What to know when you eat out with an Albanian and how they pay the bill.
Albanian’s are some of the most generous and kind people. One can probably say that about anyone's culture, but I have proof that this compliment is not just flattery, but a sort of genetic rule of thumb for all Albanians.
I remember the first time we ate in a restaurant with my Albanian family. It was a beautiful upscale restaurant serenely placed in the Tuscan countryside. I can’t recall who invited who, but with Albanians, that fact simply doesn’t matter.
My husband’s “Scary Uncle” was there. I titled him that because of the sheer size and intimidating girth of this man. His face is always red from years of hard labor in the sun, his bald head is larger than life featuring a combover that defies gravity, everything about this man is over the top and dominating. His heavy and genuine laugh fills rooms, his bear-sized hands slapping you on the back can knock you breathless, his hugs threaten to snap you like a twig and are unyielding, his normal vocals are uproarious ...this man is a mountain, an Albanian Alpine. Now that I know this man better, (he still looks scary) I have discovered an extremely sensitive soul who will weep when giving his emotional toasts. He is a creative and artistic being. He is truly a gentle giant and he holds a special spot in my heart.
Like I have written before, Albanians love to eat and love eating with people. (It’s an Albanian saying that when you eat alone, you eat like a dog….good heavens!) When you eat with an Albanian, glasses will never be empty, no beer will get warmer than ice-cold, the wine will flow like water. But what about the cost?! Cost does not matter to an Albanian, an Albanian would rather have very little money for himself and spoil a guest than to have all the money in the world and worry about the cost of a meal. After all, what is money for but to spread it around?
During that dinner outside of Florence, Italy, we shared antipasti, plates of pasta, braised rabbit, Chianina Tuscan T-bone steaks grilled to medium-rare, salads, cheeses, and endless baskets of Tuscan bread. It was a beautiful meal to be remembered. I recall my Albanian (boyfriend at that time) quietly got up to go pay for the tab, even though we lived on meager wages at the time. His Scary Uncle saw this move and loudly asked him what he was doing. Nothing! Nothing! Responded my husband. But Scary Uncle just knew something was up and proceeded to stand up from his chair. Awe shit, stuff was going to go down unbeknownst to me. First, came the loud talking, “Go sit back down, what do you think you are doing?!” “Hey, did you not hear me?!” “Do you think you are going to pay?!” “I don’t think so, I said sit down.”
Now imagine, my Albanian, is pretty average-sized but seemed to be half the size of his Scary Uncle and he didn’t back down. He was in it to win it! Then the hands and arms started to “suggest” he sit down, getting a bit more forceful. Scary Uncle’s face was getting even more magenta with anger and due to the endless amount of beer, wine, and grappa he drank. My Albanian stood his ground. The waiter was now involved, trying to give the bill to someone that wouldn’t result in him getting punched in the face. Now another cousin stepped in the mix to also pay.
In what seemed like 10 minutes of pushing and arguing, at some point, I asked my Albanian to sit down and let his Scary Uncle pay because “he’s going to punch you!” He gave me a defiant look and said, “No, no, no, no, I don’t think so.” And he went back into battle. I can’t recall who finally ended up paying, who had the ultimate honor, but it was a scene to behold.
Was this a one-time scenario? No, this scene in various forms of passion has been played out EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. WE. EAT. WITH. ALBANIANS. For the past 21 years! For a coffee or cocktail, lunch or dinner, breakfast or brunch, an Albanian will demand the check and the honor of paying for everyone.
As funny as this all seems, and it is, this is just how Albanians are. They will not only give you the shirt off their back but they will happily and dutifully treat you better than they will treat themselves. I have accepted this play of love and adopted it happily. Yes, I am American, and there will be times when splitting the bill is necessary, but is there anything better than treating a friend to a lovely meal? I get it. For me, food is love. I bake and cook for others as a show of my love, Albanians just take it one step further, and they will fight tooth and nail to have the honor of paying your bill.