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Opinion

Spain proves unwelcoming

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November 8, 2007

Ah, Spain. Where the atmosphere is relaxed, the women have mullets and siestas are a mandatory routine for all citizens. Flying into Bilbao, Spain, from my sweet London home, my jaw dropped at the sight of the towering mountains and the costal blue glory. Siestas are magical, yet the fact that the entire city completely shuts down from the hours of 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. is immensely foreign to me. Spain is beautiful. But apparently I am not actually in Spain. Bienvenidos a Basque Country.

The Basque Country, also known as Pais Vasco or Euskadi, is the autonomous region of Spain located in central northern Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The Basque is home to the world’s oldest language known to man, with no other language tracing back to the chk-chk tongue. It is an ancient society that appears to be stuck in 1985, with men decked out in tight blue jeans, leather jackets and Lionel Richie haircuts. The girls either sport super bangs or mega mullets. Their attitudes are also living in the past.

The rebels of the Basque people are still fighting for their independence from Spain. Their stubborn attitudes are shown strong by their unwillingness to conform to the Spanish language, repair their crummy cobblestone roads and by standing firm in place when window-shopping on a busy sidewalk. On a more politically controversial stance, the riots complete with car burning and protests with chanting and Revolution!-type signs are a common sight on news channels and street corners. It is a strong political perspective that I fail to understand. The left nationalists leaders may not be in support of the outrageous vandalism and uproar of the radicals, but the atmosphere down a regular Bilbao street becomes tense when an obvious foreigner wanders by. Walking in a group of Americans past another group of Basque, we are chased away with mocking chants about being foreigners.

Of course, not all of the Basque people have rotten hearts. After teaching a group of girls a drinking game entirely in Spanish, in return they taught us a more complicated Spanish drinking game. We raised our glasses for “¡Salud a España!” Before the glasses were brought down from the sloppy point above our heads the girls looked on at us in disgust and quickly corrected us. “To Pais Vasco!” We nervously laughed in abashment. We had offended them beyond any other act of disparagement.

Leaving London, I was stuck in the state that I was leaving my new home I had grown fond of. I should have eased myself into the fact that I was about to be in Spain. The people walk slower, the businesses are relaxed and the metro station is clean. But the fancy, trendy London-town is a lifestyle that I will return to without doubt.

-Teresa is a journalism major and a geography minor. She is enrolled in the Semester Abroad: Europe program and has done research on the River Thames in London. She is currently backpacking independently across Europe.

Teresa Aviles is a student at UW-River Falls.