Albania cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
Albanians are friendly people and appreciate this from the counterpart as well. To make a good impression, you ought to smile, have a happy face (in an appropriate situation), shake hands firmly and thank the counterpart for meeting and discussing with him/her. In addition, it is important to have a neat appearance. Also, learning some Albanian words is a good advice.
A dialogue could contain the following:
|Good finding you.||Mirë se iu gjej.|
|How are you doing?||Si po ia kaloni?|
|How are you?||Si jeni?|
|I am pleased meeting you.||Jam i kënaqur që iu takova.|
|Good bye.||Mirë u pafshim.|
|Have a good day.||Ditën e mirë.|
In a family situation, please bear in mind that the Albanian morale is based on the values of family, heritage, children's education, care for elders and friendship. Feel free to talk openly about these values. You can also speak to them about your origin, cuisine, your life and family, the respect you have for your relatives, your childhood.
In a family situation, avoid talking about personal relationships with a girl/boy; otherwise this would have a negative impact on your first encounter. The reason for this is that the Albanian morale is based on family values where both the parents and children care for each other. No Albanian will tell you that he/she has had a short or long history of dating; in particular for the female, this would be a harmful shame.
In a family situation, business talk should be short; it is not relevant to discuss this subject in a family situation. You are welcome to speak about the beauty of nature, gardening, books, movies, music, artists, foods, your known professional and historical people, and about the persistence of your preferred people to succeed.
Depending on the situation, you can be humorous and you can tell funny things from your experience. Albanians are people who like to smile, laugh and be amused. You would be praised for showing the proper respect to the elderly people, women, children and men.
In all situations, avoid using obscene language.
Family, work and where someone is from are good topics of conversation. Many people have strong family connections to a rural/village area. There is often a defining characteristic that a town will take great pride in, whether it is a local food, tradition of fine craftsmanship or the beauty of its inhabitants. Albanians also enjoy talking about the different parts of the country and sites to visit. Similarly, raki, an alcoholic drink made from grape, plum or mulberry, is a source of great pride.
There is good access to international news and regional events from within Albania. Citizens are generally well informed politically. However, many have been affected directly or indirectly by regional conflicts over the past several years. This may make it uncomfortable to discuss subjects concerning federal and Balkan politics, including relations with bordering states.
Concerning issues of wealth and development, Albanians are conscious of their economic poverty in relation to the rest of Europe. An individual or solution that is deemed to have come from a country with greater development issues is vulnerable to being rejected out of hand.
When speaking to someone, the acceptable distance is similar to a North-American distance, and avoid touching someone when speaking to him/her. Maintain eye contact without staring. Your voice should be clear, normal in tone, and directed to the listener. Show the necessary care in talking to strangers and keep a safe distance. You might see people talking and conveying a body language at the same time, usually with hands. In general, gestures and facial expressions should be normal and not tensed.
When talking to someone, try to understand or remember your situation, why you are there, who he/she is, what values you are exchanging, what you are talking about, what type of person is the counterpart, and the value of establishing a future trustworthy friendship or acquaintance.
Personal space is generally the same as in Canadian society. Some Albanian characteristics and mannerisms resemble those of the mainland Greeks, most notably in rural areas; for instance, a nod of the head means ‘no’ and shaking one’s head means ‘yes’. Greeting and saying goodbye can both be done with a kiss on the right cheek between women and between women and men. Handshaking is the accepted form of greeting otherwise. Any attempt to speak Albanian is greatly appreciated. A firm tone of voice and distinct straightforwardness is common. Volume and emotion in everyday conversation is often at a higher level than what a Canadian may typically experience.
Display of emotion
Public displays of anger and loud expressions of emotions are not welcome. In public, you can shake hands, nod your head, wave your hand, or hug a close acquaintance.
Public displays of affection are rare, though younger generations are the ones most likely to challenge the norm. Singing, dancing and drinking following a shared meal are common and often involve all ages. For the most part, it is culturally appropriate and socially acceptable to express strong emotions when amongst familiar people. It is not acceptable to convey any strong emotions amongst people who are not familiar to you.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Albanian people are fond of dressing up and they follow the latest styles. At the office, people wear formal clothes, suits and uniforms. Also, it is common to see well-dressed people walking on the street. However, after working hours and in leisure ambient, you can wear casual clothes.
You should address colleagues in a casual way, but respectfully, and using their first name. You should address your superiors or non-colleagues in a formal way by using Mr. (Zoti), Ms. (Zonja), Prof., or Dr. followed by the first name.
In all situations, for keeping the prestige and authority, you should be punctual, present and keen to meet deadlines. You have to show productivity in your assigned tasks and be a value-adding person.
