When I was in Albania, one of the things I noticed was a propensity for volunteers, myself included, to suddenly engage in self-destructive behavior of one sort or another. Some of them involved basic vices while some of them involved automobiles.
Partly as a result of culture shock, and partly as a form of self-defense, volunteers who’d never smoked before they came to Albania suddenly became smokers. Volunteers who had smoked before they came to Albania became chain smokers. Granted, when you’re surround by groups of locals chain smoking, and science says secondhand smoke is more dangerous than smoking, it is actually safer for you to start smoking cigarettes. (Something like that.)
Alcohol consumption sky-rocketed (one of my favorite vices at first) especially because the prices were relatively low. Skenderbeg Cognac was especially popular, but I tended to stick to beer, raki and cheap vodka (I think it was 15 cents a bottle but it might have been cheaper).
My other vices were
1) Chasing the wrong woman and ignoring the right one (a novel would be required to explain more) which is something I was prone to do before (another novel) and it got worse in Albania.
2) Being cheap. The latter involved always managing to let other people pay for things and never volunteering to pay for the group when a bunch of us met for coffee (total cost for everyone, 50 cents to 1 dollar). As you might imagine, that didn’t win me many friends, especially among the Albanians with us.
3) Blather and Gossip. Not only can I talk a lot without seeming to breathe, but for a brief time I was the guy you told things to when you wanted everyone to know (but God help you if you told me and you didn’t want people to know).
The other thing that happened, especially in our second year was we started to get reckless. Albanian traffic was a remarkable thing as it was made up of people who’d just earned their licenses and were finally able to acquire cars. This made them a group of teenagers who believed the rules, in so far as they understand them, were mere suggestions. Despite this, it was normal for groups of us to suddenly cross the street without looking, often to the horror of newcomers who’d made the mistake of trying to follow us. (It was their own fault for not looking.)
We used to talk about why, and I’m not sure we reached any conclusions. I always joked (constantly that I did it because if they killed me I’d go to a better place (most likely although this blog may be held against me) and if they didn’t I’d still get to go to a better place when I was airlifted to Germany.
I think, though, it was an odd symptom of culture shock. Albania was an exhausting and frustrating place to work and overtime that frustration built to a low level anger and everything around us. I suspect we were playing chicken with the country. Daring it to try to knock us out if it could. We wanted to go home but we didn’t want to quit.
Eventually it would knock me out temporarily, but I did get to go to a better place for three weeks.