Negotiation Practices and Etiquette in Albania
The small eastern European country of Albania has a population of around three million people with more than a third of those living in its capital of Tirana. It is important to know how to conduct negotiation practices and to be aware of the correct rules of etiquette so that you do not accidentally offend anyone should you be visiting the country on business or pleasure.
Many Albanians will dress casually for business meetings and any such meetings may take place in coffee houses, private residences or even in taxis. The laid back attitude towards business meetings is reflected in frequent late arrivals for meetings, a similar disregard for arriving at a scheduled time can be seen through many Albanians arriving late for important events or meetings over dinner.
Albanians will usually shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, when meeting with close acquaintances or friends they will generally hug both men and women in greeting. At higher levels of Albanian society English or other European languages are usually spoken however it is not unusual for business meetings in Albania to include at least one translator particularly when dealing with smaller companies.
When dining in Albania much of the food is similar to Greek, Turkish or Italian in origin and very little vegetarian cuisine is available within the country. Most Albanians love to eat meat and fish; this will usually be accompanied by some form of alcohol. Wine, beer or stronger liquor is served at both lunchtime and dinner. A favoured local spirit is ‘raki’ made of grape juice and similar in strength to vodka. Usually foreign guests are expected to try this at least once and it is considered offensive to your hosts to refuse this when offered.
Albanians will pay for guest’s meals especially if it is the first meal they have shared together and even if the guest invited their hosts to join them. The unwritten understanding is that the guests will foot the bill at the next meal. If a successful business meeting has just concluded then it may be sealed with a meal to complete the contract and begin a friendly business relationship.
Coffee is a popular drink in Albania and you may be invited to join Albanians for a drink. This may well begin with coffee and then stronger drinks may be introduced. Going for a coffee can be a process that takes an hour or two and the correct etiquette is to accept that drinking coffee can last several hours and is not thought of in the same way as a coffee break in many western countries.
The giving of gifts is seen as important and if you have been given a gift you are expected to give one back in return. The offering of money as a gift is not seen as being suitable as this may be considered as offering a bribe. Flowers are not generally acceptable as gifts, small paintings or sculptures, in particular from your home country are favourite items to be received. Other acceptable gifts are those suitable for children if the recipient has children.
The process of haggling for a beneficial price for both parties is an acceptable part of life in business in Albania. Haggling over the price in a business deal should include all the details such as down to costs of delivery unless any such details are clarified as to be discussed at a later date. Haggling in stores is acceptable in most locations across the country.
Comments such as ‘your wife/girlfriend is very beautiful’ may be considered as more than a compliment and can lead to an unpleasant misunderstanding as this may be construed as your having an interest in that persons partner so it is often best to avoid such possible unpleasant confrontations through a simple misunderstanding. Politics is another area best avoided, you may be asked about your political beliefs but do not criticize any aspects of political life concerning Albania.
Smoking is widely accepted in public and if you are a non smoker you can offend people by asking them to extinguish their cigarettes. Many restaurants will not have areas separated into smoking and non smoking zones. Another confusing aspect in understanding is between ‘yes and no.’ Nodding the head means ‘no’ while shaking your head indicates ‘yes.’ Therefore it is always best to receive a verbal understanding of such gestures.
Homosexuality or same sex relationships are legal within Albania but are not accepted by all, some people consider that such behaviour is a sign of weakness or even an illness.
The open air markets are great places to haggle for cheap goods such as carpets, ceramics, woodcarvings, metals and craft items such as embroidery. Tirana is not a city where you will find designer labels stores or trendy shops and many vendors will not accept anything but cash in the local currency. Those that do accept overseas currencies or credit cards generally only accept US dollars or the Euro. If haggling over a price it is always best to agree the currency you are haggling in before you open negotiations.