Week 4 in Tirana

Working in a country outside of America has opened my eyes to trying new things and dealing with challenges on the spot. For instance, my parents were born in former Yugoslavia to Albanian parents, although I am of Albanian heritage, I speak in a contrasting dialect to those in the capital of Tirana and south of it. I knew this going in, but I did not know how big of a difference it would play in every day life. One funny experience I had was going to the local supermarket and asking for a basic drink: milk. My entire life I grew up calling milk “tamale” but the minute I opened my mouth, the employee glared at me with confusion. After repeating myself about 5 times and having no progress I scurried to the back of the store and grabbed a cereal box that displayed milk being poured into a bowl. We quickly had a laugh and she stated that the correct term for the region was “qumesht.” I continue running into the same hurdle everyday, specifically since I am working in the capital and visiting tourist sites in the very south of Albania.
One night after work I began conversating with this younger man and my dialect reminded him of his deceased grandfather who used to talk to him in the same northern dialect. Since he was exposed to that vocabulary, he new exactly where I was from. As a result, I felt at home in a place that I felt oddly out of place because of my dialect. The experience taught me that although my dialect may be different, it is who I am and being who I am brings certain challenges and enhancements to life. In simpler terms, if you call a soft drink “pop” or “soda,” continue to keep saying what you want and understand you are just one small piece of life’s mosaic.

One thought on “Week 4 in Tirana

  • August 2, 2018 at 4:47 pm
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    Dear John, the story that you shared really highlights how understanding and belonging correspond with language. My parents are from Taiwan, and while the dialect is very similar to Mandarin in China, there are similar differences that have caused confusion for me as well. For example, the word for computer in China is the word for calculator in Taiwan, or I had a Chinese instructor look at me with frustrated confusion when I didn’t know what a plastic bag was (I had a different word for it). Best of luck in the next few weeks!

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