What do these two things have in common? Well let me tell you. It’s kind of a funny story.
As a teacher in Albania I obviously come into contact with a lot of young people. Every day I teach about 300 different students in Shkoder. And like any newcomer to a foreign place, I spend a lot of time observing people. Just trying to understand. So when I first got here and noticed that all of my male students had long pinky fingernails, I was aghast. In the U.S. this long pinky fingernail is understood as a sign l that someone either sells or does a cocaine. You know, they grow out their fingernail to put the cocaine in so they can snort it easier without needing those wads of $100 bills. I’m not sure where I learned this fun fact; probably watching too many crime dramas on television. Regardless.
Living in a developing country I figured this wasn’t an outrageous assumption. Drugs are pretty rampant in places like this (though I’ve yet to see anything beyond the typical teenage marijuana experimentation since there is so much unemployment, hunger, poverty, corruption, and everything else that comes with development. So initially I just shook my head and let it go. I never brought it up or asked questions. That is, until yesterday.
So there I was, sitting at a bar with some of my students (they seem more like sisters than students these days, I swear) when the topic of differences between American culture and Albanian culture came up. You have to understand that after a year of going to these girls without outlandish questions and having them explain the intricacies or Albania to me, I can pretty much ask them anything. I took a deep breathe and bravely asked them if cocaine is popular in Albania. They looked at me like I was crazy, so of course I had to explain all about my observations and the fingernails and the American tv shows and everything. They burst out laughing.
Apparently having a long pink fingernail in Albania is a sign of good fortune and good luck. Men here try to grow it as long as they can and if it doesn’t break then it means they are having a period of good luck in their life. A sign from god that you haven’t broken it yet and should probably hit the casinos? Or an indicator that you don’t have to do hard labor and can therefore grow out your nails? Who knows.
So there you have it; lesson learned. When you think you are living in the middle of a crack-infested drug dealing neighborhood, maybe you’re really just surrounded by superstitious people trying to change their luck. While other places in the world deal with unemployment and poverty by turning to drugs, Albanians just grow out their fingernails and hope for the best. Sounds about right.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”