Meet Malta's favourite stereotypes, at polar opposite ends of each other.
Maltese Hamallu - Maltese Delinquent - by Wayne Grech (Behance.net)
Believe it or not, within an island of just 316 km² and a population of just 460,000 or so, there are still some classic stereotypes. While Britain may have its snobs and its slobs, Malta has its tal-pepé and its hamalli. Amusingly, both are used as derogatory terms by the other section.
What defines a pepé?
Tal-pepé people could have been pulled out of the TV series Keeping up appearances, though often somewhat less refined. Possessing inherited wealth but lacking real class, they tend to have cushy lifestyles, work in a family business and have a strong need to be seen in the 'right' places and demonstrate social status. They will go through a great deal of effort to look good and would go to great lengths to wear only branded clothes.
In a bid to be better than their 'friends', gossiping is a favourite past-time (though that's erm, a generally Maltese trait). They also tend to look down on all things 'typically Maltese', including local traditions, mannerisms and even the language. While regarding themselves as English-speaking, they tend to weave Maltese into the English language as they speak and make wide use of Malteseisms (improper English language structure resembling word-for-word translated Maltese). All rather amusing and quite harmless, really.
What defines a hamallu/a?
On the other hand, the hamallu stereotype has its very own, very popular online cartoon character, the well-loved Frans il-Hamallu. This YouTube clip has amassed almost 135,000 views - since it’s in Maltese, it’s safe to say that’s 30 per cent of the Maltese population! Frans appears in many satirical clips, but what’s great about him is he really fits the hamallu bill: uncouth, to say the least. Good manners, refinement and grace are not hamallu traits. Rather, be prepared for swear words decorating every sentence.
He may be unemployed, hanging out with his bird Joey in a cage under his arm. But he’s out driving a car with spoilers, wider wheels and a sound system capable of hosting an outdoor event. As a nouveau riche, the hamallu will display his wealth in heavy gold on his hands and hairy chest. A hamalla - the female version - will match tacky jewellery with revealing clothes when mistaking vulgar for sexy. She will also tend to be very crass. Generally kind at heart, some hamalli may demonstrate a my-way-or-no-way intimidating attitude.
Of course, while some people actually do fit these bills to some degree or another, most Maltese people don’t. Most Maltese people would rather not have either of these tags, although some actually take pride in their pepé or hamallu status. And everyone knows at least one hamallu and one pepé person, whom they will equally love. So what do you think, have you met any hamalli or tal-pepé people in Malta?