After living in this unique, easygoing place for about six months, here’s what I’ve learned.
Now, this list focuses on the positive or neutral aspects of life here instead of the negatives, because no one in the entire world wants to hear one of THOSE expats whine about little stuff like bad drivers. (Insert eye roll emoji here.) Yes, there are significant problems like lack of economic opportunity, extreme patriarchy, and corrupt politicians, but those are not unique to Albania and we all hear about that kind of thing constantly on the news anyway.
So here goes.
- The Albanian language is unique in the Indo-European family and thought to be one of the most ancient branches of it. It sounds unique but also very much like a mixture of languages sometimes- Ciao (Italian) for goodbye, Opa (Greek)for “oof”, many words that sound like their counterparts in Romance languages, and many more Turkish loanwords.
- “Familiar” – family-like communal atmosphere. It encompasses a generous sharing of time, food, vehicles, word-of-mouth information, general labor or assistance. Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting around and doing things as a group, and know that you can count on your friends to be there for you any time you call.
- Albania was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, or Turkey as everyone says here, from 1478 until 1912. Hence those Turkish loanwords. The country is still predominantly nominally Muslim, and the call to prayer can be heard in almost every town and village.
- Most houses and apartments have no central heating. In the winter the average person (and yours truly!) heats their home using a small woodstove. You’ll buy a batch of small logs in the fall to be your winter stash, but also save all your cardboard garbage for kindling! This shouldn’t be a problem, as recycling facilities do not exist.
- Many people are afraid of dogs and the mountains – they say there are wolves and bears there.
- Occasionally a stuffed animal will be hanging from the front of building! It’s placed there to distract the evil spirits. Makes sense, really…it’s distracting all right.
- The food is not spicy at ALL. Seriously. Just meat, cheese, sausage, gyros, sandwiches, bread, potatoes, salad, pies, etc.
- Carts pulled by donkeys or horses can be seen on the roads sometimes in the smaller towns (aka most places outside the capitol of Tirana).
- People take their rugs to the carwash to be cleaned in the summer.
- They also shake them out the window sometimes in the morning to clean them.
- Speaking of which, Albanians tend to have seriously HIGH housekeeping standards! Some people mop their floors almost daily.
- Albania has gorgeous beaches and mountains, and the currency exchange rate makes it highly affordable for tourists – book your summer vacation now! The local economy really needs your patronage; it’s a win-win situation.