When foreign friends come to stay, they often come home with questions about puzzling behaviour they'd observed in the local people. I'd be amused, because what they found peculiar, I considered the order of the day. Still, these questions nonetheless caused me to reflect on the Maltese idiosyncrasies only a local can understand - here are a few.
1. The Maltese love their homes
Why is that lady cleaning the pavement outside her house? Um, the Maltese are very house-proud and, as is the Maltese way, that includes the pavement in front of it. Why are the neighbours watching TV from the pavement? Um, because they want to enjoy the beautiful summer night and their favourite TV show (plus it saves on air conditioning bills). Why would anyone take a PlayStation to a beach trip (complete with generator and LCD screen)? Um, because they love their home comforts and, again, if they can enjoy the best of both worlds, why not?
2. The Maltese are very, um, passionate
No, dear friend, do not be alarmed because you notice a raised voice and waving hands - it’s just the Maltese expression and it’s all gonna be alright. The Maltese like to live fully - they feel fully and they express fully. Making a presence can range from deafening car music to stating a strong opinion loudly in a bar. I’m not sure if it’s just the Mediterranean blood or a subconscious population-wide liberation from a history of occupation and suppression, but a Maltese person certainly doesn't mind being noticed. Let’s just say they don’t hold anything in.
3. The Maltese are offensive to be friendly (sometimes)
It's not always what it seems. One Maltese trait is to tease as a way of testing and gauging relationships - the farther you can go without breaking, the deeper the bond! This is if it's done in a more playful way, of course, although direct, say-it-as-you-feel-it talk while angry is not unusual among family and friends. But, it is also expected to pass as a loud laugh would.
4. Maltese displays of devotion can be rather extreme
Whether to their families or/and religion, the Maltese certainly have a devotional streak. Just as they sometimes insult each other affectionately, the same can be seen in the elaborate and sometimes shocking poems directed at the competing club at a traditional village festa - quite the feat! So much for humility, peace and love!
5. Actually, the Maltese are fanatical about everything
All in the name of passion and devotion (we are a nation of proud Christians after all), the Maltese are fanatical about anything they choose to support, be it politics or, um, foreign football teams - Malta is the best place to be during a World Cup - carcades every night! Actually, I don’t really know why we Maltese are like this, but when you grow up here, you just learn to accept it as the way of life.
6. Unbelievably, there is a North and South divide
The competition is fierce in every aspect of Maltese life: village festas, fireworks, football clubs, politics, family feuds... yet the most unlikely divide is surely the one between North and South; you see, Malta is merely 27 km long. With all the stereotypes, different words and forms of expression, I understand that it is hard to believe that it’s all within a few minutes drive.
7. Oh, but the Maltese are clever with their words
The variations of expression, even from village to village in Gozo, is only more evidence that the Maltese somehow invent their language as they go along. They have adopted words from Arabic, Sicilian, Spanish, English, Italian and French, and they continue to adapt more words every year, giving them modifications and a Maltese spelling. Practically everyone speaks English because it is a national language, and over 30s will speak Italian too, while those younger can't, due to Italian TV before satellite and cable TV (and hence English channels) became a thing!
Please don’t ask me to explain mela… it’s cute when you try, but you’ll never quite get it right! The value of mela is not in the meaning - in fact, it does not have a precise meaning but a range of meanings - and it is just the right intonation that gives it context. Mela, let’s just leave it at that.