Monday, May 7, 2012

A Balkans Tradition?!

A joke that many Peace Corps Volunteers here in Albania throw back and forth at each other is 'Did you know that coffee is a Balkans Tradition?!' It is pretty obvious that coffee in small cups at least 3 times a day is the way of life here.

Prior to my arrival in Albania, one aspect of the culture that had not fully grasped the importance of was creating personal relationships over coffee and drinking coffee in general. Drinking coffee is a huge part of the Albanian culture, whether you are meeting someone socially or in regards to work there is usually coffee present.

I began drinking/forcing myself to enjoy coffee as a college student working on my senior thesis. At this point in my life drinking coffee was much more out of necessity than desire. Now, in Albania, I have welcomed coffee breaks to become part of my daily routine. It has also been a wonderful way for me to meet people in my community, create meaningful relationships with Albanians, and accomplish work and projects throughout my Peace Corps service.

When meeting to talk about business over coffee the structure of the meeting is always the same. The coffee, in it's tiny cup, lasts for a whopping 50 min, the conversation starts with the usual pleasantries, then moves on to family and what you have been up to since the last time the two of you had coffee. Finally, after 40 min of random talk the conversation turns to what you  needed to discuss and the reason the two of you met up in the first place, work, for the last 10 min. Before I had integrated and become used to this part of the culture I did not have the patience nor the interest in work 'meetings'

Something that no one tells you and you just have to figure out for yourself is that when you go to 'coffee' you don't actually have to drink coffee. Unfortunately, I found this out too late. Upon arriving to site many people asked me to have coffee with them as a way to welcome me to their community. I ended up going to 5 or 6 coffees a day in the beginning and having a small express at each of these meetings. Let me tell you, I have never shook as much as I did those first couple of days in Himare. With all the caffeine in my system my body could just not sit still.

Now that I have lived in Albania for two years, I have learned how to 'milk' a little cup of coffee for an entire 50 min long meeting, I no longer shake from 2 express coffees, sitting down for a leisurely morning coffee is something I really enjoy, and going to coffee has become one of my favorite parts of the day. How am I going to be able to adjust to the large, fast paced, to-go coffee culture in America?

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