Is it 1950s America or 2013 Albania?

In many ways Albania is like small town America…50 years ago. So imagine the days your parents explained to you. Those stories they told you about walking to school through the snow, uphill both ways. Those days when you could play with your friends in the street all day and be home in time for super, all without  your mother worrying incessantly. You know, those days when people trusted each other and your neighbors knew you by name and the shopkeepers inquired about your parents as you walked in rather than eyeing the security cameras above your head suspiciously.

There are so many reasons why I absolutely love this country, and one of the main ones is that people here are good. Genuinely good. They’re not trying to screw you over or do you wrong. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They want to talk to you and hear every intimate detail about your life and your family. And much to my surprise, I kind of like it.

When I first moved to Albania I obviously didn’t speak the language very well. But no matter, I strutted around all the time attempting to buy things and to survive on the basic Shqip that I could speak. But the shopkeepers rattled off numbers like I’d been living here my whole life and often times I would just stare at them in utter confusion. So I picked up the habit of just opening my wallet and letting them take what I owed them. They would pass over my 50 euro bills and my credit cards and pull out a 20 cent coin, smile, and say goodbye.

And then today, I had another such experience that just reminds me how much I’ll have to get used to in the US. Back to the land of me, me, me, where people are plugged into technology 24/7 and can’t find the time to smile as you pass them on the street. Don’t get me wrong, I’m American myself and proud of it. And I used to be just like this when I live in Washington, D.C. (though I’m ashamed to admit it now).

So anyway, the story begins this morning when I took my bike to the repair shop. It had a busted tire and a rusty gear and with the school season back on, it had to happen. I’d put it off for far too long. But when I got to the shop, it was closed. No way in the world was I going to carry that thing all the way back home (couldn’t roll it obviously, because of the busted tire). So what did I do? I just left it there. That’s right. I propped it against the door and walked away, fully confident that it would be there later when I went back. After about 8 hours of walking around town, meeting up with friends, shopping, and what have you, I wandered back over to the bike shop.

I peered around the corner and didn’t see my bike. Pure panic set in. I can’t afford a new bike! They’re like 100 euros! As I got closer I realized that as luck would have it, the shop was open. Maybe my bike wasn’t stolen after all. I poked my head inside and gently explained to the repairman that I’d left my bike there this morning, did he have it? He gave me a big smile and said (in Albanian), “Yes of course! I remembered your bike. I’ve fixed it before, right?” (that was legitimately 8 months ago, but he still remembered somehow).

Low and behold, he’d brought my bike inside when he’d opened his shop, fixed it up, and set it aside for me for when I returned. Can you even imagine in a million years, that ever happening in any other modern country in the world? Not only did no passersby take advantage of the dumb American that her bike unchained and unlocked, but the shopkeep himself didn’t even think it was weird that there was some random bike outside his shop. He could have easily just left it there and went on with his day. But instead he just looked at the bike and fixed what needed fixing, and got to work without another thought. God, I love this country.

I’m so thankful to be living in a place where you feel totally confident in the people not to steal your bike that you’ve left unlocked. And to be living in a place where people remember you, and your neighbors look out for you (the man next door to the bike shop had apparently told the man that “a young blond girl” had left the bike that morning). I’m so thankful to be living in a place where people are genuinely good to each other and take care of each other.

This is country where you can walk into a store and buy things on credit. And no I don’t mean on a credit card. I mean, if you don’t have the money you can just take the things you want and come back another day to pay. And if you are 5 cents short at the market, no problem; they’ll give it to you for whatever amount you have in your pocket. I regularly have lesson plans printed at a store near my school and walk out without paying because I’m late for class. But the lady at the front doesn’t reprimand me at all. In fact, she tells the others that I’m late for class and forces them to let me cut in line for my printing! Then she waves me off, tells me to hurry before the bell rings, and later in the week when I have the money I wander back in and settle my debt. It’s a beautiful thing. Reminds me of those long ago days my parents talk about. You know, you remember when…

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

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24 thoughts on “Is it 1950s America or 2013 Albania?

