Why Malta is more fun for expats than for locals

(5 minutes read)

Many expat acquaintances of mine have a hobby of complaining about many things Maltese. Some of these complaints are justified: yes, public transport and urban planning here are non-existent, silence is nowhere to be found and cranes are the permanent eyesore on the skyline. However, one statement I particularly disagree with is that making good friends among Maltese and integrating in Malta is difficult. In fact, it is quite contrary: finding your way around Maltese social bubbles is much easier for an expat than for a local. And here is why:

  1. Many middle-class Maltese prefer finding friends among foreignerssouth

Have you noticed how cautiously Maltese make new acquaintances? It might sound like a thing of the past but in Malta, still, one is evaluated not only on the basis of who he is but also by which background he comes from. When introduced to a stranger, Maltese do their best to find out whether or not the acquaintance-to-be belongs to their circle. The procedure of such evaluation varies from questions like “which town are you from? or/and “what school did you go to?” to shameless peering at the stranger’s outfit and accessories in search for ‘this is my tribe’ signifiers. The latter approach is especially popular among the so-called tal’ pepe – the cluster infamous for their snobbery and class frustration, whose code of conduct is articulated by the best-known local blogger. The single fact of having grown up in Bormla or Hamrun – pretty much any place south, including Valletta or, God forbid, Gozo – is enough for a contemptuous look.

Grounded Maltese also do not hesitate to fish out as much information about strangers’ origins as they can. It is customary to burst into tireless mention of possible common friends, acquaintances and distant relatives right upon having learnt about the strangers’ home locality. Conversations like “you are from Birgu, right? My mother’s cousin’s husband’s brother is from there! And Gorg, mastrudaxxu, do you know him?” might seem pointless to the outsiders yet practically unavoidable for the locals. A Maltese cannot sneeze without revealing something about his locality, family or partisan allegiances. 

Once landed in Malta, the majority of foreign IT developers, PR professionals, designers, architects, researchers and so on immediately and by default find themselves in the middle class environment. The middle class in Malta is very young and diverse, with a non-uniform level of education and family background. Many of the young and prominent Maltese figures come from rural areas and modest family backgrounds and thus detest being evaluated on the basis of their origin. On the other hand, foreigners do not care which school their Maltese friends went to, and which locality they come from – that is why, among foreign friends, so many Maltese feel appreciated for who they are.

Being able to enjoy the country in all its diversity without having to pass everything through a filter of bizarre local symbolism is a great advantage for middle class foreigners in Malta. They can see things fresh and judge them by what they really are and not by what they mean – it counts, doesn’t it?

2. Expats in Malta have more social freedom and mobilitybeach

 Maltese society is very fragmented and operates within a few rigid bubbles that do not interact. In fact, the very sentence “Maltese are …” is incorrect as there is no single stereotype or a common understanding of what it means to be Maltese. Maltese from different bubbles have very little in common. Malta’s rural areas are divided into bubbles by locality and the urban Maltese bubbles have schools, professions and family traditions in common. Bubbles have their own infrastructure; their members mostly attend events organized by the bubble, giving no damn about what other bubbles are up to.

Bubbles are units of social interaction. In Malta physical proximity means nothing. Alternative youth, hipsters and slightly off-mainstream adventurers might hang out a few meters away from one another yet barely they would notice each other’s existence and whereabouts. It is not exaggeration to say that most of Maltese do not imagine a bigger picture of their own country.

No wonder that after a while such clustered socializing becomes suffocating, claustrophobic and boring yet even then, for a Maltese, changing bubbles is ultra difficult. For a local, assimilation into a new cluster is a challenge. A new bubble member has to pass through the “school-locality-status” evaluation procedure which isn’t fun.

On the other hand, expats can attend events organised by different bubbles and hop from one bubble to another. Today they can attend a poetry book launch, tomorrow – join a high-society event and the day after go to the Hamrun feast. What sounds simple to an expat is out of reach for a local. Seeing the country through thick glasses of class symbolism, Maltese cannot explore and enjoy all aspects of their diverse country.

3. Expats in Malta do not have to constantly prove themselves

prosit

Bragging about high self-esteem and active self-promotion are culturally accepted in Malta. In case your Nordic mentality kept you from enlightening everyone what amazing talents you possess, here you don’t have to hesitate. Not only is enthusiastic self-promotion not considered cheap here, it even becomes almost necessary not to disappear on the background of oh-so-bright and so-very-talented individuals praised with countless ‘prosit’ upon their achievements. Maltese from humble family backgrounds feel pressure to prove they are worth something and that is where the never-ending flow of self-praising comes from.

Foreigners in Malta are spared from having to prove something to everyone. They certainly do not have to flaunt their degrees and career achievements, they can just relax. Maltese, to some extent, look up to foreigners so there goes your bigger-fish-in-a-smaller-pond moment.

N.B. However, in case you moved to Malta to have your bigger-fish-in-a-smaller-pond moment of glory, you are soon in for some disappointment. Here is why:

  • The problem is that the pond is even smaller than you think. Basically, the size of the pond is the size of a bubble. If you are, say, an artist, your audience will barely exceed a bubble of a few hundred people (artists or wannabes themselves). Most of creativity is produced and discussed within a bubble, for the bubble and stays there.
  • Your moment of glory won’t last long. Soon after, you will need to remunerate your peers with all the prosit! they gave you. People applauded you today in order to receive ovations tomorrow.
  • The number of prosit! does not depend on degree of achievement nor does it reflect any merit of your work. While it is customary to brag, ‘well done!’ in Malta means nothing, absolutely nothing.

