One of the hardest parts of adjusting to a new culture, to me, is the inability to rely on anything to be similar to the way it is in your home country. Albania and America are different in ways I couldn’t have ever predicted before I came here. Everything, down the smallest and seemingly most insignificant things, is done differently when you look at it from the perspective of another culture.
I knew I would miss my family and friends, In-N-Out Burger, and American football when I left the USA. Things I didn’t expect to miss caught me by surprise, however. Here are 10 things, in no particular order, that I find myself longing for on the reg:
I don’t know if this has anything to do with the fact that Albania is 70% Muslim (and my town is 95% Muslim, as I’ve been told), but they don’t eat bacon here!!! The only time I’ve seen it is on menus for bacon “cheeseburgers” and club sandwiches in more populated/progressive cities like Tiranë and Sarandë. There is a rumor going around Peace Corps Albania that you can find it at specialty stores in the aforementioned cities, but I feel like I’m searching for the Holy Grail each time I enter a Euro Max.
EVERYTHING is tiled here, including just about every surface of my house. Not only does this freeze your toes off whenever it dips below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, it spreads every speck of dirt you accidentally track inside throughout each room. My host mom used to mop the floors every single day, and now I understand why. I miss plush, knobby carpet and its tingly fibers that trap and hide all the dirt I’m too lazy to vacuum up.
They do have deodorant here, but it’s almost always the spray kind that doesn’t work that well. I think the whole idea is to cover up B.O. rather than stop it at the source, which of course is the same logic shared by fourteen-year-old boys doused in Axe body spray.
I know this is cheesy…but one thing I took for granted about America is how well we embrace our differences. Of course, someone’s race or gender or affiliation does not define them as a person, but I do really appreciate the fact that there are so many varieties of cultures and identities and perspectives in the States.
I get questions like “Would your father ever let you marry a black man?” all the time here. Albanians have really been shafted by how isolated their country was during communism. They have opportunities to meet people from other countries during tourist season, mostly other Europeans, but it’s hard for me to explain the complexities of issues like racism, like gender inequities, like homophobia–issues we are used to dealing with in America–to them. For example, it’s hard for my students to understand why the N-word is offensive. (And unfortunately, they use it often and with relish.) Most people in my community do not regularly interact with people whose ancestors have not been born, raised, married, reproduced, and eventually buried in that same community for who-knows-how-long.
I miss my huge, strange, happenstance country founded by fringe groups and rebels and swashbuckling immigrants that has somehow managed to survive for 237 years.
When I want to cook a meal, I actually have to, like, use pans and pots and the stove and stuff. No more counting down 59 seconds for my frozen burrito to begin oozing melted cheese, no more satisfying “bing!” to signify that it is ready to burn my mouth on while gobbling down. Yeah, my life is hard.
Smoking never really bothered me in America, but here I find myself CONSTANTLY IMMERSED in cigarette smoke. In cafes, at meals, outdoors, indoors, even in school and even at the local health centers where they plan anti-smoking campaigns! I support everyone’s freedom to choose to smoke if they wish, but when I’m in an enclosed space and everyone is smoking, it makes me physically ill. Like, watching-Taylor-Swift-at-an-awards-show ill.
The first thing all the Americans noticed when we got to Albania was all the trash in the streets. Albanians love plastic bags, almost as much as they love throwing plastic bags in the street after they have used them to carry something much to small to necessitate a plastic bag (i.e. a pack of cigarettes). Albanians do not see the garbage on the streets as a pressing issue, probably because they have bigger things to worry about, and sometimes I find myself slipping into the same mentality. Luckily, there is an incentive program for collecting aluminum, glass, and plastic in many communities and I try to remember to sort my trash to expedite it for them.
In America, they have these things for people to walk on that are separate from the things that cars drive on. I’d say about 80% of the time I have no choice but to walk in the middle of the street, trying to avoid hanging goat carcasses to my left and swerving BMWs to my right.
(This one is for Kim.) TARGET IS AWESOME. If you want a bunch of stuff, you can go to one place and get all of it there! Here, if I want groceries, I go to the store. But they don’t have produce there. If I want fruits and vegetables, I have to go to the market street. If I want bread, I have to go to the bakery. If I want the good bread at the Kosovar bakery, I have to decide if I have enough energy to a) walk a half mile in the opposite direction to get it and b) deal with the mean lady who works there. In a pinch, regular bread will do, but not if I want to put grainy Greek “peanut butter” I swiped from the dark corner of a supermarket in Vlorë on it. Again, my life is real hard, guys.
For how much Albanians love using cell phones, you’d think they’d readily embrace voicemail technology. Nope. Instead, if someone calls you and you don’t answer, they just call you again fourteen times in a row. My bosses, my co-workers, my friends, random guys who found the American girl’s phone number, none of them can wait two minutes for me to get out of the shower, see that I missed them, and then call back. I think everyone just operates on the assumption that whoever they want to talk to constantly has their phone by their side…which is pretty much the truth. My counterpart answers her phone while she’s teaching, then abruptly walks out of the room to talk to her daughter or her neighbor or whoever just couldn’t wait. Then the kids in the class start throwing chairs at each other and setting things on fire. My life.
Albania, you are weird, but I love you. America, you are weird in different ways, and I miss you.