“The Maltese are laid back – sometimes almost comatose. Their greatest pleasure is to do everything as slowly as possible (They may, in fact, be the laziest people in the world – 72% of them do no physical exercise whatsoever, not even a light jog. This is the conclusion of the British scientific journal The Lancet, which compiled an international “lazy list” taking into account the lifestyle data of residents of 122 countries.)
The Maltese are warm-hearted, kind, and friendly, but they do not always want to converse with tourists. At the same time, tourists visiting Malta can certainly count on the helpfulness of the locals if they get into a bit of trouble, and of course for help with directions. Everyone speaks excellent English, and Italian as well. They do use their own language, but, for example, money is always counted in English. Some residents feel more kinship with the Italians than with the British.
If, as a foreigner, you’re curious about Maltese culture, you might want to visit a local pub or café for a lemonade or two (possibly Kinnie, Malta’s national pride, if you have a taste for it) or a beer in one of the truly authentic pubs in the non-tourist areas. These are very numerous in Valletta and the “three cities”. These kinds of pubs are always full of old men, conversing vehemently and playing cards. The stranger can be sure that politics will not be left out of their conversation. Interestingly, almost every town in Malta has a brass band, whose musicians and circle of friends form a very cohesive group. At local (mostly religious) festivals and events, the bands and their fans make a big commotion.
A very large proportion of Maltese are religious (98 percent Roman Catholic) and still regularly attend church services. Going to Mass on Sundays and holidays is a significant family and social event. The Catholic Church of Malta has a strong influence on the social life of the country. In Malta, abortion and divorce were banned until 2011. (Globally, only the Philippines and Malta are so severe when it comes to divorce.) At the same time, the influence of the church hierarchy over people’s everyday lives has been fading over the last decade or so. For example, in the case of moral scandals, only the older generations are still able to muster much indignation, while the younger generations tend to shrug at such things and to laugh among themselves at the conservatism of the elderly and the church. Even so, young people are less rebellious and enterprising than their peers in most European countries. No doubt a big factor in this is the fact that wherever locals go on this small island, they’re sure to meet someone they know, meaning they can’t break social conventions without it being noticed and remarked on.
In summer, many Maltese take a siesta in the early afternoon, during the worst of the heat. Many stores also close for 2-3-hour siestas. Then, on summer evenings, the locals cram the streets, promenades, and beaches. Families with young children are also out on the streets until late at night. Although in Malta women and men are frequently seen together, it is quite typical that there are hardly any local women in pubs and cafes. In general, after Sunday Mass, the people chatting in front of the church door are divided into two groups by gender.
Husbands (here too) are only involved in housework and parenting to a limited extent. The Maltese are family-centric, and not just within a narrow family setting. At the level of cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, the cohesion is quite high compared to what I’m used to at home. Still, the older generation of Maltese nowadays complains a lot that family ties are becoming steadily looser. The Maltese are, as a rule, proud people, and care a lot about their reputation, even within a wider circle of acquaintances, particularly when it comes to protecting their family’s decent reputation.
According to foreigners who have spent more time in Malta, it cannot be said that the outward morality of Maltese is completely sincere because there is a lot of hypocrisy. In terms of sexuality, it is a fact that not a single-sex shop can be found in Malta, and in the 1990s the launch of Playboy magazine, which these days would hardly even be classed as pornography, caused a great stir on the island. The sale of the monthly magazine was called the work of the devil. At the same time, in the private-public discourse, youth online discussion forums are dominated by “sultry erotica” and seriously lewd jokes.
Tourists often assume that the Maltese quarrel a lot, since they talk so loudly to one another. In fact, however, this loud speech is completely natural to them and does not mean they have lost their temper. Of course, they also use the wildly gesticulating hand gestures so common around the Mediterranean, while physical contact such as pats on the shoulder, ribbing, arm around the shoulder, etc. is also normal. The Maltese seem to live fairly prosperous, comfortable lives, and in the real money-making sector, tourism, many foreigners are employed to do the work. Here’s what I mean: if a well-to-do Maltese family has, say, five restaurants in different parts of the country, then, where appropriate, the majority of employees are foreign. They work for the benefit of the Maltese family.
Both in language and physical appearance, local Maltese resemble Arabs but don’t make the mistake, even by accident, of making a remark suggesting that they are Arabs, since they’re likely to take serious offense. Besides, many Maltese openly or covertly despise the Sub-Saharan Africans living legally or illegally on the island.
,, The truth is that the Maltese can appear rather grumpy. It might just be a cultural thing or a language thing. You tend to get yes and no answers without any dressing but adapt and you will find their soft spot. For instance, you need never feel that you have to leave your table, for fear of upsetting others at a restaurant in Malta if your youngster is having a moment or your baby is crying. To say the Maltese are family orientated is an understatement. Old and young, male and female, they all seem to adore children. A child crying in a public place will not phase the Maltese whatsoever, in fact it’s not unusual for one of the locals to offer a hand. Don’t be alarmed if your child is scooped up and given a cuddle.
In the language, I went people seemed to speak English. This is the curse of English speakers, it makes us lazy. You can of course try and learn something. Maltese can be both difficult to speak and to understand. With English being the second language of the island it is very easy to get by without speaking a word. It can be quite refreshing to make a bit of an effort if you wish and even using an odd word such as bongu (hello) and grazzi ħafna (thank you very much) will be appreciated by the locals. One word you will hear umpteen times by the Maltese is mela. By ear, it appears to mean the equivalent of ‘whatever’ or ‘ok’ . In fact, mela has that many meanings to the Maltese it is impossible for someone who is not Maltese to use the word in the right context. To use it when you’re not Maltese is apparently not only cringe-worthy but can be considered offensive. There we have it. Armed with a good appetite, curiosity, and a pair of working legs you’ll have a good time. (by Alan Durant, 2022)