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.