Mother Teresa was born on 26 August 1910 in Skopje (modern Macedonia), then part of the Ottoman Empire. Her family was from Shkodër, Albania, and her father was involved in Albanian politics. She won the Nobel Peace Prize and is scheduled to become a Roman Catholic saint in September 2016. Tirana’s international airport is named after her.
Of Kings and Queens
King Zog of Albania was the only national leader in modern times to return fire during an assassination attempt.
When Geraldine Apponyi married King Zog in 1938 she became the first American woman to be a queen.
Tribes with Guns
The Ghegs of northern Albania are the only tribal society that survived in Europe until the middle of the 20th century.
Everyone likes a nice Merc
Albania had 3 million people but only 3000 cars at the end of the communist era in 1991 because private cars were illegal. Today, Albania has many cars and perhaps half of all cars are Mercedes of varying legal statuses. Albanian drivers have the same reputation as Ethiopian ski jumpers, no surprise, given the lack of practice over decades.
Albania had a Stalinist government for almost 50 years (1944-1991) and 1 out of 100 Albanians was imprisoned at some point by this regime. There still remains much nostalgia for this system which brought electricity, modern medicine, and literacy to much of the population for the first time in history.
God and spirit
In 1967 Albania became the world’s first officially atheist state. Today, 70% of Albanians are Muslim (even though the number who actively practice is much lower), which makes them one of only two majority-Muslim countries in Europe (besides Kosovo, which is also inhabited largely by Albanians, and not counting Turkey).
Albania has completed at every Olympics since 1992, but has never won a medal.
Pyramid schemes and bunkers
Albania descended into anarchy/civil war in 1997 after pyramid schemes left much of the already very poor country even poorer. Arms depots were raided by the general population, putting hundreds of thousands of AK47s into their hands. This is the only occasion that Albania’s 300,000 concrete bunkers were actually used for military purposes.
Burgers, Balkan Egyptians, and Belushi
Albania, Armenia and Vatican City are the only European countries without a McDonald’s branch.
Albania is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world. Albanians constitute 97% of the population, followed by 1% Greeks. The remaining 2% is comprised of Vlachs, Roma, Serbs, Macedonians, Balkan Egyptians, and Bulgarians.
The father of James and John Belushi (the comedian and the Blues Brothers star) was Albanian. James received an honorary Albanian citizenship in 2009.
Albania was chosen as the top country in Lonely Planet’s list of ten top countries to visit for 2011.
Nodding your head means ‘no’ and shaking your head means ‘yes’ in Albania.
[deeply indebted to https://dudewheresmygomar.wordpress.com; various other sources such as Wikipedia]