All week long I’ve found myself curiously anxious to see how Albanians celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you’ve been following along, you’ve probably noticed the number of times I’ve mentioned the restrictions on dating in Albania. And for good reason. Dating in Albania is so taboo that it “doesn’t exist.” Ask any Albanian female if they have a boyfriend and the answer is no. At first I didn’t believe it. And you’d think that after almost a full year of living here I’d realize that they really meant it. You cannot have a boyfriend in Albania…you can only get married. Huh?!
So now that the week of love has arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would play out in a world where romance consists of a look across the room, a 2 day engagement, and an arranged marriage. At school I tried my best to explain the culture of Valentine’s Day in America as innocently as possible…you know, with examples like “we give gifts to everyone we love, even our friends and parents.” Because heaven forbid I try to talk about the taudry affairs of teens in high schools across America (they somehow think the movies are just movies and life isn’t really like that. Hah! I say, hah!).
So we played an English teacher’s adaptation of “Taboo” in class to learn new words for Valentine’s Day and like any other day in Albania, I think I ended up learning just as much as they did. I wrote the expression “to fall in love” on the blackboard behind a blindfolded student while the rest of the class had to describe the expression for the blindfolded student to guess. There clues went something like this – “it’s the first thing that happens when you see someone you like! Before you kiss them and before you go on a date!” I couldn’t help but scrunch my face and say , “What? It’s to fall in love! Do you know what that means?” All of the sudden I felt like I was living a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof, and then it hit me. I really am.
Love and dating are so taboo in this country even in 2013 that you have to marry the first (and only) person you date. Therefore, you have to be in love with them before any kind of romance even begins. The fact that you could have a boyfriend and not love him or fall in love after dating for sometime is a foreign concept…literally. So do we celebrate Valentine’s Day in Albania? Well, not really. We talk about it and there are rumors of secret gift exchanges in the allies behind the schools, but there are no romantic candlelight dinners or anything drastic like that.
It’s just one more reason why I’m here doing what I’m doing and teaching what I’m teaching. I look at my students who inspire me everyday and I just want them to experience the joys of their first kiss or their first boyfriend. I want them to experience heartbreak and romance and holding hands in public and introducing a guy to their parents. All I can do is hope that the age of globalization and the internet will bring this to their doorstep in time for Valentine’s Day next year!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different. “