The mystery of Albanian dexterity

I’m a pretty clumsy person. No seriously, it’s bad. My mother used to joke about giving me an “eating shirt” during meals because, without fail, every time we sat down to dinner I would spill something on my clothes. You could say I have a tendency to drop things, run into stationary objects, and trip over invisible lines on the sidewalk. It’s terrible.

But in America I’m not the only clumsy person in the room making a fool of herself. Telling embarrassing stories about myself gets nods of acknowledgement and approval from my friends and family because they’ve done something just like that before. Yet somehow I ended up living in Albania surrounded by some of the most dexterous and skilled people I’ve ever might. No joke.

I’ve never seen an Albanian trip over their own feet while walking down the street. I’ve never seen an Albanian drop something and make embarrassingly loud noises in quiet places. Maybe they just wait until I leave the room, or maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd (or rather the right one at that!). I have to admit that in the beginning, this freaked me out. How can I be the only one in this whole country who can’t manage to keep food on my plate?! Like just this weekend I was sitting down to lunch with some Albanian friends and as I was cutting a piece of chicken, the whole plate jutted out behind me and spilled all over the floor. Mortifying.

Albanians on the other hand, are the most careful and delicately moving people I’ve ever encountered. I swear! Every day there are hundreds of Albanians who ride their bicycles down the streets of Shkoder with an umbrella in one hand, a cigarette in the other while talking on the phone and weaving in and out of traffic and around people walking. How do they do it! I can barely avoid getting hit on my bicycle with two hands firmly on the steering wheel.

So in Shkoder we have this area called the Pedonale that’s filled with cafes where all the tables and chairs are outside along this beautiful Italian-looking cobbled street. All summer I watched waiters carry trays over their heads with drinks filled to the brim while dodging chairs being scooted in and out, people standing up suddenly, and cats running around at their feet. Not a single drop spilt. Once, I even watched a waiter walk out the door of the restaurant with a tray packed with drinks as a man on a bicycle was passing (and waving at his friend across the street, not looking where he was going). The bicycle literally came within inches of the waiter who made a maneuver I can’t possibly describe to you here. I so wish I had caught this on video. His whole body seemed to instantly contort around the man and his bicycle as he swerved, lifted the tray over his head, seamlessly side step and continued towards the table without missing a beat. I, of course, gasped loudly and grimaced in preparation for the loud crash I assumed would follow; because if I had been caring that tray I for sure would have crashed into the bike and broken every glass. But no. Not a single head turned and not a bead of sweat left his forehead. Now that’s talent.

Maybe it’s an innate sense of care that they are born with here. Maybe it’s something in their genetic coding that gives them quick relfexs and a gracefully air. At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come up with (mostly because it gives me an excuse for why I stand out so much here when I make a fool of myself). In America we are so clumsy and careless with our bodies and our things, because we can always replace it. We have warranties on our phones and insurance on our cars. We have parents with credit cards who always have our backs. We have doctors who can put our bones back together and stitch up our scratches. No need to look where you’re going.

But here in Albania, things and lives are precious. Coming from a communist background where generation after generation barely had enough food to eat and computers were unheard of.  And if you were lucky enough to have a new bicycle then you better take care of it because it will be a long time before your family can afford to buy you a new one if you break. Not to mention the clothes you were wearing; if you fell and ripped your jeans then you could be wearing ripped jeans for the next 3 months at least. Nowadays things are a little better, but doctors still have to be bribed for good service and hospitals lack the supplies to give you the are you need. You better not trip and fall because you might never get back up again. So maybe that’s where they get it from. You know, evolution of species and all. You could say that over the years Albanians have adapted to their environment to become dexterous and careful, while Americans have become clumsy. But almost 2 years in this country hasn’t been long enough to give me the luck of an Albanian just yet!

Hopefully now that the days of communism are behind them, I will find more people tripping on the sidewalk and spilling their food so I won’t be the only one red-faced and embarrassed in public on a daily basis. Not that I would wish that on anyone, but it would nice to not have to suffer it alone!


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


8 thoughts on “The mystery of Albanian dexterity

  1. My Albanian sister-in-law is about 5ft tall and can walk with perfect grace and ease along the rocky broken roads of Vlora with 4 inch heals. I will never know how she does it, but she does it well!!

  2. There’s an English teaching job going Saturday mornings in Shkodra, good pay for Albania, might you know someone who is interested? Another observation … the way Albanians are able to walked along muddied streets and yet keep their shoes and trousers immaculate!

  3. My Albanian husband is constantly irritated at my ability to get food on my face or clothes. I’m glad I am not the only one who feels a bit self conscious eating around a group of Albanians.

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