Having spent many years in the military, and also having lived some years in Germany, I became accustomed to timeliness and punctuality. When I reentered American civilian life, I had to adjust to a more relaxed view of time, and I admit it wasn’t easy for me. It seemed like everyone was purposely moving in slow motion. Yet, in the big picture, Germany and the U.S. view time similarly. They are low-context cultures that place a high value on time efficiency and accomplishing tasks.
In Albania’s high-context culture, relationships are more valuable than timeliness and efficiency. It’s normal for everything to take longer—much longer. Instead of mailing in a check or paying a utility bill online, for example, the normal procedure is to find a place to park, which might be several blocks away, and walk to the place where the electric bill is paid. You will likely see friends along the way. When you do, you don’t just wave and keep walking. You kiss each other’s cheeks if you haven’t seen each other for a while. You always ask how he has been, how his wife is, how his sons are, how his daughters are, how his parents are. He will ask you the same questions at the same time. You do this even if you just asked him the same questions yesterday. It’s part of “Hello” to an Albanian. Then, it is quite possible that he will want to chat over a cup of chamomile tea or thick, strong coffee at a nearby café. That will take an hour or so.
When you finally arrive at the place where you pay the utility bill, you will find a line of people, often stretching out the door. Hopefully, the one person who works there is not out on a coffee break with a friend. Even if he is, people are used to waiting. On the other hand, Albanians don’t like to stand in orderly lines. They say it’s because of the lines they had to wait in during the years of shortages when there was never enough for those in the back of the line. Consequently, there is often a lot of pushing and shoving to get to the counter. It’s a contact sport. It’s normal for people to come in after you’ve been waiting for 20 minutes or more and cut in line in front of you. After this has happened over and over, you might find your cheery disposition stretched to the limit.
When you finally get your payment made and your book stamped, you will likely run into another friend or two on your way home and repeat the whole greeting and café ritual. To not do so would be insulting.
This is the typical process of paying just one bill. Multiply this by every other transaction and visit to the market, and you get an idea of how we Americans have had to adapt.
Unavoidable delays are built into each and every day here, but having to leave for the airport with enough time to deal with a car breakdown or two is getting to be too much. Our car is a 1999 model that we got for a very good price five years ago, but it’s time for a change. We will be looking for a newer, more reliable car as soon as possible in order to keep me sane. Thank you for considering this need and contributing if you are able.