When I first came to Albania, I had a lot of mixed responses from people I knew. Some were curious, some were intrigued, others were downright misguided. There are many unjust preconceptions floating around about Albania, these are the ones I have come across in the last year, and this is why I believe they are all nonsense.
It isn’t a safe country
Absolutely nonsense. Tirana is perhaps the only capital city I have visited where I feel safe at all times. It is also the only capital city or city in Europe for that matter where I would happily walk home on my own at night, or at least after dark. I have lived here for one year and I have not had one negative experience as I make my way around the city. Of course, you should always exercise caution, much as you would in any place (don’t leave your bag unattended, be mindful of pickpockets etc) but I have found Tirana to be significantly safer than anywhere else I have been. Even in more rural areas and other cities, it is generally safe for foreigners. One other thing I noted when moving here is that instances of street harassment are significantly lower when compared to other countries such as the UK, Malta, and Cyprus.
It’s full of crime
So this is a bit of a difficult one- of course there is crime in Albania- the news is full of instances of gun crime, drugs, corruption, and other situations, but the reality is that the majority of this is related to organised crime. If you are an honest, law-abiding citizen, the chances of you getting caught up in something nefarious or dangerous is relatively low. I feel much safer here than I do on the streets of Bristol, London, or even Paceville in Malta!
It’s a Muslim country
This is a topic of much debate within Albania and the statistics that are available vary wildly. The three main religions are Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism, although from what I gather, no one really cares. Religion was outlawed during the time of communism, and whilst some of the population do practice their chosen religion, many will just identify as X/Y/Z if pushed to answer, but not actually practice on a day-to-day basis. The long and the short of it is Albanian’s don’t really care- they coexist wonderfully with little thought of who worships which god, and they are a fine example of how different religions can coexist in harmony side by side. It is also worth noting that alcohol is freely available as are pork-related products.
Women have to dress modestly
Someone contacted me through my blog and asked if it was true that women had to cover up when visiting Albania, similar to how they would in other countries. My answer of course, was no. Personally, I prefer to dress in a modest manner but I see women of all ages dressed in many different ways, all over the country. Whilst eyebrows may be raised in smaller villages and rural areas, I would say that visitors should dress in the usual way. Personally, I don’t find bikinis and topless men appropriate for anywhere except the beach or lake, and this would be a wise bit of advice to take when visiting. Otherwise, go nuts.
No one speaks any English
Again, this depends on where you are. If you are visiting a small, mountainous village then you may struggle to hold a conversation, but that doesn’t mean you are unable to communicate. In Tirana and other cities, you will usually be able to get by with a combination of broken English, Italian, sign language and gestures. If you are visiting, it is always nice to learn the basics in Albanian as a sign of respect as Albanian’s really appreciate this!
Blood feuds are a threat
Yes, blood feuds are a thing, a very terrible thing, but the chances of you stumbling across one or a situation relating to one are non-existent. Much has been written and filmed about the subject, but you need to understand that this is not something that affects the whole country.
It’s an ex-communist hell hole
Yes, it is ex-communist and yes, the country has gone through many trials and tribulations over the last couple of decades, but it has emerged and is recovering a little bit more, every day. As far as tourism goes, it is totally unspoilt and is one of the few countries that can still offer truly authentic experiences. Whilst the infrastructure may not be exactly what you are used to in certain countries, in my view it surpasses some parts of the EU in some ways. Albania is a beautiful place with lovely people and a rich cultural tapestry, and it has a lot to offer any tourist or expat that comes to visit it.
Albanian’s are out to scam you
Again, not true. I have been ripped off in every country I have been to, even my own- chancers and scammers don’t have nationalities, they are just chancers and scammers. Of course, you may encounter opportunists who are happy to relieve you of a bit of extra cash just because you are foreign, but this can be easily circumnavigated by being sensible. Firstly, have an understanding of the value of the money and what it can buy you, familiarise yourself with prices for things, book accommodation online through reputable portals, and ALWAYS, always, ALWAYS ask for a receipt before you pay for something. If they do not present you with a receipt, you are not obliged to pay for it- this goes for taxis, dinners, and transaction in shops.
It’s full of poverty
Yes, yes it is. The average wage is little more than EUR 300 a month, some rural farmers live on EUR 80 a year, and many live without work, adequate housing, adequate food, or other essential things. Yes, it is a problem and yes, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Schools are lacking, disabled children and people are all but ignored, beggars are prevalent, and there is a myriad of social issues that arise from this. But that doesn’t mean it should be discarded as a nation. The people of Albania are smart, friendly, resilient and welcoming and many are working hard to improve not just their situation, but the situation of society as well. Tourism is going to be a vital part of the future of this country, and people should not discard it as a holiday destination, just because the way of life for many pales in comparison to the privilege that you may have had.
Corruption is rife
Yes it is true, corruption is present in almost all facets of society but again, don’t imagine for a second that this isn’t happening in your country as well, just that the people involved are better at hiding it. Whilst corruption is rife in the public sector and institutions, it doesn’t mean that Albanian people are dishonest or should not be trusted.Follow The Balkanista!