Albania was the last country in Europe to hold multi-party elections, in March 1991. The first year of democracy was turbulent; the country stabilised after the March 1992 elections, but the collapse of pyramid-banking schemes brought Albania to the brink of civil war in early 1997.
Since then, Albania has gradually become more politically stable and economically prosperous. The 2005 parliamentary elections resulted in the first peaceful handover of power from one governing party to another.
Albania is an extremely secular society. The traditional breakdown is 70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox (the autocephalous Albanian church) and 10% Catholic, but at best these figures indicate nothing more than nominal attachment to each faith.
Normal Albanian etiquette is for people to shake hands the first time they see each other every day, and then again when they part. Between friends, a kiss on both cheeks is exchanged by men as well as women.
The usual way to indicate 'yes' is by moving the head horizontally from side to side. 'No' is usually signalled by a slight raising of the eyebrows, sometimes accompanied by a gentle click of the tongue.
Albanians usually remove their shoes inside their homes or other people's houses. If you are visiting an Albanian home, you will be offered a pair of slippers or plastic sandals to wear while you are indoors.
Smoking is widespread, and it is very unusual to find a non-smoking section in a restaurant, never mind a bar. However, smoking is not allowed on public transport, and this ban is almost always respected. On long journeys, the bus or minibus will stop for a cigarette-break from time to time.
Homosexuality is taboo, although not illegal. Public displays of affection by gay couples are likely to be greeted with some hostility.
Language in Albania
The official language is Albanian. Greek is widely spoken in the south of the country, and some state schools there use Greek as the medium of education. Many Albanians speak Italian; some also know French or English.