Albania,  Countries,  General Information

Fleeing the United States? Albania; History and Culture! An Expat Story, Part 3

Every country has its trivia, tidbits, and quirks. Albania is no exception. In my year and a half here, I have learned a lot and with each day, the lessons of life in Albanian culture continue. With each passing day, I find myself becoming more attached to and protective of the country….. I find myself, well, Home! The country is full of tradition and while, admittingly, not quite what I expected, it’s pretty darn nice!


The Albanian Alps
    1. Albania is a bit smaller than the state of Maryland in the United States and is about 70% mountainous with a coastline of 296 miles. The country is home to more than 3250 different types of fauna, more specifically, that’s around 30% of Europe’s entire plant collection! It is also the home to 91 endangered species of wildlife, including the Dalmatian Pelican. Albania does have a
      Sazan Island

      few islands, the biggest being Sazan (roughly 6700 acres), which I can see from my home. It is now uninhabited and was a former military island strategically positioned as a border between the Ionian and Adriatic seas. Located on the island is a Marine Research Installation. I am told that there are now day trips to the island during the high season.

    2. It has a population of about 2.8 million, about the same as the city of Rome, Italy. The country shares land borders with Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. The northern part of Albania has an Italian influence with the predominant second language of Italian. Whereas, the southern part of the country is influenced by the Greek culture with Greek being the predominant second language.
    3. The official language of Albania is Shqip. Aside from English (and some would debate that!), I am relatively fluent in Greek and know bits and pieces of other languages so, trust me when I say, Shqip is like no other language! It’s hard! At first, I just thought that the old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was happening but I have heard from countless others that they have had the same struggles. Thank God- it’s not just me! I now have a great teacher, Sadete, and my skills are progressing nicely. It’s actually a Turkish phrase but commonly spoken in Albania- Avash, Avash translated to slowly, slowly.  I’m comfortable shopping, going to restaurants, and cafes, and being able to communicate in Shqip on a moderate level.
    4. The currency is the Lek or ALL and depending on the international markets is about 1.06 Lek to the US Dollar. Euros are also widely accepted and in some cases, actually preferred. During Communism the government wanted the monetary system to appear stronger so the value of the Lek was changed. For example, 1000 Lek became equivalent to 100 Lek. That system has since been abolished but there are still some who quote a price using “Old Lek”; if it is 100 Lek, in some cases you will be told, 1000 Lek- it becomes your responsibility to question this when making a purchase.

More Tidbits About Albania

  1. The cost of living in Albania is about 65% less than in the United States and about 35% less than in other countries in Europe.  Rent, depending on your accommodations and location, is typically about 79%  less than in the United States. An example of this caveat to the cost of living would be living in Tirana, which is estimated at 7.5% higher than the national average. Not including rent, Tirana is 61.05% less expensive than New York and on average, rent in Tirana is 88% less expensive than in New York.  In the city where I reside, dinner for two with wine in a medium-priced restaurant is about USD 20.00, and rent for a large 2 bedroom, seaside apartment, is about USD 525.00. Albania is home to the cheapest and the fastest Internet in the whole of Europe(my internet for 2 full years, paid in advance was USD 229.00- that’s less than 10.00 per month)! Cell phone service is also very inexpensive- about USD 20 per month for unlimited calling and data- most months there are promotions and you often pay even less! (At the time of this writing). The electric and water bill was paid today for the month and was about USD 10 total.
  2. The Kanun is a series of customs that Albanians live by. It consists of hospitality, honor, family loyalty, and right conduct- basically a code of ethics.
  3. The ‘Xhiro” is when the Albanian locals go out walking after dinner to socialize with their neighbors. It’s a cultural thing, and in some traditional towns, the roads are actually closed until people have finished walking and talking! I didn’t realize there was an actual name for what I thought was just a quaint habit. I typically watch the crowds walk the promenade in the evenings, marveling at families walking hand in hand with their children, and people greeting one another. Personally, I named this part of the evening “living my vintage life”- life like it was when I was younger.
  4. Mother Teresa is a bit of a phenomenon in Albania. She is the only Albanian to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize. Now Macedonia, she was born in Skopje making her actually Albanian. Despite that, she is one of the most revered figures in the country having the international airport in Tirana named after her in 2001.
  5. One of the most interesting facts about Albania is that locals believe if you place a scarecrow within the boundaries of a property while it is being built, it will keep envy from the others at a distance! This tradition is also seen as being a good luck charm. Folklore and tradition remain important in Albanian culture. Another time-honored tradition is the one of match-making, typically attempted by the parents.
  6. The Albanian word for “yes” is “Po” and is signified by shaking your head side to side. The Albanian word for “no” is “Jo” and is signified by nodding your head up and down. Both gestures are opposite of what most people are accustomed to! It’s caught me more than a few times!
  7. Albania still observes the afternoon “siesta”. Between 2 pm to around 6 pm, many shops close, mainly on the Riviera- the South of Albania.
  8. Albania is home to Europe’s largest oil reserves and the planet’s single largest hydroelectricity producer. It also produces large amounts of copper, coal, and nickel.
  9. At the end of the communist era, there were about 3 million people in the country. However, there were only 3000 cars. Private cars were illegal during the communist regime. The most predominant type of car driven today is the Mercedes. The amount of carwashes-lavazh- here continues to amaze me. Owning a car is a sense of pride and demonstrates “accomplishment”.


Until next time, friends, remember: “To Travel is to Live!”


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