Although you can reach Albania from our hometown within one day of driving, we knew little to nothing about this country or its inhabitants. But now, after spending more than two weeks in Albania, we want to tell you that Albanians are the most hospitable, friendly and selfless people we have met so far. What follows is a search for an explanation blended with a declaration of love to the people of Albania.
Deep inside the Albanian soul
Albanians are a proud nation, aware of their history and heir. There are few cultural relationships with any other existing culture. And for several centuries the Albanians have preserved and defended their cultural uniqueness from Greek, Italian and Slavic influences. As a result, this cultural heritage has become a substantial part of their identity and centuries old traditions are still alive. In case of the infamous blood feud, with all its cruelty. The Kanun, the set of traditional Albanian social laws is based on four columns. One of them is hospitality.
A more recent part of their history may have contributed to the Albanians’ curiosity and hospitality towards strangers, as well. During the communist years from 1946 to 1990, Albania’s government had isolated the country increasingly. Until it had lost all its allies and diplomatic relations by the end of the seventies. Meaning that, by the fall of communism, most Albanians had never met a foreigner in their life. Of course, this was 25 years ago. But many parts of Albania are very rural and people – especially in those areas – are quite poor. Therefore, foreigners are still a seldom seen occasion for many Albanians.
What you will experience
Those aspects are manifested in their actions. From our experience we have identified three characteristics that you are likely to notice when traveling to Albania and meeting its inhabitants.
Albanians are overly friendly without expecting anything in return. They are, in fact, so friendly that it sometimes seems odd; especially for Germans like us. There was this one occasion, where we were having our lunch break on a narrow piece of grass between a small dirt road and a forest. We sat in our camping chairs eating bread, veggies and cheese when we heard a car coming down the short descend on the dirt road. The driver stopped right after passing us. A teenage boy jumped out and ran towards us. Maybe five seconds later he had handed Anna a bunch of flowers while saying the word “çaj” and left off in the car again. It took some seconds until we realized that he had just given us some freshly collected tea herbs. Simply like that, totally out of the blue. We can only assume why he did that, but we know that the tea was delicious.
When we had lost some mounting parts of our shock absorber on an off road track, we asked for a garage at a gas station in Shkodra. It was a Sunday afternoon and we did not expect to find a mechanic and have our problem fixed that same day. But it is always worth trying and in this case, we could not have done better!
The guy at the gas station’s bar made a phone call and ten minutes later two friendly men turned the corner. One of them spoke some English and after a short look he said that they would be back in a couple of minutes with parts and tools. Of course, we asked how much it would cost. He replied with another question: “First time in Albania?” We nodded. “Then this is your welcome present! It’s free.” We could not believe it. but half an hour later, the work was done and the two of them drove off. Even rejecting a cool drink from the gas station’s bar we had offered. And their temporary fix worked perfectly for more than 3000 kilometers. Way more than the 500 they had given us warranty on.
In the vicinity of their own houses, friendliness and helpfulness are stirred up into a melange of hospitality. Like when we were on the road to Theth. Dusk was approaching quickly and we needed a place to camp. On the right side of the dirt road we finally saw a perfect spot. Grassy even ground and no houses in sight. We decided that we would stay there and were about to find a good parking position for Willie, our Landcruiser, when we noticed the small boy at the fence on our left. After climbing up the two meters to the fence, we saw the house behind a recently plowed field. The lady of the house came by and we asked if it was OK to camp there. She agreed and invited us in for coffee and snacks. Her oldest daughter joined us and the five of us sat there, communicating by gestures and basic words, showing each others family photos.
We were very impressed by the amount of hospitality of somebody who is living such a hard life. She is rising three small children all by herself. The harvest of a small piece of land being her sole income.
We hope our examples have fed your curiosity about the Albanians. Now go out and visit this interesting and beautiful country!
If you have any questions or if you would like to share your experiences with Albanians, please leave a comment!
Continue reading our Albania travel guide!