What it’s like to have Basque in-laws

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Both sets of in-laws at our wedding

My very first interaction with my father-in-law was after the hubby and I had been together for over two years.  He had left a pendrive at my house and asked me to bring it over on a Sunday afternoon.  My friend K and I walked the five minutes from my house to his and rang the doorbell.  He answered and said he would be right down to get it.  While we were waiting outside this man appeared from a second story window and just stood there watching us.  Soon after he leaned out the window to get a better look and K and I thought “Who is this creepy man watching us?”  It didn’t dawn on me that it was my future father-in-law until K said “Do you think it’s his dad?”  Of course it was!  I had never met him and had never even seen a picture of him but knew it had to be him.  The hubby appeared a moment later and we asked him “Is that your dad hanging out the window?”  “Probably,” he answered.  “Why doesn’t he just come downstairs and introduce himself instead of spying on us from the window?” I asked.  “I don’t know” he said.  “That’s just not how we do things here.”

He wasn’t kidding about that.  It took another few months until we had a proper introduction.

I had been bothering the hubby to meet his parents for quite some time.  My parents knew him.  Hell, he had lived at their house for three months during his first visit to the States.  I was getting antsy and impatient.  So he finally set up a meeting.  Like any other time people here in Spain get together, lunch was involved.  They decided the best way to meet would be to have lunch at a fancy restaurant.  I spent extra time getting ready that morning to make sure I looked my best and was presentable.  I kept going over possible conversation topics in case of awkward silences.  I was ready to make an outstanding first impression.

Lunch came and went.  All those conversation topics I had prepared went straight out the window because there were plenty of awkward silences.  You see, I was expecting them to just open up and lead the conversation the way all my ex-boyfriend’s parents had done in the past.  Ask me about my life, family, hobbies, education.  Nope.  None of that.  Now that I’m thinking about it I actually don’t think they even asked me any questions at all.  It was so intimidating that instead of being the outgoing girl I usually am, I retreated back into my shell like a scared turtle.

At that moment I had no idea that that was going to be a pretty good indication of how our relationship would be.

Basque people are famously cold and distant to outsiders.  They’re sometimes even cold and distant to each other.  Coming from a country that is known for having friendly and open people, this was a big shock for me.  I really expected my in-laws to just accept me into the family with open arms and a smile.  Especially his mom.  All my other past boyfriend’s mothers had instantly loved me (sometimes even more than their sons).  I could see that I was going to have to work really hard to get integrated into this family.

Time passed and very slowly they accepted the idea of me.  Many more lunches and dinners were had and they opened up little by little.  I think it helped for them to see that the hubby and I were in a serious relationship and that I wasn’t going anywhere.

After almost three years together we moved in together.  All the progress that had been made in the in-laws department almost completely disappeared.  To say that they didn’t agree with our decision, isn’t saying much.  Disagreements and lots of heated conversations were at the forefront of our lives.  My in-laws pushed me aside even more than they had in the past.  They weren’t exactly mad at me but if I hadn’t been a part of the picture, this would have never happened.  Basque boys don’t leave home very often these days until they are almost 30 and their son was leaving when he was 24.

They slowly came around and visited our house one Sunday to have lunch.  They saw that we had a nice apartment and it comforted them.  A few weeks later we told them that we had decided to get married.  That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  They couldn’t understand how we could want to do something like that.  My mother-in-law even said that she felt like she was losing her son.  The hubby disagrees but I still maintain to this day that if I were a Basque girl (or at the very least Spanish) they would have made it much easier for us.

We started preparing for the wedding and after one particular conversation, the hubby’s mom said that she didn’t want to talk about the wedding any more.  As far as she was concerned, it didn’t exist and to not expect her to attend.  That hurt me but it hurt her son much more.  But we decided that we couldn’t dwell on her attendance or lack thereof and we went forward with the preparations.  During the eight months leading up to the wedding, some not so nice things were said about me but I just kept a smile on my face.  I hoped and prayed that she would come to the wedding and she did.  She cried almost the entire day and made it well known that she wasn’t happy to be there but it didn’t matter.  She came and that was all that mattered to me.

In the two years since we have been married, things have gotten significantly better.  I can now say that I am part of the family.  There are still moments that I feel like an outsider but I think they have finally accepted me.  I feel mostly comfortable around them and the awkward silences are becoming fewer and fewer.  My mother-in-law prepares us a homemade tortilla every Wednesday along with croquetas and pimientos rellenos.  She buys us fish from the pescaderia and fruit from the frutero.  Basque people aren’t great with words so I know it’s her way of showing she cares.  My father-in-law calls almost nightly around 8:30 pm and we always have the same conversation: Gabon! (Good evening).  Zer moduz? (How are you?)  He playfully teases me about anything and everything and that’s his way of showing he cares.  Words don’t mean much in this part of the world.  It’s all about the actions.

It’s been a struggle for me getting to know and love my Basque in-laws and I sometimes get so jealous that my hubby has had it so easy with his in-laws.  They’ve definitely made me work for it but I think I appreciate it so much more now that we’ve turned a corner.

Anyone else out there with Basque in-laws?  What has your experience been like?  Let me know in the comments and we can compare notes!

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5 thoughts on “What it’s like to have Basque in-laws

  1. Yep, have a bit of experience with that sort of thing. Your grandmother never did like me and once thru us all out of her house. But in the end we got along enough. Of course my own actions as an in-law are impeccable…………

  2. Your husband’s dad sounds exactly like my aita! It’s hard as an American to understand what his problem is… Why does he have to be so creepy when meeting new people? It’s really weird how Basque people get quiet and just stare, but like you said, that’s just the way they are at first. Luckily for me, I’ve got an American mom by his side pushing him to be nicer and friendlier with my non-Basque friends and boyfriends.

    Good for you for sticking through it! I definitely would have despaired if my boyfriend’s/husband’s parents treated me that way.

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