Things we have in common

I write this sitting at the Topo station in Renteria, or Errenteria as it is known locally. Renteria is a quirky town twenty minutes out of San Sebastian. It’s a wary town with a general sense of something bad having happened there. Despite this, it has grown on me and I feel as thought the ladies in the Erroski beside my work have come to regard me affectionately as one of the village idiots.

It is a town with a history and “Preso Eta Iheslariat Etxera” is emblazoned on signs dotted around the streets. I stare at one of these signs almost every evening, waiting on the 9.38/8.38 back to Donostia. I’m still coming to grips with the political story here, one that mirrors Irish history in many ways.There isn’t much to be said for the station. The vending machine is usually fully stocked and there’s a public toilet glaring sullenly in the corner, currently out of service.The Topo (the “Mole”) is a rail shuttle operated by the Basque Government. It’s clean, quick and safe and gets me home in a tight fifteen minutes.

Today I set a question for my similarly sullen teenagers.

“What do you have in common, what’s different?”

A bland question that they predictably hated answering but it got me thinking about the cultural quirks I have encountered since arriving here.

Random Basque dancing

The first difference I’ve noted is the concept of time here.The time in the Basque country lolls and drags and no one rushes. Except when it comes to transport. Dinner is late and so is entertainment. Lunch is two hours and it takes minimum two hours to sort out anything administrative. However God help everyone if the train leaves a minute late.Right now, an elderly man is standing under a large clock, checking his watch as if he doesn’t trust what the station clock is implying. Another woman muttered angrily in French when I jumped onto the Topo, heaven forbid, at the exactly the time it was supposed to depart.

Secondly, the sense-of-humour in the Basque country is the distantly related meaner cousin of Irish wit. A slagging in Ireland might bruise you but a cool remark from a Basque student will slice you sharply in two.

Orla: “Do like studying engineering?”

Student: “Well obviously, I’m studying it.”

The tone of their propositions are also direct, almost aggressively so.

Thirdly, the music. I sat in my classroom the other day and listened to what I thought was Irish trad filtering through the window as my students completed a task. I later heard a similar tune coming from someone earphones on the train. Later my housemate played me some Basque music she’d been sent by a Basque guy. I couldn’t tell the difference.

The keen Irish influence in Renteria
The keen Irish influence in Renteria

I have been continually surprised at the oddest moments here. From the re-elect Goldie Wilson-esque mini vehicles that travel around with sirens advertising local supermarkets to sitting down opposite people on the Topo only to have them stand up, panicked and run to another seat. And obviously there’s the keen over-50s topless sunbathing club at La Concha which was a culture shock for an Irish girl. That stuff doesn’t go down well in Donabate.

Lastly, wine is €1.50. I don’t need to elaborate.


Next week will probably have to be a blog about food. Just about to head to what sounds like the brunch of a lifetime.


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