Monday, August 10, 2015


So the language we study at the Foreign Service Institute is not exactly what they use here.

In Kosovo, Gheg is the dialect of Albanian spoken. In fact, it is spoken by the majority of Albanian speakers, including the folks north of Tirane in Albania. But the standard dialect, Tosk, is taught at FSI. It is standard by virtue of having been the dialect spoken by Enver Hoxha, the former dictator of that country.

I already knew Gheg was different just in terms of the occassional times in class that the native gheg speakers would tell use different words used in Kosovo or show us videos of people speaking gheg. And at one lunch with two of my teachers and an EFM from Kosovo, all of whom I have become friends with, when the native Tosk speaker was late, the other two spoke very quickly and in gheg.

Holy mini-immersion Batman! Gheg is different!

So when I arrived at the airport on Wednesday, I was prepared to have a bit of difficulty understanding, but I sort of expected to be understood.

I went to the customs line because I needed a signature on my CITES permit for Cayenne showing she had arrived.

I told the officer in standard Albanian that I had nothing to declare but I needed someone to sign that the bird had entered the country.

What? he asked.

So I repeated myself.

"Where are you from?"

"The U.S."

"Speak to me in English."

I was simultaneously offended and wondering what I said wrong. So I repeated myself in English.

"What?" he asked.

"I need a signature on my form."


"To bring the bird into Kosovo."

"But she is here."

"Right, but I need a signature so I can take her back to the U.S. in two years."

"So take her."

Okay, at this point I have determined the issue was not my language skills. It was the issue. And once I got him to sign the form (yay for small victories), I chatted with him for a few minutes in Albanian just to reassure myself that I could actually speak the language.

I could.

I also succeeded last night in chatting with the guard at our house about unemployment in the country.

So maybe I speak this language after all.

No comments: