6 things Basque people can't resist

After more than a year living in Pamplona, I've finally decided to write a post about the 'B' word (or perhaps the 'V' word) - Basques / Vascos.

For fear of offending someone (or more likely, everyone), I won't go into detail about the history of the people, or exactly what Euskadi means, I'll just offer a few of my own observations about Basque culture. If you do want to know more about the history, then you can watch this short video.

I don't pretend to know a huge amount about Basque lifestyles. However, there are certain things that people in Basque speaking regions of Spain undeniably love. With Pamplona being such a mix of Spanish and Basque culture, you can use this handy guide to identify who is who.


1. Rocking out 

We all like to party, right? Well, Basque people really like rock music. With its roots in protest against the oppression under Franco, Basque Rock is still going strong decades later.

Punk, Glam rock and Heavy metal rule the roost in terms of musical fashion, and people from all ages and stages attend concerts. Here are some picture from a punk festival I attended in Basque Country Capital Vitoria-Gasteiz.


2. Sporting mullets

Another 70s classic still firmly in fashion is the mullet. The hairstyle also has cultural roots in the protest movements of the 70s and 80s. This article takes a closer look at the 'party at the back' mentality.

Part of being Basque is wearing your identity loud and proud. Men often wear silver hoop earrings. You can often recognise instantly whether people consider themselves Basque or Spanish just from the way they look.


3. Eating big

While Pintxos are small and pretty, I'd describe Basque cuisine as hearty. Everywhere from Biarritz to Bilbao, you can find local tabernas and restaurants, gastro clubs, and high level cuisine. Perhaps Spain's most famous TV chef, 4 Michelin starred Karlos Arguiñano hails from Gipuzkua.

Traditional Basque cuisine is filling and nutritious at it's heart. Arguiñano's catchphrase is something like 'tasty, tasty, and really nutritious'.

People in the region make good use of offal and less desirable meat. Many people I meet tell me their favourite dish is tripe, balls or horse meat. Sometimes it's not easy eating vegetarian here.

Other dishes to warm the cockles include bean stews, potatoes and chorizo and huge steaks, all washed down with strong cider. Dig in!


4. Speaking the Basque way

The one thing that really defines Basque people is their language - Euskera. It's considered one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, due to it's different sentence structures and regional variations. It's also an isolated language, which has few links and frames of reference with others.

There are no Qs or Vs.

Ts Tx and Tz all count as individual letters.

And most words seem to have an inordinate amount of Ks and Zs.

Easy, right?

Euskera forms the identity of the Basque state and has been the one constant tie throughout history, between people who live in big cities and tiny villages across two countries and several provinces.

Much of the agenda of Basque political parties nowadays involves propagating the use of the language in schools and local government.

Basque establishments can be identified through their use of Basque script (pictured). However, sometimes lines can get a little blurred. I remember getting a few funny looks at the gym after greeting people in Spanish, when the whole changing room was talking together in Euskera. It's not an exact science, but you can often tell how 'Basque' a place is by the quantity and prominence of written and spoken Euskera.


5. Patching things up

Graffiti, stickers, and patches are everywhere - Laptops, guitars, notebooks and cars. Most cafés and bars just paint their walls one colour, and within a few months, the whole place is decorated with adverts promoting bands, events and art.

I guess people just like re-branding things. Buying something with a Basque flag on it just isn't the same as sewing a patch on top of the logo. Everything must be an emblem.

Girls like to wear their identity with bomber jackets (with patches of course), chunky jewellery, and have their own distinctive angular haircuts with straight fringes.


6. Getting sporty

While people might eat like horses, the provinces are some of the healthiest in all of Spain. Pais Vasco ranks as one of the communities with the lowest obesity, probably because its residents are so sport obsessed.

Famous sportspeople include Xabi Alonso (football), Miguel Induraín (cycling), and Serge Blanco (rugby).

The Basque regions are the only part of Spain with much of an interest in rugby, most people go out cycling at weekends, and Athletic Club Bilbao are a national team of sorts, only selecting players born in the region.

In addition to these sports, and one where you whack a little ball against the wall with your bare hand, everybody loves running. There are countless races in the area, ranging from city 5 kms, to marathons in the mountains. Every small village seems to have its own race, which is a good opportunity for the community to eat, drink, play music and get together for a chat.

There is even a regular 2500km community run around the whole area to promote the Basque language. People run part of the way and pass the baton to the next lot. I'm not sure I'd fancy doing the whole thing though.


As a final note, I'd just like to say that while everywhere has an identity that it's proud of, stereotypes can be dumb. I recently struggled through the film Ocho Apellidos Vascos (A Spanish Affair), which tells the story of a guy from Sevilla who pretends to be Basque to be with a girl (the actress is actually Madrileña), who doesn't even like him. After nearly two hours of over the top 'fish out of water' gags it finally ended. And no, I won't be watching the sequel (set in Cataluña), where he has to win her back and we have to suffer two more hours of bad stereotypes.

I found the video below quite a funny shooting down of some of the 'myths' about Basque culture (Spanish required).

That's it from me. Perhaps an update on writing next time.


  1. I really enjoyed The Spanish Affair 2, but I haven't seen the first one. Come on Phil, I think it's supposed to be over-the-top and ridiculous. Thanks for sharing about the Basque people though. I never knew most of this stuff. Must be tough being a vegetarian there. I remember tortilla being the main interesting non-meat option on the menu when I was there. But the tortilla was the best I'd ever had.

  2. Thanks for sharing this great post. Travelers as well as music lovers would definitely like this page. Great! cheap park and fly deals


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