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I live 20 minutes away from San Sebastián in a neighbouring town called Errenteria-Orereta. However, I spend a great part of my everyday life in the city — working, shopping, hanging out, meeting friends and family. There’s something about San Sebastián that makes me obsessed: the kindness of the locals, the amazing views and fancy buildings — but especially its proximity to the ocean, and the cute fishing villages and other towns nearby.
On an average warm day, San Sebastián will be packed with people from early in the morning. We don’t just get international travellers, but also many Basques coming on day trips from every corner of our land. Sometimes, the city is so crowded that you literally have to push people aside.
San Sebastián wakes up around 7 or 8am, and that’s when you can see most people jogging by the beaches of Zurriola, La Concha, and Ondarreta, and the Boulevard prepares for another day of tourists and locals ordering coffee and tea in a rush. Locals move around by bicycles, motorbikes, or public transport.
Afternoons are for hanging out in the port and Miramar areas, or any terrace in the city centre — the gardens around Buen Pastor Cathedral are absolutely lovely to relax after an intense shopping session!
Later in the evening we usually go pub crawling — we’ll have a few drinks and pintxos and we’ll mingle. But any time is a good time to have a taste of our gastronomy, especially if it’s Thursday or if there’s a soccer match on — on Thursdays, you can get a free pintxo with your drink in any bar where pintxopote is celebrated; and if Real Sociedad is playing, locals will celebrate or mourn their defeat with even more food in the neighbourhood of Amara.
In the past, Basque stereotypes used to have a negative connotation because of political differences and terrorism. I believe there’s always a bit of truth in all stereotypes but there are a few about Basques that are completely false.
Firstly, Basques are said to be curt, reserved, very distant, and extremely shy. But Basques have never lacked emotions — we are actually very passionate, social, and highly hospitable! It’s only when we first meet that we’ll be reticent around people. There’s a local expression that says, ‘If you make a Basque friend, you’ll have a friend for life.’ We Basque people are generally very affectionate, humorous, and fun to hang out with. Most importantly, we are very loyal to our friends, even to our Spanish friends. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t hate Spain, let alone the Spaniards! We know how to make a distinction between the government and the people.
Also, you’ll hear, ‘the Basques are those weirdos who live isolated in the mountains.’ Yes, there are those Basques who will never leave the Basque Country, but there are also those who will explore the world. It is very common to find Basques (or people of Basque ancestry) in Latin American countries (especially in Argentina) and the United States as a consequence of the European colonisation of the Americas or the California Gold Rush. Today, there are nearly 200 euskal etxeak (Basque community or cultural homes) abroad. Argentina holds the biggest number of Basque cultural homes in the world (89). As for the US, there are 38 Basque homes spread out all over the Western and Northeastern states.
Another stereotype is that, because some of our traditional sports involve lifting heavy rocks and cutting-off tree logs, Basque people are said to be as tough as old boots. There are many jokes about Basques that involve brute force and stubbornness but that is not characteristic of most of us, as proud as we feel of these activities.
Finally, there’s one last stereotype about the locals of San Sebastián that claims we are all extremely posh — I can’t, however, deny that.
Patxi is a common name that the Spanish have heard many times heard on TV shows and sketches. There’s probably no need to say it, but no, not all Basque men are named Patxi. Our Basque names are typically related to natural elements (Haizea ‘wind’ or Lorea ‘flower’ or Arkaitz ‘crag’), local legends (Amaia ‘end’ or Asier ‘beginning’), mythological characters (Urtzi and Ilargi, the sky and the moon god and goddess), or variants of widespread names such as mine (Oihana ‘Sylvia’).
Basque women are commonly said to be bossy and grouchy because the Basque society is traditionally a matriarchal society. Even with gender inequality today (which is one of the biggest social issues all over the globe), Basque women have always been well-respected and taken into consideration by Basque men. Women have an important role and a great visibility in our community — we are tenacious and stand up for ourselves. Similarly, we are demanding and know what’s best for ourselves.
Foreigners are extremely surprised by the dirtiness of traditional pintxo bars. We typically throw napkins and sticks on the floor after eating, and it’s actually a form of complimenting the chef and bar owner. The dirtier the floor is, the better — it means the food in that bar is good.
Basque people are extraordinary cooks but not all Basques know how to cook a Michelin-star meal. We do love eating, though — more than we should! Same goes with drinking. If you ever go party with a Basque, be prepared to see the sun rise. There’s a term we created for this, gaupasa, which means to ‘survive the night.’
Finding the right one (or the right one-night stand) can be a challenge. What makes it hard is the curse of kuardilak. Kuadrilak are basically big groups of Basque friends who always stick together. If you like a Basque man or woman, be prepared to deal with his or her friends and patiently wait for their approval.
I think what makes me a good guide is both my naturalness and my Basque pride. If you ever join me on a tour, I’ll try to show you how cool and charming the Basque Country and the Basque traditions can be.
Those who have never visited the Basque Country usually expect it to be as hot and sunny as southern Spain. What they don’t know is that the Basque Country has a very damp, unstable, and variable climate. The North Atlantic coast of the region is very rainy all year round (and very stormy in winter). But the drastic changes in temperatures and weather conditions don’t stop locals from getting into the water and swimming to Santa Clara Island — even on those rare occasions when San Sebastián is covered by thin layers of snow, you’ll see swimmers bathing in the bay.
Also, even if you don’t speak the language, you should know San Sebastián has a Basque name, too. Donostia is the name we commonly use for our city, and the people of Donostia are called donostiarras. It might seem like a trifle but it’s an important detail to be aware of.
Discover the oh-so-local way of life in Basque country on a San Sebastian tour, with a local guide. With our tours you can take to the hills and discover the gorgeous coastline of the St. James Way, or get to know Basque food by tucking into some delicious pintxos. When it comes to San Sebastian travel, we’ve got you covered!