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Only In Albania…

Only In Albania…

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ne: 05-01-2021, 20:47:32
So, I’ve been in Albania for over three years now and have plenty of stories to tell. I love putting together these “Only in Albania posts” and I know that many of you also enjoy them. As usual, I will make the disclaimer that these points are written in jest, are meant in a loving way, and are not “only” found in Albania. It is a lighthearted post and I wish it is taken in that way.

Enjoy!

Will people threaten to eat your children
If you’re a parent in Albania, you’ve probably had family members, people in shops, random passers-by tell you “OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO EAT THEM” as they lurch towards your child with their hands outstretched. They are not actually going to consume your child- don’t panic- it’s just a way of saying how cute and wonderful they are. You may also find people threatening to eat their cheeks, legs, arms, belly and various other parts of the body, not just them in entirity. No need to be alarmed, it’s a good thing and a compliment to you and your child.

Will you be force-fed chocolate when you visit anyone
99% of Albanian households have two things: slippers by the door for guests and a little bowl of chocolates. Upon entering, you are expected to remove your shoes and leave them either inside or outside, depending on the house and the weather. You then proceed to the living room where you are given the aforementioned chocolates, whether you like it or not. Refusing the chocolates is not an option and the host will insist you take one, two, or even three.

When I took my winter coats out from the wardrobe to prepare them for the colder weather, I found chocolates in the pockets of each one- remnants from when I had been forcibly given chocolate during last year’s visits. Albanian hospitality is the best, fill your mouth and your pockets with chocolates and enjoy!

Will you survive on baklava between December 20 and January 4
Should you squeeze the average Albanian sometime during Christmas and New Years’, the chances are that syrup will come out of them. This is due to eating lots and lots and lots of big, beautiful, sugary baklavas. These are traditionally eaten during festivities in the country (and throughout the Balkans), including bajram. During the end of year celebrations, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat several pieces of baklava a day including for breakfast, with coffee, after coffee, and for dessert.

Should you visit relatives or friends during this time, your host will likely try to force it on you, partly out of desperation as they are most likely sick of it and have about 5 kg of it in the fridge. Baklava is wonderful and should be eaten with joy and in abundance. Just don’t think too much about the calorie content.

Will you celebrate multiple religious holidays throughout the year
In the average year, you will celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day (nonreligious), Nevruz (Persian New Year), Catholic Easter Sunday and Monday, Orthodox Sunday and Money, Eid al-Ftir and Eid al-Adha, and Christmas. Depending on what religion you are, there may be a few extras thrown in there along the way. Many people celebrate all of these days regardless of what religion they follow or have in their heritage.

Most Albanians are not religious but may identify culturally or via their family tree with a certain religion. Basically, few people care and they love a reason to get together and eat lots of nice food. Speaking of food, it will usually include an entire goat/turkey plus 6 types of cheese, bread, various salads, kilos of byrek, and either pasta or rice. Enjoy!

Will you have to specify that you want coffee in your cappuccino
I’ve lived here for three years and I still make the mistake of not specifying “nje kapucino me kafe” instead of just “nje kapucino”. Should you leave out the “me kafe” part, you will likely be served up a cup of revolting, sweet, fake-coffee, otherwise known as bustine. An insult to real cafe, it contains no caffeine, is sickly sweet, and is made from only god-knows-what.

I have heard several theories as to why bustine exists ranging from “women shouldn’t drink caffeine”, to religious reasons, the fact real coffee was hard to come by during communism and it hung around after the regime ended, and the simple fact that some people like it. I am yet to hear a definitive reason why it was invented or why people drink it. Leave off the “me kafe” at your own peril. You have been warned.

If someone spits at you, it’s a compliment
In the UK, if someone spits at you, it would most likely end in a physical confrontation. It is perhaps one of the most disrespectful things you can do to someone. But, we are in Albania now. When Dea was a baby, I took her into a small shop and the man behind the counter proceeded to spit several times in her direction. I was of course horrified and exited the shop pretty quickly. I soon came to understand that spitting was something people did when something was wonderful, beautiful, or very special. The act of spitting is to ward off the evil eye or those that may wish harm upon the particular person, or in this case child.

