We’re Definitely Not in Kansas Anymore | a series of misleading titles #2

“Konichiwa!”

“China. China!”

Stares. Heads turning. The people here don’t just stare — they STARE. As we walk down the street, strangers — mostly men — look at us, at me, and keep staring, until they are far enough away that they have to crane their necks to continue staring at our backs as we walk away.

It’s obvious enough that Albania doesn’t get many foreigners. Even in the capital, Tirana, where we live, I’ve only seen one or two touristy-looking groups. And if they don’t get foreigners, they definitely don’t get anyone who looks of Asian descent.

I have never been more aware of my ethnicity than I am here in Albania.

When I was in Ecuador, I had a few people double-take when they learned I was, in fact, from the United States, and not from China or Japan. I even had a group of Colombian men ask me if anyone had ever told me that I look Asian. (haha seriously? I hadn’t noticed.) But Ecuadoreans don’t stare half as much as Albanians, and they definitely didn’t say anything as I walked down the street. Here in Tirana, I am self-conscious every time I walk outside.

It’s not a bad thing, really. No one has harassed me (I guess, unless you count a little boy sticking his hand out into my face as I walked by and almost slapping me — excuse me?) and I know it’s out of ignorance, not out of hate, that people notice at all. I haven’t been threatened, and I haven’t (really) felt unsafe. I know that when I compare this to the problems happening with racism in the US, my experiences are insignificant. However, at least in the US, the hate is born out of a diverse, heterogeneous population. Other countries aren’t as “progressive.”

It’s hard to feel one emotion about the locals, because when the men aren’t being ethno-ignorant, misogynistic jerks, everyone is very hospitable. A lady I sat next to on a mini-bus who didn’t speak English smiled at me, tried to make conversation, and grasped my hand and said “ciao” when we left. Another woman welcomed us into her restaurant and thanked us for coming to Albania — thank you for being so welcoming! Everyone at the National Coastal Agency, where we intern, have been very friendly as well, and most of my experiences are overwhelmingly positive.

And yet, when my friend and I were walking down the street one evening, a group of men passed by; mutters of “China, China” followed me. I couldn’t help myself, and I spun around and gave their backs the finger — but, being Albanian men,* of course they were still looking at me, so my middle finger caught their laughing faces and I spun back around, terrified that the stories of men stalking women or foreigners who pissed them off would come true right in that moment. Thankfully, it didn’t. But the adrenaline carried me all the way back to our apartment.

Albania so far is great, but there are just a few little things that have made my stay here a little not-great.

DISCLAIMER: I’m actually Taiwanese. They can’t tell the difference?!? (joking; I don’t blame them)

*Trying not to stereotype Albanian men; I’m sorry if I offend.

7 thoughts on “We’re Definitely Not in Kansas Anymore | a series of misleading titles #2

  • May 22, 2017 at 3:25 pm
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    Nora I love the humor you bring to your writing, starting from even the titles of your posts. 🙂

    That sounds like such a difficult situation – while you aren’t in any physical danger, it can still take up so much mental and emotional energy to constantly prove that you are American or to cope with unwelcomed stares. It’ll never be something you’re 100% used to, but make sure to take time for yourself, and perhaps your friends can help with the explaining/reacting part of it. I’ve dealt with similar things in India and would be happy to talk!

    Another blog post that yours reminded you of is below, from a friend who did the Bonderman last year: http://whiteandhuang.com/blog/index.php/2016/06/18/im-not-american/

    Reply
    • May 23, 2017 at 8:27 am
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      Hi Jenny,
      I read the blog and it was very insightful; thanks for showing me that! I left a comment so maybe she’ll answer me or have advice. How did you deal with your experiences in India?
      Thanks 🙂

      Reply
      • May 23, 2017 at 2:46 pm
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        Hi Nora,
        I’m glad the blog post was helpful! I felt like Cathy handled the situation with grace that I hope to have someday. 😛

        In India no one would yell at me, but people would ask “China?” “Nepal?” or people would sneak photos of us. It really made me think about how important it is to ask for permission when taking photos instead of thinking a person is a zoo attraction when I’m somewhere new. There were times when I got really frustrated from it, and it helps to just acknowledge that it IS frustrating and that you’re not overreacting. The biggest thing that made me feel supported and accepted for my identity is when I was with other people and they would step in and say “yes, she is American.”

        Last year when I was in Taiwan it was also frustrating that people wouldn’t accept me as Taiwanese OR American, and I am now super patient because of all of the time that I spent asking people why they said what they said, and explaining that in America, American isn’t an ethnicity, but is comprised of ethnicities from around the world. I also realized that in some way it’s our media’s fault that people around the world don’t think that Asians can be American, and that’s made me more conscious of asking for representation in movies, TVs, books, etc.

        Reply
  • May 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm
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    Hi Nora,

    I read your post and had a little laugh since you’re so humorous. However, I can’t help but wonder if you’re in any immediate danger. What if they did follow you? That would be so scary and frightening!

    I hope you’re enjoying your time in Albania even though there are a lot of strange people staring at a wonderful girl such as yourself. Perhaps I’ll run into you at school sometime and we can have a chat about your summer experience. I feel it’s a bit strange to ask through a comment but I do want to get to know you better!

    Reply
    • May 29, 2017 at 8:14 am
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      Hi Ailun,

      Thanks for your concern! You’ll be pleased to know that no one’s followed me yet and I haven’t been in any real danger. I’m thankful that there are other girls from UM here, so that if anyone did follow us, we could all run away together.

      I would love to chat about my experiences this fall semester! I have so much to tell you that we might need to get coffee three or four times. There is just so much pent-up frustration and stories waiting to be told that you won’t ever be bored. You seem like a fantastic person who loves to meet new people, so I look forward to our coffee dates in the fall.

      -Nora

      Reply
      • June 1, 2017 at 3:31 am
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        Hi Nora,

        Sorry for the late response, but wow! I’m glad you want to get coffee three or four times in the fall. If we end up becoming friends through this strange experience, do you want to get coffee maybe even five times or more? This is kind of awkward to ask online, once again, but you seem like a great person to befriend.

        I really do look forward to seeing you in person since talking online via your blog post comments is a bit unusual.

        Keep in touch,
        Ailun

        Reply
        • June 1, 2017 at 8:15 am
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          Hi Ailun,

          Coffee sounds great, but why stop there? Why not seven times? 10? 20, even? The sky’s the limit, because nothing is impossible.

          Yes, I agree. Talking to strangers online still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

          HAGS,
          Nora

          Reply

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