Within Tirana, the appropriate dress for work ranges from business casual to business formal. In management positions men wear suit and ties. The majority of urban Albanians take pride in their appearance and dress to the best of their ability. Italian inspired styles are common, likely due to proximity and availability of Italian pop-culture. This is especially noticeable among young women who go to great efforts with their appearance. As the streets are often unpaved and usually quite dirty or muddy, it is recommended that you have a pair of walking shoes and leave dress shoes at work. Also, in the winter, offices can become cold depending on the heating system and availability of electricity. During the warmer months, the workplace can become quite hot as the day goes on. In both cases, being prepared with alternative clothing stored at work will be of benefit. When addressing counterparts in other organizations, or when addressing colleagues for the first time, it is proper to use Mr. or Mrs. Once a relationship is established it is acceptable to be less formal and use first names with each other. Support staff will generally address both superiors and expatriates formally. Punctuality and reliability are not always respected. Deadlines are usually set with the expectation that they will be met, although there is often great degree of flexibility, especially when setting it. Most professionals carry mobile phones and it is considered polite to call ahead to indicate a change in scheduled appointments. Expatriates frequently get frustrated with the apparent inability to meet deadlines and propel initiatives. In my experience, expatriates tend to put in long working hours primarily due to the work volume and also to occupy themselves. Generally, Albanian staff work a standard workweek. Expatriates and Albanians alike occasionally found it frustrating as Albanian staff were often not punctual and took frequent coffee/cigarette breaks with extended lunch hours. Often, lengthy meetings that verge on social appointments are undertaken at cafes and restaurants.
Preferred managerial qualities
Education, experience, leadership, being open to new ideas, hard working, team work, compassion, being helpful and praising your colleagues and superiors are all well regarded. People like to deal with an educated, experienced, professional and respectful person. Frustration might occur if the superior is an outdated person with a narrow vision. If your staff smiles at you, likes working and cooperating with you or praise your work, it means your staff is positively viewing you. Generally, the staff you work with does not interfere with your work and does not watch you closely. People see you as a person who has come to Albania to work with Albanians and transmit your knowledge and expertise.
Education, experience (i.e. age) and being a firm decision-maker definitely carry a lot of weight in terms of being respected. After initial impressions, it is important for an expat to show that the presence and the opinions of the local staff matter to the success of the task at hand.
A manager/supervisor can probably find at least one person amongst the Albanian staff who will provide feedback as to how he or she is doing. Often, it appeared that local staff did not feel comfortable openly critiquing an expat's performance. Prompt cooperation is probably another way of knowing if the managerial role is being accepted. When staff does not respond in a timely manner, it may well mean that the task has not really been understood and needs further clarification.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Generally, decisions in a workplace are made by the principal/supervisor/manager in close consultation with the institution council. For an established scheme, e.g. state institutions, the management is to keep that scheme working and producing the desired result. For the private sector, which is in a period of consolidation, decisions are made by the direct owners according to the market requirements and conditions. You may go to your immediate supervisor to talk business, getting an answer or receiving feedback.
In Albania, senior management makes major decisions. Staff often had open meetings but they had little influence. Sharing ideas and brain storming are not very common, except in the newer local initiatives, in such areas as alternative press and radio, creative arts, non-governmental organizations, and the like.
Albanians follow the chain of command in any corporate-type structure. Your immediate supervisor is expected to answer all your questions and give you feedback. It is appropriate that employees go to their immediate supervisors first for any issues, and not go over their heads.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Albanian people regard both men and women equally. It is common to see men and women in all workplaces, but men carry out the hard professions. Men lead the family and the women strive to keep a clean house, a warm home, and together with her husband they look closely after their children.
In general, the Albanian person is not religious and at the same time does not judge other people with religious convictions. For them, faith is a personal matter and is not taught at home. It is common to see marriages of people with different religious names or backgrounds. The characteristic of the Albanian history is a peaceful co-existence of different religions.
Albanians do not harass people due to their class, origin or ethnicity. The attitudes regarding gender, religion, class and ethnicity do not have any impact on the workplace, where the productivity, teamwork and respect lead the efforts.
My perception is that the Albanian culture is patriarchal. On more than one occasion during my term, comments regarding the defined role of genders were made. More apparent outside of Tirana, women are typically at home raising families and those that were working in the community mostly held jobs as shop clerks, nurses and teachers. Having the ability to speak English provided more opportunity to work for international organizations in a variety of capacities, depending on their level of education. In the workplace, women Albanians seemed to be deferent towards men. Male Albanians showed respect to their colleagues regardless of gender. In the streets, male Albanians often comment and stare at women passing them. After the sunsets, it is less common to see women carrying on street-level activities.
