Just one quick question

So I’ve been trying to plan some trips around the balkans for the last few weeks and slowly realizing just how difficult it is to do things the “American way” when living abroad. Albanians do things…let’s just say…a little slower. You may just have one quick question, but I guarantee you are in for a least an hour long conversation, 2 coffees, raki, and full 3 course meal.

To start with, every conversation in Albanian starts by asking in at least 6 different ways how you are doing…”C’ kemi! Si e kalove ti? A u lodhe? C’ bëni? Si ke qenë? A jeni mirë?”…and yes they literally rattle them off like that every time, leaving you no time to actually respond to the barrage of questions. At first it was offputting and frustrating because in the U.S. we are a very straingforward, get to the point, no time to chat, kind of people. But not in Albania.

Here, a phone call to ask what time the bus to Croatia leaves takes twice as long as you anticipated because it turns out that the man on the phone is his long-lost cousin (everyone in Albania is related I swear to God) and he has to spend the first 10 mins of the conversation asking about the health of each and every other cousin in the family. And there’s me, tapping my foot in irritation because I thought I could get this question answered in the 5 mins break between classes at school. Instead I’m listening to this man ask over and over again, “how are you? how are things? what have you been doing? how have you passed the time?…” and on and on and one. But I continue to stand there and smile and wait, and wait, and wait.

So with all the time in the world on my hands (thanks to this epically long conversation for a simple answer), I think to myself- why does everything in Albania inevitably take 10 times longer than it should? I know! Communism. For everything that’s wrong in Albania, the answer is always communism. How? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s because people have been unemployed for so long that they have nowhere to go, nowhere to be, and no obligations to meet. They can spend an entire afternoon chatting about the weather and it’s not wasted. This is also a society that is founded on nepotism. You have to know someone to get anywhere in life here. So the more you pamper someone by pretending you care about their brother, sister, mother, father, etc. the more likely they are to get you that job you wanted. But what do I know, really. Good thing I have an entire afternoon waiting for this man to get off the phone to figure it out.

Ironically, there’s even a popular Albanian song that’s lyrics go something like this …”Why do we ask how are you so much? 2-3 times. We say it too much. Just shut up.” Got to love a little self-deprecation through music.

“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”


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