I had a similar incident where an elderly woman referred to my child as awful, horrible, and bad. Thankfully, by this time, I understood that this was also to do with the evil eye so I avoided getting arrested for hitting a pensioner.

Is it acceptable to shave an infants head
Ok, so when I’ve mentioned this on social media, the audience has been divided. Some say that yes, shaving an infants head at one year old is a good idea because the hair grows back thicker (it doesn’t it just makes the hair all grow at the same rate, making it appear), and some saying that no, this is a barbaric old-fashioned custom that doesn’t really happen anymore. When Dea was a year old and just before, I was under pressure to shave her head.

I stood my ground and politely told anyone that if they tried to shave her head (I heard stories of in-laws doing it without the mother’s permission) I would shave theirs with a rusty bic. That soon shut them up. While I like 90 % of traditions and do my best to respect the culture, I draw the line at doing it to my own daughter.

Your trip outside of Tirana will include waiting for cows/goats/sheep to move from the road
Ok, you’re unlikely to encounter a herd of goats in the middle of the Autostrad on the way to Durres, but should you go further afield, farm animals will definitely cross your path. Animals have an integral role to play in transport in Albania, as I have mentioned before with my encounter with live chickens on a bus in Tirana. But I can confidently say that around 90% of my trips, be they to Saranda, Himara, Berat, Shkoder, Lezhe, Elbasan, Pogradec, or Korca, involve having to avoid, or wait patiently for a couple of sheep or a cow to move out of the way. They take their time, lolloping along, grazing at the side of the road, or even just staring at your defiantly until they finally get bored and leave.

If you’re foreign, everyone you meet will have a cousin living where you are from
I get asked where I am from several times a week. Now I speak Albanian, people tend to think I am from Tropoje, Kukes, or even Kosovo, but when I reveal I am from the UK they get excited. “Whereabouts?” they ask, and when I explain, they without fail, tell me about their cousin or aunt or aunt’s cousin who lives there, and sometimes they ask if I know them.

I could literally say, “I am from a cave up a hill in the middle of a moor in Devon” and they would know a nearby Albanian. The conversation will usually continue as to how much they want to go there/live there, and then the inevitable surprise that comes when I say it’s a hellhole and Albania is much nicer!

Will all famous or wonderful things/people have Albanian roots
Mother Teresa? Albanian. Rita Ora? Albanian. Dua Lipa? Albanian. Alexander the Great? Albanian. Avjar? Albanian. Sliced bread? Albanian. Most of the Balkan region? Albanian. Albanians are incredibly proud of being Albanian as well as being super patriotic, despite also wanting to move to the UK or US.

They firmly believe that many of the wonderful things in life and significant historical figures are Albanian or have some connection to Albania. Again, I love this about Albanians and I also like observing the fierce debates that arise over various figures and traditions.

Do they get really mad about statues
Never, ever, ever, ever joke or make fun of Skanderbeg or create a statue that could be interpreted in any way as disrespectful. Ever. In fact, by writing this section, I am fearful for what could happen. Skanderbeg is a national hero and should not ever, under any circumstances be represented in statue form as anything other than a giant, muscly, super-masculine, sword-wielding, horse-commanding demi-god.

Will you find money in your child’s clothes
I know many of these are about children but I learned a whole new range of Albanianisms when I became a mother. So when you have a baby or young child and go to visit relatives and friends, you will often see them slipping notes and coins into your child’s hand or clothing. Sometimes even strangers or friends of people you know will do it.

It’s a wonderful tradition and it’s a very kind gesture. I saved all of Dea’s gifts and put them in a savings account that she can access when she is older.

Will a child not wearing socks be cause for serious concern for their health
Albanians hate the cold. My partner believes that the fan/an open window/ going barefoot (any time of year) will result in hypothermia, hospitalisation and possible death. This fear is exacerbated when it comes to children. When my daughter was two months old it was August and around 41 degrees centigrade. She didn’t wear socks because it was blisteringly hot and there is absolutely no need for them.

Oh silly me. I was scolded left, right, and centre. By strangers and people in the street. They chastised me for not putting socks on her and assured me that she would catch a cold. While I found it pretty stressful at times, especially as people would often
grab her, I know that it comes from a kind place of concern.

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