Religion did not play a role in the workplace. Albanian colleagues were open to the religious beliefs of expatriates.
It seems that class is often determined by family background, as well as by the level of education. For example, someone whose family background is city-educated would be more respected and viewed as a better person to know than a person whose roots are connected to a farming family. In cities, the differences between classes are slightly more apparent. As Albania is an economy in transition, they are starting to place a higher emphasis on class as it relates to money.
For the most part, I found Albanians to be open and tolerant. However, preconceived notions regarding people of colour were not uncommon. Roma people living in Albania are considered lower-class citizens. Care must be taken when relating development issues between Albania and other nations. Many development workers experienced negative feedback regarding the potential application of their experience in working with other nationalities in an Albanian setting. During my term, there were occasions where non-white colleagues were challenged as to how they could benefit the greater development of Albania. In one or more instance, while working with senior bureaucrats, I had to challenge the direct accusation that, as someone who is not white, I was not judged to be a “real” Canadian and, therefore, could not represent a Canadian viewpoint.
With respect to a colleague, establishing a personal relationship does not go beyond the formal relations team member should have to perform a task or duty. With respect to a client, establishing a personal relationship does not go beyond formal business relations; otherwise personal desires or interests will overwhelm business decisions.
It is important to use the proper channels to make the first connections. A referral from a senior-level or respected individual will provide a good introduction. Usually, clients and business partners dine together after they have had an initial formal introduction. This may be used as an opportunity to negotiate business. Alcoholic beverages and snacks are a common offering to begin meetings and provide a good setting to build personal relationships.
Privileges and favouritism
It is obvious that if a personal relationships are exceeded (e.g. preferred treatment, pay increase, hiring of his/her friends or family) misunderstanding of business or job relations might occur. Usually such situations do not occur and having family members in the same workplace is not a common thing; you see this only in small, private businesses.
It is common practice that locals will suggest their family and friends as possible employees. In some cases hiring someone related to an official, on whom one depends outside the place of employment, could ensure a degree of respect for the position that an outsider would have to earn. It is very important that one can validate the skills that a person brings to the workplace. A clear human resource policy and oversight of the selection process may be required to ensure the staffing of the best employees. As an international organization, it may be beneficial to stay clear of nepotistic practices and to establish a reasonable employment policy
Conflicts in the workplace
You can see if a colleague has been offended by his/her behaviour: e.g. lack of salutation, avoidance, etc. In such a situation you have to be a sensitive person, open minded and sincere. With these problems, you can ask your colleague, first in private and in a simple or humorous manner, or in the presence of another close friend, whether or when he/she was offended by you. You can also discuss this with your immediate supervisor. If you know what happened and why you're colleague felt offended, you should state openly your position on the matter. If you don't know why, then you still have to state your position and ask in a friendly manner what is causing their annoyance.
Always confront someone directly, privately and calmly. Albanians are proud and have a strong sense of pride. They may be easily offended. A diplomatic approach, with an effort to keep a light mood, is recommended. I found that Albanian staff did not address specific criticisms or complaints directly to an expatriate staff member or superior. Similar to a Canadian work environment, a colleague who has a problem with an employer will often have a more distant attitude and will become silent and work slower.
Motivating local colleagues
Albanians are committed people who want to be key contributors to success. They like a workplace that uses their talents and allows them to be very productive. They like an organization which expects them to do a good job, has good working conditions, rewards well and has the needed resources to accomplish the goals. They like personal development opportunities, a better life for their family and children, and a clean and safe environment. You will see the private sector working seven days a week.
Similar to Canadian society, motivation is commonly found in the potential for advancement and/or job security. The availability of channels for professional development and advancement within an international organization is extremely attractive and appreciated by most local staff. In some cases, I noticed that Albanians did the minimum requirements for their job and were more reactive rather than pro-active. This could be due to a different work ethic than what we are accustomed to in North America and not a lack of desire of an individual. In addition, the obstacles to accomplishing what a Canadian might expect to do in a day are numerous. With shortages of electricity and less-developed physical infrastructure, it is inevitable that more time and energy will be required to achieve equitable results.
Recommended books, films & foods
There is a growing number of literature on Albania appearing in bookstores or libraries. An easy search would be at www.amazon.com and looking for books written by Edith Durham or Ismail Kadare. More can be found from the works of Robert Elsie at www.elsie.de.
