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Mela! 10 things you can expect to hear when you visit The Maltese Islands
Want to know what the Maltese are on about?

Melanie Drury

Some sights, smells and, especially, sounds are quite unique to a place and can easily evoke memories. While in Malta, keep an ear to the ground for these phrases that you might commonly hear. If you’ve already visited, they will put you right back into the picture.

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1. “Mela!”

At #1 we have Malta’s favourite word: “Mela!” You will hear this one as soon as you encounter any Maltese person speaking. And it will be the word you’ll hear most throughout your stay. This word has a range of meanings: “Of course!”, “Okay!”, “Alright!”, “Certainly!”, “So”, “Then” or even the filler “Umm”. It is commonly squeezed into the beginning or end of every sentence for effect. But all vary slightly in intonation, so, try as you might, you won’t get it right.

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2. “Mhux hekk?”

Dropped into conversation no matter the language being spoken, here’s a tip to what this means although it won’t really help you all that much. This is actually another phrase which has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used and the tone of voice. It literally translates as “Isn’t it?” but could also come to mean a less affectionate “Is that so?” In Gozo, the variation is “Ma tofx?” - “Don’t you know?” (Please note the dialect spelling vs the Maltese “Ma tafx?”).

3. “Hux?”

Meet the relative of “Mhux hekk”, with “mhux” being the negative of “hux”. This can also be translated as “Isn’t it?” although it actually means, um, “Is it?”. Yes, Maltese is tricky to translate. In any case, it will often be slipped in at the end of whatever has just been said, seeking approval from the listener. It will almost always solicit the obvious response: “Mela!”

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4. “Ta!”

On the other hand, this one might be related to Gozo’s “Ma tofx?”. While the former is a question, “Ta!” is an affirmation derived from “(Inti) Taf!” - “You know!” It basically gives little space for argument. Any sentence ending with “Ta!” is a statement of fact and there’s nothing more to add. For example, “I’ll drive you to the airport, ta!” Just like “Mela,” this expression is used whether Maltese or English is being spoken.

5. “Move back please!”

You might hear this on your very first bus ride in Malta. “Move back please!” is the bus driver’s mantra, especially in summer when throngs of tourists crowd the bus service. And while the traditional local buses are a thing of the past, in summer, there's often still very little space to stand comfortably, and as many people as possible are crammed in, “hux”

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6. “Aw Lily”

Any woman passing a construction site seems to have been named Lily by the island's construction workers, and well, we're not quite sure why. The sight of her must indeed be refreshing compared to the stone, concrete and gypsum of a construction site, so perhaps that's it?

7. “Aw gisem”

On the other hand, this cat-call is inadvertently insulting. Check out the scrub hollering “Aw gisem!” at a pretty woman from his best friend’s car. Literally meaning, “Hey, (beautiful) body,” it remains a mystery what makes him think most women would be flattered by such objectification. Then again, there are all sorts, “hux?”

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8. “Qalbi” (or “Hanini”)

Here’s a term of endearment that can be wonderfully sweet or obnoxiously condescending. It takes skill to tell which from which. Some people use these terms very sparingly, others say them to anyone they meet; and some love the endearment and others feel it is fake and dislike it coming from near-strangers. Best to stick to using these with people who are truly dear to you, but if someone says it to you, they usually mean well.

9. “Ghadhom hajjin! …. This very, very fresh, hij”

So fresh that they are still alive! Referring to the vegetables in the market or the fresh catch of the day, this is the promise of the monti stall-holder or van hawker in your village square. He’ll hollar “Hajjin!” (Alive!) to the locals and, not wishing to make visitors feel left out, he’ll turn to tourists and offer them this “very, very fraash” (produce), “hij!” (brother!).

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10. “Go back to your country” #Sorry

Alas, this is the inevitable comeback if you piss off any Maltese person (if you’re not a local). It’s the ‘polite’ Maltese equivalent of “F*** off”, so you should, um, be grateful they’re still being somewhat polite. Ahem. Just follow the local customs, don’t complain about the Maltese and their unique way in the world, and feel assured you’ll always be more than welcome!

11th March 2019


Melanie Drury
Written by
Melanie Drury
Melanie was born and raised in Malta and has spent a large chunk of her life travelling solo around the world. Back on the island with a new outlook, she realised just how much wealth her little island home possesses.

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