There’s no Irish embassy in Kosovo. There are no motorways or McDonald’s in Kosovo either, but sensing the easiest position to fill would be the diplomatic one, we set up a fake Irish embassy there last month. We had no power to grant visas or offer asylum, but thanks to some booze sponsors we were never more than a playlist away from hosting a good party. Here’s a few things we learned about life in Kosovo.
-In spite of the images the name conjures, Kosovo has become really safe in the past ten years. So safe that the internationals who work there recently had their salaries reduced. They’re not getting danger money anymore and they’re not happy about it. Which is a little like aid workers in Africa throwing tantrums because the famine came to an end. Anyway, it’s only when you’ve got a visitor in town and you’re explaining to them how safe the place is, and you’re boasting how even the pretty girls can walk home alone, that you stumble upon a cavalcade of twenty police cars and half the city closed off while they mop up the recently expired.
-You can smoke anywhere in Prishtina. In our last couple of days we discovered you could also smoke in the taxis and from then on every time we wanted to light up, we’d call a cab, ask him to take us round the block and savour the experience like it was still 1982. Transparency International lists Kosovo as the most corrupt country in the Balkans. Cigarettes are an easy smuggle so everyone sells them. They do the rounds of bars and cafes with trays of smokes selling Marlboros that taste like glass shards and smell like the day after Armageddon. They cost a euro or less.
-I don’t know if this is just a general niceness amongst Kosovars or some clever Anglophone who taught them the wrong expression a long time ago, but whenever you ask for a bill in Kosovo, they’ll tell you how much followed by “If you have it.” And the thing is sometimes you don’t. So when your friendly gypsy cab driver (we didn’t walk much in Kosovo, which might have been a result of all the heavy smoking, but it is possible and some people do) tells you to give him two bucks and you’ve only got a buck-fifty, he’ll say no problem and shoot you a wink. Which immediately brings us back to that whole Transparency International statistic and raises an important ethical question: if one of the outcomes of widespread corruption is that people don’t sweat over fifty cents, could some token laundering, extortion, and kidnapping benefit honest societies in the same way that parks and universal healthcare do?
-Your stories will never beat theirs. You might think the time you were stoned at a party and put a cat on the record player, or the evening you absent-mindedly climbed into bed with your girlfriend’s mother would make for clever silence fillers, but in Kosovo, this will not cut the mayo. No matter what story you tell, they can match it, and then rub it in by going one better with a sentence like: “And the whole time we’d been making out in the middle of a minefield.”