In addition, the following books are recommended:
- John J. Wilkes, The Illyrians, Blackwell, Massachusetts, 1992. ISBN-0631146717
- Edwin E. Jacques, The Albanians: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995. ISBN – 0899509320
- Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza, Genes, Peoples and Languages, North Point Press, New York, 2000. ISBN-0865475296
- Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919 (Six months that changed the world), Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2002. ISBN-0375760520
- Mathieu Aref, Albanie ou l'incroyable odyssée d'un peuple préhellénique, Paris, 2003. ISBN-29519921064
Albania is a country full of archeological and heritage sites. As a Mediterranean country, Albania has both a very rich and special cuisine, and you can find superb restaurants anywhere. Albania is a country with all types of climate and geography and this makes her a pleasure to explore.
There is a growing amount of information on Albania and Albanians on the internet, in Albanian, in English and other languages. At this moment, the satellite Albanian channel that can be seen in Canada is RTV-21; more satellite TV channels are expected to cover also Canada this spring.
There are many websites containing information regarding Albania. A good place to start is with some of the major institutions in Albania, such as the UNDP. One of Albania's greatest writers, Ismail Kadare has many books that have been translated to English.
There is also a substantial Albanian population in Toronto, which may provide the opportunity to gain first-hand insights into Albanian culture from within Canada.
Be aware of the fact that Albanians inherited the oldest language, for which they have had to fight over time to preserve. Also, Albanians inherited a very wide range of folk costumes, clothes and songs; every town or village has its own characteristics. While in Albania, you can take in different entertainment events, e.g. classical and modern concerts, ballet, opera, theatre, comedy shows, museums, archaeological sites, and public shows. You can watch TV and listen to the radio (mostly in FM). The most popular newspapers are independents such as Shekulli, Panorama, Gazeta Shqiptare, etc. There are also many magazines and periodicals, a growing number of publications and an increasing number of readers. You can drink very delicious coffee in many different cafes during your free time, where friendly conversation takes place.
Tirana has a thriving café culture. Both locals and expats can be found on a patio most hours of the day. It may not be easy to become very close to an Albanian family, as it was said to bring suspicion if you socialized with foreign nationals prior to the country liberalizing. A good place to start is by taking language lessons in Albanian. Your instructor may have recommendations, and even basic Albanian can be a tremendous help in relaxing the mood during daily interactions with locals.
George Castriot Scanderbeg (Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu) who 550 years ago forged the Albanian identity, led the united Albanians to fight against Ottoman invaders, kept Albania a free land and protected the European civilization from its destruction.
Mother Theresa (Gonxhe Bojaxhiu), a recently beatified Saint, a world figure, a symbol of peace and benevolence, embraced by all.
There is a long list of Albanian heroes who vastly contributed to the achievement of independence and freedom, likewise to Renaissance period literature enrichment, and enlightenment of Albanian generations to come. Most commendable to mention are: Ismail Qemali, Frashëri Brothers, Hasan Prishtina, Isa Boletini, Fan Noli, Faik Konica, Adem Jashari, etc.
Albanians view Gjergj Kastriot Skanderbeg as one of their famous war heroes from the past, for his exploits against the Ottoman Empire. There is a large statue of Skanderbeg in the main square in Tirane.
Shared historical events with Canada
A shared historical event between Canada and Albania, but less known, is the Peace Conference in 1919 where Sir Robert L. Borden, Canadian Prime Minister of that time, dealt with the borders of the Albanian state. Thus, there are no conditions that would affect work and social relations while you stray and work in Albania.
Canada is generally seen as an impartial country and often viewed as an attractive emigration destination.
There are not any stereotypes that Albanians have about Canadians which might be harmful to effective relations. The only thing you might hear is that professional, educated and experienced Albanians have migrated to Canada in recent years. Albanians regard and know Canada as a country that is well regulated, clean, developed, rich, very well organized, with a very good taxation system, a very nice environment but with a cold climate.
Canadians do not know much about Albania. Within Europe, Canadians may encounter stereotypes regarding Albanians that see them characterized as being involved with human and drug trafficking.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Elbasan, the eldest of two children. He was raised in this town, in the centre of Albania, until the age of 19. He moved to Tirana to continue his studies. He graduated with honours from the University of Tirana. He has travelled for studies to England, Italy and USA. After 13 years of work in Albania, your cultural interpreter immigrated to Canada to live in Toronto. He is currently living and working in Toronto and is married with one child.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Nova Scotia, the third of six children. He was raised in Regina and Vancouver. He studied Physical Geography in Vancouver at Simon Fraser University. His work/studies sent him abroad for the first time in 1998 where he worked on a regional assessment of sustainable development strategies in Asia and the Pacific. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter went to Albania, where he lived for eight months. He is currently living in Canada, in Toronto for the last 5 years. He has no children and his cultural heritage is European and South Asian.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.