that I have become a fan of ‘ham’ in this sense of the word, I probably will scarcely be able to find it in the States let alone for less than an arm and a leg.  Shame.  Here I dreaded it upon my arrival and although I haven’t even left I know I will miss it dearly.  

-       *   First name basis.  Here student do not call their teachers Mr. or Mrs.  This floored me when I got here.  Here they just call you by your first name.  Heck, I don’t even KNOW the first names of many of my teachers throughout school!  I got used to it and now think it would be strange to hear Ms. Gonser, but still find it odd that they get away with it.  

-       *   The floor = the trash bin.  My first ventures in the pintxo bars shocked me.  Extra bread, dirty paper napkins, used toothpicks – all scattered over the floor.  According to the guide book I had, the more garbage on the floor the better the bar (apparently they figure that the more garbage thing means there have been more customers).  My first napkin throw to the floor felt taboo and like I was going to get slapped on the hand, but I quickly picked it up.  Now it’s second nature.  I definitely need to keep that in check though at home – don’t think any American restaurant would appreciate me throwing my trash on the floor.    

-         *  Hello vs. Goodbye.  In the States if you see someone on the street that you know as you pass, what do you say?  ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ or something of the opening greeting form.  Here though, everyone says ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you later’.  Now that I am finally catching on, we are leaving.  At least now that I have mastered the ‘gero arte – see you later in Basque’ I know that when I say it, I WILL come back to this lovely place.