Every year, much like migratory birds heading south for the winter, so too do the proud natives of Albania. All over this planet, Albanians prepare to head back to their motherland to nest for a month or two.
Everyone knows that in Europe, summer brings on a mass exodus of towns and cities. Everyone flocks to cooler watery shores to revive during a month long vacation. Men whip out their speedos with pride and grandmas prepare to expose the world to their aged bosom for some prime topless bathing. Ah! Europe!
Summer in Albania is the time when all its foreign descendants return en-mass to reconnect with family, with hope that the kids will practice their parent’s native tongue, and for all of their kinfolk to hear how well they have done living abroad.
However, there are some guidelines when planning a trip returning to Shqiperia (Albania), it’s not as easy as booking a ticket and showing up. At least for my family it isn’t.
Firstly, we live in the United States, which means tickets don’t cost a few hundred dollars, like it does for Albanians living in Italy, England or Germany. It costs thousands of dollars. For many years we have had to forgo a trip to Albania because of medical bills, buying a new house, changing jobs etc. It costs even more dearly when you are planning that trip for a family of four or more. Basically, if you live in the United States, you are working all year long to save for your one vacation to Albania, only to return to the States to start the cycle all over again.
A world traveller might think, well, what about traveling to other parts of the world? Summer in Sweden, Thailand, Portugal? Ho ho! My friends, when you are married to an Albanian, family visits come first. After a costly and long visit to Albania, the pocket book is empty and vacation days are zero, so, tough stuff.
The Albanians waiting to hear your good news...
For My Albanian it is has been a frustrating couple of years with his kinsfolk dominating his social media apps. Each summer he watches late at night, after a twelve hour workday, he swipes over flashes of all his (numerous) thirty, first cousins, sitting bronzed, eating freshly caught fish, playing soccer on the sand, dancing at the many infamous Albanian weddings, all while he continues to toil away through another summer.
That’s another thing too, what American takes a whole month off for vacation? How could someone possibly make a career if he were to leave his position for a month every year? Sure, if you are in a position where there are ten other bodies to replace you, that’s easy. But, if you are the General Manager of a restaurant in Vegas, and already work fifteen-hour days, six days a week, how can you leave? You simply can’t, unless you don’t care about paying for your mortgage when you get back. And, can you imagine spending around seven thousand dollars to go visit your mom and aunt in the normal American allotted two weeks? Ludicrous! That’s barely enough time to get over jet-lag.
Many of the Albanians living in Europe just don’t know how good they have it. My Albanian had to miss out on his grandfather’s funeral just because he couldn’t leave; work wouldn’t allow it. It’s a frustrating life for Albanians living here in the States.
There are additional expectations that need to be fed when returning to Albania.
Hey, you successful American, we haven’t seen in four years, why are you fatter? Why are you wearing the same bathing suit as last time? Is that Ralph Lauren? What is Old Navy.com clearance, we have never heard of it.
Oh yes, the label whores. All Europe is guilty of it. If it has a notable label on it, it’s good stuff, you must be living the high life over there in good ol’ Merica. Neglect the fact that everything from Gucci to Target’s Merona brand are all made by the same sweatshop in China. Even if this fact is widely known, it’s all for the mirage that you may have paid more for your jeans than I did for my Target clearance yoga pants. Yet, slap that Fendi emblem on my yoga pants, and I’m in baby! It doesn’t matter if you have been wearing the same ragged, threadbare, robes for the whole year, when you go to Albania, you are taking a whole new wardrobe for mama, kids and Babi. (Babi is Albanian for Daddy) That’s right, and it doesn’t even matter if an opportunity to wear it never arises, you will end up showing it off in the closet to some manner of aunt or sister-in-law, just so they can be impressed.
Hippy Dippy American
I have been called a hippy. I proudly grew up in Northern California, wearing one dollar flip-flops nearly year round, and shopping at the second hand shops for cool vintage clothing. Recycle is my motto! I never even knew what Dooney & Burke was until I had lived in Vegas. What is Dooney & Burke? Ugly purses with a mallard duck on them, that cost the same as a one month's mortgage payment on my first house. I’m just sensible and don’t put much thought into impressing others with my appearance. I tend to believe that a person’s good nature and wisdom should speak for a person, not their clothes. Hippy right?! Well, can you imagine how it is for me now? My husband gives me a sideways look of doubt when I proudly show him my haul of clearance finds from Old Navy (If you have gathered, I frequent Old Navy). Nevertheless, I know he’s secretly proud that I haven’t spent our life savings on a single pair of jeans. There was a time not too long ago when I would have to tell him I spent a crazy amount for a gift I bought him, hiding the fact that the tie in his hands was purchased at JCPenney for $18 and not $50. For Albanians, there is value in the amount paid, not the item purchased. He has since crossed over to the darkside and enjoys a good bargain, but still gravitates to the logos.
My first visit to Albania
Hips Don’t Lie
God forbid you are not of Albanian genetics! Have you birthed five kids and still look like a Victoria’s Secret model? No? You must not be Albanian. Well, be prepared to be a target for open and honest conversations about how “healthy” you look, and not behind your back either. So your ass better be hitting that gym and turning away from that extra serving of pasta before you go, cause the world is watching….no pressure. Albanians are funny, they have a phrase that has two meanings, “Je shnosh,” can mean, “Oh! She is looking so good and healthy, she must have lost a few kilos.” Or “Oh! She’s looking too healthy around the waist, she shouldn’t be eating that baklava.”
I might also mention that Albanians do not have filters when it comes to conversations of how a person looks, everyone is fair game. There is no behind your back chit chat (although they do that too), it’s right to your face. So my little sensitive ladies, you better put on your big girl panties and just grin and bare it. It used to be better for me when I wasn’t an expert on picking up keywords about me in a random conversation, of course, that was still when I had my steel cut pre-baby body. Two c-sections later, and hormonal issues helping me to pack on the pounds, I am prime fodder for the whole family as I return to Albania this summer, cheers! (Stay tuned for my experiences this summer)
The men are not excluded from this type of observation either. Getting the midriff paunch? Hairline receding? Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong, the target is on your back. However, I must say that Albanians have amazing self-worth. Since commenting on appearances is such a common social topic, it doesn’t bother them, and they laugh it all off. Albanians love themselves, they do! Albanians love to have their picture taken, never shying from a photo-op, they enjoy getting dressed up and prancing in front of others to admire. I’m pretty sure, that Albanians are the ones to have invented the duck-face selfies. Annoying yes, however, it’s really beautiful to see a people proud of the body and face that God gave them.
Of all the countries I have visited, Albanians are the most beautiful people. Young girls are stunning with their large dark eyes and golden blonde hair. As they mature, they grow long legs and slender bodies and their hair darkens to a sultry brown. Yep, ugly duckling here. The stock I derive from is short, muscular and dark. Think of Disney’s Moana, she’s my homegirl. It’s a good thing I love who I am too. Albania here we come!
It is not an uncommon thing to bring a gift to someone whom you have not seen in a long while, but it is a mandatory obligation when returning to Albania. Make sure you plan an extra suitcase for the additional items of clothing, baby toys (because someone is always having a baby in Albania), and other random items you might think would be of use in Albania. This part I don’t mind, I enjoy giving gifts, the perfect gift. I have yet to give the perfect gift though, perhaps it’s a lack of logo’s that might have something to do with it. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts….right?
Rruge t’mar! (Literally means, Good road! It’s what you would say to someone going on a trip….like me!)
Stay tuned for more insights on my travels through Albania this summer.
I’ll also be touring Montenegro and Croatia!