I had no idea what to expect from Albanians. Trying to ignore the horror stories of fictional movies, I went in with an open mind, a smile as always, and plenty of thankyous. These are six Albanian quirks that absolutely blew me away.
They still love to barter:
Last night I wanted some fruit to bring on the long bus to Montenegro with me. I somehow managed to buy over a kg of grapes that I didn’t want or need. I told him to take some out but instead he just kept lowering the price. Funny way to barter. I’m now the proud owner of large portion of Albanian fruit.
They don’t seem that worried about money at all:
The first hostel I stayed, I kept asking Tomi when I was meant to pay. He kept saying “no worries”. I finally paid him as our bus was about to leave from town. By the third hostel, I made a joke when I checked in that I assumed I would pay when I leave. I was right.
Restaurants are the same. They don’t hassle you for drinks or desserts, more seeming to avoid you after they bring your meal. Trying to get their attention to ask for the bill, and then to take your money, is tricky sometimes. I didn’t work out why this is, but it happened everywhere. Maybe when you’ve only had currency for 25 years it’s all a bit new.
Even on the bus, you get on and pay later. Sometime during the ride, a man, usually in a reflective vest, strolls down the aisle taking payments.
They don’t hassle you:
I went into a few touristy souvenir shops. A man showed me a few things they had. I said no, thanks, and he left it at that. I was ready for resistance, but there was none. What is this sorcery?! Other countries you walk out with a hat made of a bunch of bananas that they somehow sold you, even though you walked in for sunscreen.
Their worry that you’d starve:
Everywhere we went had huge portions. I’m not sure if this is how Albanians normally eat, or how they feed westerners. We would often order entrees, and a main, to find that the entree alone would feed a small family. I often got asked why I didn’t like the food, and sent home with a doggy bag. Even on the beach an Albanian woman fed us.
Their willingness to help:
In more sign language than words, I’ve asked lots of times for directions, bathrooms, and locations. Every time, someone has helped. They haven’t always come up with the correct answer, but the fact they even talked to me was amazing. You wouldn’t always get that even in London where someone speaks the same language as you. Often, people would lead time to wherever I needed to go, passing me onto someone else and explaining to them what I needed. I even got thanked for using their bathroom once. No, thank you.
My hostel owner in Sarande, Tomi, was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. The photo with all the writing is an example of his hostel walls, that are all covered with thankyous.
Everything is free:
This makes me sound like a typical backpacker, but I was amazed. Everywhere was happy to let you use a bathroom, and they were generally pretty clean. I don’t think you’d get this until you’ve travelled Europe, and see how many places will make you pay, but it’s still a mess. I didn’t realise how good I had it until we crossed the Montenegro border and stopped for a bathroom break. €0.40 to use a squat toilet with interesting liquids on the floor, and I longed to be back in Albania.
There’s also free wifi nearly everywhere. Normally you need a password or keep putting in your email address. There you just clicked on the one you wanted and you’re away laughing. It was really fast too.
Nothing is too much for these lovely people. I often had to wave my hands to tell them not to do things for me, but maybe this is their equivalent to ‘yes please help me’ because it never got me very far. I felt sometimes people seemed a bit wary of me, but a giant smile from my end fixed any problem they might have had, whether real or in my head. Thoughts of Liam Neeson’s daughter have well and truly been wiped from my head. Albanians are wonderful, and will make your stay the best they possibly can.