Speaking to People

In relationships, it is often the little things that have the biggest impact.

In Albania, social status (saving face and respect) is the priority. What you wear, where you go and who you associate with are the most important things. Thus to be seen with Americans is very status building. However, speaking to someone below your socio-economic class is to loose status. The director of an organization barely recognizes his or her direct reports and rarely, if ever, the cleaning, maintenance or security staff. We have walked into facilities with directors who will not even acknowledge the security staff unless there is an order for them.

That is not a protocol we followed. As we went to work, we spoke or acknowledged everyone. At first, we were surprised to see how responsive people were to the simple hello and good morning. Then we noticed how most people only speak to their friends and never to the store cashier or maintenance person.

It was interesting to observe the reaction of Albanians when we were out with them and some of the ‘lower-status’ people would speak to us and we would stop and greet them, or as we entered the office, we would say hello to the security guard. Initially, these encounters were followed by ‘who is that?’ or ‘why do you know them?’ with a bit of disapproval. But with time, these encounters were no longer questioned – it was just the way of those foreigners.

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