Earlier this week as I walked home through the pouring rain a car swerved towards me causing a cascade of muddy road runoff to cover me from head to foot. Had the situation been unavoidable, I would have been more understanding. But since the car was the only one moving in either direction, the actions of the driver were obviously deliberate making me wonder why such juvenile behavior was really necessary. What did splattering an already rain soaked pedestrian with more water really achieve? Did the driver think this was funny? (Actually yes since the entire car full of young men were laughing as this happened). Did this silly behavior give the driver a false sense of superiority? Was the driver so arrogant that they couldn't think beyond their initial sense of misplaced amusement? Or was the driver just ignorant of what civil behavior really is?
Yesterday, as we found ourselves in yet another Tirana traffic jam, I found myself wondering the same thing. From the distance we could hear the approaching sirens of an ambulance. In typical Albanian fashion very few cars made the effort to move to cede the way to the approaching emergency vehicle. A few did but the open space they created was immediately filled by non-emergency vehicles trying to get out of the bottleneck. I've seen this situation happen over and over again and it really makes me wonder. Are Albanian drivers ignorant of the fact that they are supposed to make way for emergency vehicles? Is there a complete lack of situational awareness? Or are drivers so arrogant that they assume they are above the law and their ability to get from point A to point B takes precedence over that of an ambulance? Or is it a combination of all of these factors?
This is something I've wondered about time and time again. When a driver ignores the red light and continues on their merry way are they unaware of the law saying that you must stop for red lights or do they simply not care? When the same drivers are creating a second or third travel lanes into oncoming traffic (and then turning right from a left lane) because they are unwilling to sit in traffic with the rest of us, are they arrogant or ignorant? The same goes with driving the wrong way in a traffic circle or double and triple parking; is it arrogance or ignorance? And the problem extends beyond driving. And Albanians aren't the only offenders. I regularly see diplomatic plated vehicles double and triple parking on busy streets because there aren't any available parking spaces nearby. Just because we have the CD plate, and most likely won't be ticketed, doesn't mean we should be doing this illegal action. If nothing else, we should be setting an example of what is right since we undeniably know better.
In places where I would expect to see lines---grocery store check outs, passport control at the airport, or admission booths at entertainment venues---people in this country refuse to wait their turn. They push, shove, and jostle their way to the front with little concern for others around them who may have been waiting longer. People will walk three or four abreast on the sidewalk (when one exists) and make the lone person approaching them move out of the way. (This is especially bad when umbrellas are involved). Why does this continue to happen?
Air travel seems to be another area where I wonder whether it is ignorance or arrogance that drives human behavior. When the flight attendants tell you, in multiple languages just so there isn't any misunderstanding, that cell phones must be turned off, seat belts have to remain fastened, you are not allowed to smoke, and carry on baggage is limited to a certain size, how is it that so many passengers feel they are exempt from following the rules? I inevitably see this on every flight in and out of Tirana but really wonder why this is. If one is new to travel, an excuse I've heard many people cite, then shouldn't they be all the more attentive to the instructions? If everyone else must comply with the rules, then why do some people seem themselves as exempt?
These behaviors seem to transcend age and gender. I really wonder what drives this behavior. Is it ignorance? After all, Albania was a closed society for so long that generations of people were raised without any contact with the outside, western world. Not having exposure to western norms could result in an ignorance of the ways and behaviors of civil societies. However, it has been over twenty years since Albania opened her doors to the outside world and thousands of her citizens travel outside of the country each year. This travel exposes them to western norms so I'm not sure one can plead ignorance. And even if they do, I don't think ignorance of a law or norm makes one exempt from complying with it. So it is arrogance that drives this behavior? This is perhaps an even scarier behavioral trait than ignorance. If a person or segment of society feels that the rules and laws do not apply to them, where does that leave a country's civil society? More importantly, how does one tackle this arrogance?
I don't know the answer to all of this but I do know that after two years of experiencing these behaviors on a daily basis I am tired and frustrated. Much to my chagrin I find myself becoming more assertive in ways that I never would have dreamed of prior to arriving here. I no longer meekly hold my place in a check out line. Doing so means I'm never served since I am unable to get to the head of the line. When someone pushes their way ahead of me I hold my ground and refuse to give way. This usually does the trick but it doesn't feel good. Perhaps everyone does this because this has become the cultural norm in Albania. There are a few things I refuse to do however; when driving red always means stop, I'll circle the block or park farther away in a legal parking space, I obey the directives of flight attendants, and I never create a third travel lane into oncoming traffic.