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What bubble of Maltese society do you belong to?

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This is a non-serious yet quite realistic scope of Maltese society. Choose the bubble that ticks most boxes for you and read the description at the bottom of the page :). Please remember to laugh and not to take it all seriously.

Oo. Bubble 1 .oO

Political party: Labour/Nationalist.

Religion: Believer.

Interests: cars, family, fashion, local TV programmes, feast and other loud events, pop-music (preferably loud)

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: send them home!

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Le ta.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Jien naf!

Places to hang out: social media, bars, Paceville, Café del Mar.

How you see other bubbles: Mhux Maltin ta veru!

How other bubbles see you: try not to have much in common.

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Oo. Bubble 2 .oO

Political party: Nationalist.

Religion: Agnostic/Believer

Interests: international politics, British/French literature, travels, fine dining (basically, everything what excludes interests of bubble 1).

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: not so much in favour but you keep it to yourself

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Yes, about time we get a fine example of contemporary architecture.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Only if they are born in the same bubble.

Places to hang out: art events, receptions, boutique launches, fine restaurants.

How you see other bubbles: plebs and peasants.

How other bubbles see you: uppers class snobs.

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Oo. Bubble 3 .oO

Political party: floating voter/Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: Never!

Interests: blaming religion for all world’s disasters, astronomy, non-fiction or comic books, action movies or true stories, vintage rock music (all wrapped in “Science will save the world!”).

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Generally favourable. If not, you still pretend it’s favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Never, it is ugly!

How accepting you are of new bubble members? If they are ready to bitch about church, they are very welcome!

Places to hang out: mostly in front of PC, trying to solve world’s problems by arguing with idiots on social networks.

How you see other bubbles: morons!

How other bubbles see you: with caution.

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Oo. Bubble 4 .oO

Political party: Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: Not particularly but Buddha sounds like a nice guy.

Interests: Environment, human rights, green politics, organic/vegetarian/vegan food, meditation, a joint once in a while.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Very favourable! The world is one and we need to help less fortunate ones!

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Generally yes, but we need more open and green spaces.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? They are welcome; we need more like-minders.

Places to hang out: Gugar, Juuls, Happy Days, reggae parties, indie film, literature and ethnic festivals.

How you see other bubbles: ignorant plebs and slaves of capitalism.

How other bubbles see you: annoying hippies.

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Oo. Bubble 5 .oO

Political party: Alternattiva Democratica

Religion: No.

Interests: Visual and performance art, architecture, arthouse films, smart TV series, personally styled clothes, geek books and other stuff that makes no sense to other bubbles.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Very much so.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Generally accepting but let’s keep the number low: we feel more special being a minority.

Places to hang out: Gugar, St. James Cavalier, Blitz, I’Ingliz bar, indie film, literature and ethnic festivals.

How you see other bubbles: uncultured shallow plebs with no sense of aesthetics.

How other bubbles see you: deny your existence.

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Oo. Bubble 6 .oO

Political party: Liberal something.

Religion: No, but Krishna sounds cool.

Interests: LIFE! Good music, good entertainment, good company, diving, climbing, adventures.

Attitude to immigrants/refugees: Favourable.

Do you like Valletta City Gate project? Yeah, nice.

How accepting you are of new bubble members? Our bubble sustains on new members.

Places to hang out: St. Julians, Paceville, boat parties, Café del Mar, live music concerts.

How you see other bubbles: know nothing about them. If they aren’t with us, they must be boring.

How other bubbles see you: unaware of your existence.

 

Bubble 1:

Congratulations! You belong to the most numerous bubble of “Typical Maltese” (or a “Typical Gozitan”) whatever it means :). Your preferences are main-stream to the bone. Regardless of your educational level, you care little about such useless things as classic literature, philosophy, art and other cultural aspects (or, in short, areas that are not connected to your money-earning routine).

Bubble 2:

Congratulations! You are so-called “Tal-pepe”, a well-mannered individual, familiar with dining etiquette, often mistaken for a snob. You strive not to mix with Bubble 1 and even speak Maltese with English accent to scare them off. With your good education, good taste and style, family traditions and high status, you make sure others understand they can’t imagine they are your equal.

Bubble 3:

Congratulations! Most likely, you are a member of Malta Humanist Association. You see yourself as hope and future of the Maltese nation. With all your devotion to humanism, science and politics you lack awareness and appreciation of art in all its forms and ways. If something is not linked to Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan or another scientific dude, then it’s worthless rubbish (exception made for superheroes, they are cool!).

Bubble 4:

Congratulations! You are an environmental activist. Your bubble is pretty much international. You are a politically aware, thinking and socially responsible individual which hopes (and works for) to make the world a better and fairer place. Most likely, you are a member of an environmental NGO. Others see you as a weirdo and a dreamer, and for that reason you have no other choice but to stick to your bubble.

Bubble 5:

Congratulations! Together with bubble 4, you belong to the minority of thoughtful individuals. You are artistic or have a deep appreciation and understanding of art (also, you might have none of these but just want to hang around cool people). You and other bubble members are not so easily approachable what makes it rather difficult to penetrate into your bubble.

Bubble 6:

Congratulations! Most likely, you are a foreigner or a rare example of Maltese who do not keep to bubbles, do not care for ideology and do not hold to roots. You live somewhere around Sliema/St. Julians/Gzira/Msida, love life, dedicate some time (but not a lot) to thinking and ready to leave Malta in a minute if a better opportunity crops up.

Didn’t find your bubble in this scope? Define it yourself 🙂