Albania Dhermi Albanians mountains and beach

Like many Albanians, most if I say so myself, I have a complicated, erratic, sometimes toxic relationship with the country I’m from.

Last year, earthquakes ruined almost an entire city, hundreds were injured, 21 killed, and 4000 left homeless. This year, Coronavirus hit our economy hard: layoffs, lower salaries, businesses shutting down.

COVID-19 in Albania

Americans complained about their $1200 Corona stimulus checks, in Albania, we only got 40,000ALL, which is roughly $400.

If America runs on Dunkin, Albania runs on espressos and espresso shops, which weren’t allowed anymore (not essential).

Every morning, while we enjoyed our lesser-than homemade Americanos, a huge military tank circulated the otherwise empty city, stating, “Do not leave your house. Wash your hands and stay at home.”

A lot of Albanian families can’t afford to save, so this was a painful period for a lot of us. We kept discussing a daily recurring question, which remained unanswered. What do we do, keep the country under lockdown, or save the starving families and businesses unable to work?

Here, Coronavirus tests cost approximately $120, you can imagine how far that $400 goes.

My theory on Albania-hating Albanians

I realized something because of quarantine, having more online conversations, and hearing more unfiltered opinions.

Heuristics can be super helpful, but also harmful if used frequently and without a second thought. You know much I love patterns, right? My psychology background revealed to me the power of generalizing when it came to symptoms and disorders.

I found a common denominator within Albanians who frequently spew hate on the country and fellow citizens. They’ve never left the country.

Let me explain, it’s more complicated than that and very nuanced I believe.

Country-hating, citizen-hating Albanians are usually people who’ve never encountered people from different cultures, with worldviews and principles from our own. Albanian-hating Albanians haven’t traveled enough or seen first-hand how people from other countries think and live.

The experiences Albanian-hating Albanians lack

What about books? Well, I think you can’t understand how different other cultures or authors from different cultures are from reading a book. Rules don’t apply if it’s a non-fiction book about culture and our differences, like Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, which deep dives into the cultural aspects of marriages and relationships in different continents, or The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, which is the exactly what it sounds like.

Shows don’t really do it either, and while hateful Albanians might watch some Ellen episodes or Jimmy Fallon ones, the conversations are usually very shallow to make a difference in the way hateful Albanians perceive themselves or foreigners. The same goes for movies.

Albanians who talk shit about Albania and Albanians usually haven’t experienced other cultures first-hand. Like, they might not know how rude, shallow, ignorant, greedy, lazy Americans can be.

Since they figure our shortcomings are ours only, they get angry and repelled by our culture.

Country haters and lovers

While in the US people who don’t leave the country never start doubting for a second whether the US is the greatest country on Earth, the opposite happens in Albania. We fear what we don’t know, and as a country who deeply suffers from an inferiority complex, not acquainting ourselves with other cultures will be the death of us.

Albanian-hating Albanians can tell that our positive traits aren’t ours only. We’re not the only country filled to the brim with humorous people. Hospitality isn’t a concept Albanians came up with, and rich, decadent meals aren’t only common in Albania.

However, Albanians who haven’t seen first-hand how many similar negative traits Italians or Brits have, believe we’re the only ones this lazy, back-stabbing, not hard-working, uncultured, sexist, tired all the time, thieves, ungrateful people.

Albanians living in other countries always have objective criticism about the countries they live in. Often, they return for their holidays here with a newfound sense of love and appreciation for our own shortcomings. 

My taxi driver wanted to kill himself

A while back, I got a cab. I was super excited about the place I was going to, couldn’t get there fast enough. I usually make small talk, but for some unknown reason to me at the time, I chose to skip the weather convo.

The driver made it evident why a few seconds later. Energy doesn’t lie, right?

Completely unprompted, he started telling me how much he hated this place.

A driver in front of us was taking their time. The taxidriver angrily exclaimed: “He’s out hunting, finding girls. Only has $2 in his pocket and he’s out here hitting on girls.” When we got close to the car, we saw that the driver was a woman. “Oh, well, her too. She’s out hunting.”

How much free time did he think people had, every driver “hunting” for romantic prospects?! It felt like the cab diver wasn’t frustrated with his economic situation or anything like that, he just had a lot of hate in him.

Then he said, “I’m sorry, but everyone living here is a dumbass. A complete dumbass.” He also mentioned how dictatorship (during which thousands of Albanians were abused and murdered) was ok. “You wouldn’t see men wearing skinny jeans back then.” Mindblown at this person I was practically paying to disrespect my boundaries, he gave me the last hit.

“I wish I could take my own life, take some pills, and kill myself, but even the fucking pills don’t work here.” Taxi drivers are usually vocal about their hatred of Albania and dictator nostalgia. If given the chance, I highly doubt this person would kill himself, he thought his opinions were too valuable not to be heard.

Breaking free from self-sabotage and Albanian hate

These self-hating conversations are unfortunately common, not only with 70-year-old taxi drivers suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, nostalgic about an evil dictator but also with people my age and teenagers.

What can we do?

  1. Separate the country from the hassle

    Is the thing you’re hating on truly specific to Albania and Albanians? Chances are, it isn’t. Being able to tell what is causing a problem is the first step to fixing the problem.

  2. Practice mindfulness

    Getting intimate with our brains is scary. Mindfulness can help you with so many aspects of your daily life, especially with strong emotions such as hate or disgust. Being mindful of the way you speak about your experiences = more mindful experiences = better experiences

I will never know the driver’s backstory, or whether my theory applied to him, but I do think his limitations and hatred for life were self-made. No one can plant hate in your heart, but if they could, they still wouldn’t be able to water that hate plant and keep it alive.

You have to do that. You have to keep the hatred alive and well and pass it on. 

Until we all decide to break the cycle and love our shortcomings, for they make us Albanians who we are, we won’t know peace. 

When it comes to us, I think there is a lot to like.

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