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14 Things I’ve Observed In Albania

14 Things I’ve Observed In Albania

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ne: 28-05-2019, 19:03:25

It’s been a while since I have made any observations about life in Albania. Here are a few lighthearted, tongue in cheek things I have noticed during my 2.5 years here.

Take an Albanian with you when trying to get anything done that involves a government department, anything legal, or the post office. Even if you speak Shqip, Albanian’s have a way of getting stuff done that I just can’t seem to match. This method tends to involve putting their arms in the air, looking angry, and talking very loudly and quickly, but boy does it get the job done.
Be prepared for blunt comments. “Oh you gained weight”, “I preferred your hair before”, “you look sick”- while not something that is unique to Albanian people, I find that strangers, acquaintances and anyone really is more than happy to point out possibly sensitive things without so much as a second thought!
Don’t waste time queueing. Whether you are trying to post a letter, get on a bus, use the ATM or buy some toilet roll, if you queue, you are doomed to spend a large portion of your day waiting. Sharpen those elbows, put on a determined face and pretend you cannot see anyone else doing exactly the same thing, as you muscle your way to the front. When it comes to queuing, it really is survival of the fittest.
Signs are just for decoration. No parking, no smoking, no under 18s etc any sign stating any of these things is purely for aesthetic purposes and no one does, or will actually adhere to what is written on it. Sometimes you will even see ashtrays on tables that have ‘no smoking’ signs on. Your best bet is to just do what you want, when you want and how you want. Note, this also applies to road signs.
Be careful with the coffee. Albanian coffee is not like European coffee. Not only is it far superior and a lot cheaper but it will literally blow your socks off. My advice is to take it slowly and not guzzle as much as you would in any other country or you may end up a quivering wreck, dribbling and unable to form a sentence.
Getting parcels from abroad is like Russian roulette. Getting things delivered from friends, family, Amazon or similar is very much like gambling. It could take a week, it could take a year, you might not have to pay customs fees or you may have to take out a loan to clear them. One thing that is consistent however is that you won’t get it delivered at home and you will have to go to a random post office, miles away, queue (see point 3) for around three hours and jostle with about 27 5ft Albanian grandmas just to get your new book. Good luck.
That isn’t water in the little glasses. You know when you go for coffee in the morning and you see people drinking water out of a small glass? Yeah, that isn’t water, it is raki and is around 90% proof. Try it at your peril but it certainly makes the day pass faster.
Bread is life. If you eat with Albanian’s be prepared to consume a LOT of bread. Pasta for dinner? Need some bread with that. Pizza for dinner? Need some bread with that. Bread for dinner? Need some bread with that. Albania is not a place for those with a wheat intolerance.
Cheese is life. Again, when eating with Albanians be prepared to eat around 2-4 different kinds of cheese with every meal, including breakfast. White cheese, yellow cheese, strong cheese, salty cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, cow cheese, goat cheese, sheep cheese, spicy cheese, unsalted cheese, baked cheese, oily cheese, grilled cheese, and raw cheese- no such thing as too much cheese when it comes to the Albanian kitchen.
Negotiating the roads is like survival of the fittest. Whether you are behind the wheel or an innocent pedestrian, prepare to get your adrenaline pumping as you take to the mean streets of Albania. The green man on pedestrian crossings doesn’t mean “go”, it means “run” and the best way to consider driving is by thinking “may the best one win”.
Stereotypes are fun. If you live in or frequent the Blloku area of Tirana, you will soon notice you encounter the same kinds of people. Italians with bleeding scalps and headbands (post hair implant operations), drug dealers in Land Rovers and sparkly Gucci shirts, women in matching lipstick, shoes, nail polish, and handbags with big shades even if it is raining, Instagram stars in designer tracksuits with UBER big lips, and a couple of communists in trilbies. Spend an hour in Blloku and see how many you can see!
Be prepared to answer questions. As soon as someone knows you are foreign, be prepared to answer the following questions: Where are you from? Are you married to an Albanian? Why are you here? Do you like Albania? and What’s your favourite part of Albania? (bonus points if you say the city the person asking the question is from) as an absolute minimum.
Get ready to argue! Albanians love to argue, but in a good way. Whatever you say, however you say it, even if you are not being literal (wait for the comments on this post for example) and even if they agree, they love a good debate so get stuck in! If things get heated, just offer a glass of raki afterwards and everything will be ok.
They will never let you pay. Albanian hospitality is world-class and they insist on paying for a guest, particularly coffee or drinks. Insisting to do so can be considered quite rude but the rule is (from what I understand) whoever invited who, usually pays. After 2.5 years, I have finally managed to successfully insist on paying sometimes by saying “COME ON, I AM NOT A GUEST ANY MORE” but be prepared for battle otherwise.
E dua Shqipërinë!

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