  1. Loved this article, Danielle. I’m glad someone is finally looking at the bright side of that country despite the bad things we hear everyday. We albanians may be a little old-fashiobed but at least this allows us to speak to each other instead of a screen.

  2. well, this is the difference between morals and ethics… Albania is hugely corrupted in its public sphere, but in the private one it’s fulfilled with honesty… if only the “door-to-door” moral could work at a public level, we’d have a really wonderful county

  3. Danielle.. I genuinely have tears in my eyes.. I’m so glad some one is realising that we are not all that bad.. thank you so much for the nice article… from a guy from north of albania/shkodra.. living in England for 16 years… and every time I meet someone and I I tell them where I’m from the first thing they say is oooouuuu in a bad way….

  4. Thanks to everyone for all the kind words! It brings a smile to my face, so thanks for taking the time to relate your own experiences with this crazy beautiful place! Sometimes I feel like I’m submitting these blog posts into the abyss of the internet, so it’s nice to hear that someone out there is reading and enjoying them 🙂 And it’s great to know I’m not the only one who has a special place in their heart for the people of Albania. I hope you guys all continue to enjoy reading my blog and hearing about the adventures of an American PCV living Albania!

  5. Genuinely touching, thank you so much for posting this. It’s heart warming to see that while I have left that life behind and moved to NY, someone has done the opposite left the states and moved to my home country. I miss it. Thanks so much for sharing. ❤

  6. I love it!! Thanks Danielle!! I am from Shkodra and I do live in States since 1990. You made me cry and be proud at the same time!! Thanks my dear!!

  7. I have lived in the States since 2000 and I feel like we have created a piece of Albania here. Most of my neighbors are Albanian and we have coffee with one another. We celebrate holidays with one another. We are there for one another through tragedy, through births, through weddings, and we are there when they buy a new home. The kids play with each other all day. This makes me the happiest. When I was a child I never spend a minute inside we used to play all day. We even used to eat outside. Every Albanian person knows what I am talking about. We would play with our friends and when we got hungry we called our mom’s from the balcony and tell them what we wanted to eat. Youtube the song “Ku ka si TIrona by Dr. Flori & Ermali” that video is what I am talking about. I had THE BEST childhood and I am so happy that my little cousins have the same opportunity. Other kids here spend the whole day inside, They do not even care to go out! What the HECK???

    Anyway I do love America, but I feel like a robot here. I have no life, I wake up, work, go home, eat, sleep, back to work. I have to make plans to meet for coffee with my friends 2 weeks ahead.
    I am moving back to Albania for a while and I cannot wait to see how it goes for me. =D

    I am glad you are having a good time. Let me know if they are hiring where you teach. I would love to work there lol.

  8. Thank you Daniele for the kind words about our country. Albanians are very good hearted people, smart and hard worker. We found a good place to call home, the great country of United States. God bless Albania, God bless America.

  9. Every single sentence left me speechless, every single word made a scar in my mind, everything you’ve written left tears of joy , happiness, surprise on my face….simply wonderful….I feel so proud being your counterpart…!!!

  10. Really enjoyed reading this great, heartfelt and genuine article about our people. It brought back my childhood memories.

  11. Amazing little article that reminds us of the good of the people, especially the good of us Albanians. With constant negative media coverage we usually tend to forget about these little things that most times define our society’s intentions. It almost made me cry this article. It is inspiring and very touching, especially coming from a foreigner living in Albania. Thank you for this wonderful piece of writing!

  12. I’ve read it three times so far, and I’m not stopping for sure. I loved it. It’s been almost 2 years since I came to the US and I really miss my Shkoder. I can’t believe that you’re actually teaching at my high school; I missed the opportunity to meet you by just a few months. However, I don’t think I would understand you as much as I do today…

    Fatlum

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