Albania is still one of the most undervalued countries in Europe and this is mainly due to a lot of misconceptions and prejudgement about the Balkan country. Many people simply don’t know much about the country so here are 15 interesting, useful, and fun facts about Albania that many people don’t know.
1. More Albanians Live Abroad Than In Albania
Albania has a population of about 2.8 million but its diaspora reaches far beyond that. It is estimated that over 30% of the people who were born in Albania have emigrated and even up to 10 million ethnic Albanians are currently living abroad.
2. Albanians Love Coffee
If you like coffee, you’re in the right country as Albania ranks among the countries with the most coffee shops per capita in Europe. Albanians love their coffees, especially espresso (ekspres) and Turkish coffee (kafe Turke), but it’s more than just a drink. Drinking coffee is often also a social activity and the usual thing to do when meeting people, whether they are friends or business relations.
3. Raki Is The National Drink
After coffee, and of course water, raki is the most important liquid in Albania and it is considered the national drink. Raki is a spirit, usually made of grapes, which is part of the Albanian culture and can be enjoyed at any time to celebrate life. In Albanian they say “gëzuar” (cheers) when they toast, but in contrast to some other cultures, you’re not obliged to finish your drink in one go. Slowly sipping on your raki is perfectly acceptable in Albania.
4. Tavë Kosi Is The National Dish
The national dish of Albania is called tavë kosi, which is a yoghurt casserole with lamb. Yoghurt and eggs are mixed to a rough and baked in the oven with rice and pieces of lamb in a clay dish. Tavë Kosi is originally from Elbasan, but you can find it around the entire country, including Saranda. For more traditional food, also check out the 26 Delicious Albanian Foods To Try.
5. The Majority Of Albanians Are Muslim
The Ottomans brought the islam to Albania in the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century before the majority of the people turned into muslims. Currently almost 60% of the Albanians are muslims.
6. The Albanian Language Is Unique
The official language of Albania is Albanian, and if you’ve ever read or heard anything in this language you’ve probably had a hard time understanding even a single word. That is because shqip, as the Albanians call it, is a unique language that is not related to any other modern language. Albanian is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family and therefore it has no direct sister languages. Check our list of common words and phrases to get an idea and quickly make some friends when you arrive in Albania.
7. Albania Was The First Atheist Country In The World
During the communist era religion was completely banned in Albania and many religious buildings were even demolished. The communist regime even declared Albania the first atheist country in the world. The ban was lifted again when the communist regime fell and multiple religious groups are now living in peaceful harmony with each other.
8. Albanians Are Obsessed With Mercedes
One of the first things you’ll notice when arriving in Albania is the disproportionate amount of Mercedeses driving around everywhere. It even feels like out of every two cars you see, one is a always a Mercedes. This might sound strange given its expensive image, but there are several good explanations for this.
Going back to the communist era, private car ownership was not allowed, so driving was only for the elite and when the country opened up after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s, there were only between 5,000 and 7,000 cars in the entire country. So you can image that the infrastructure for cars was also lacking, which meant there were not many paved roads and car dealerships and repair shops were scarce as well. When car imports and ownership was allowed people needed reliable cars that wouldn’t break down on unpaved rural roads and could be easily repaired with the little knowledge and spare parts that were available. Since the government elite, including dictator Enver Hoxha, had already adopted Mercedes as their favorite car, the brand had already gained a good reputation. Especially older models were also cheap to import, while still being reliable so it’s no surprice that anyone who could afford a car preferred a Mercedes.
Today, still only one in five people in Albania owns a car, but due to its status symbol, reliability, and the availability of knowledge and spare parts, Mercedes is still the most popular car brand among those who can afford a new or second-hand car.
9. November 28th Is Albania’s National Day
Almost any country has some sort of a national day that is unique to the country. In Albania this is Flag Day, also called Independence Day, which is celebrated on November 28. The day commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1912 and the raising of the Albanian flag by the national hero Skanderbeg on the same day in 1443.
10. The Code Of Besa Will Keep You Safe
Albania is a very safe country and part of this is due to the traditional culture of the Albanians, which includes the old “code of besa”. Besa can be translated as “faith” or “oath” and refers to a pledge of honor. It means that you should look out for each other and never break your promise.
11. Xhiro Is A National Tradition
Xhiro literally means “walk” and that’s exactly what this tradition is about. In the early evening many Albanians get out of their house for a walk and to socialize and catch up with each other. The promenade is the best place in Saranda to observe this typical tradition.
12. Nodding Gets You Confused
If you don’t speak the language, you can always rely on body language, right? Well…yes and no, because there is a very important difference you need to be aware of. When Albanians shake their head from left to right they actually mean yes, and when they nod their head up and downs they mean no. This is exactly the opposite compared to most western cultures, so this might get you confused at first, but over time you will get used to it.
13. Albanians Don’t Call Their Country Albania
We already explained above that the Albanian language is quite unique and when it comes to the name of the country, Albania is called Shqipëria in the Albanian language.
14. Over 750,000 Bunkers Were Built Throughout The Country
During the communist era, Albania became very isolated because it had no allies apart from China. This made dictator Enver Hoxha so paranoid that he always feared an invasion. In order to protect his country he ordered to build more than 750,000 bunkers at strategic places throughout the country. Although most of them have been demolished, there are still around 160,000 bunkers left, including the memorial bunker next to Saranda’s post office.
15. 100% Of The Energy Production Is Renewable
Albania’s energy production is 100% reliable on hydropower plants, which is a renewable energy source. Although this is good for the country’s carbon footprint, the downside is the dependability on weather and climate changes. This means that Albania also needs to import electricity to cover supply shortages and demand peaks. Nevertheless, Albania is among the countries with the highest renewable energy rate in the world.