Real estate mogul Frank Salt, whose family-owned business is one of the largest in this sector in Malta, is known for writing somewhat puzzling columns for the Times of Malta, the country’s largest, conservative-leaning newspaper. I won’t help the editors, who eagerly publish all this, in their clickbaiting efforts, but you can find out about Salt’s interpretation of things by searching for his name plus ‘Times of Malta’.
In one of his columns in December this year, he said of British colonialism: “It was a match made in heaven.” Later in the column he wrote that it paid off to be friendly and not to mistreat people from other countries. Perhaps he was correcting the damage of his previous column, which I wanted to discuss here not because of its any meaningful contribution to public debates, but because of a very interesting warp in Salt’s reasoning, where he starts off by stereotyping and blaming people from other countries and ends up admitting that many of the problems boil down to bad infrastructure.
In ‘Don’t mess with Malta and the Maltese’, he makes a rather cute assumption that some young people make mess not because they are drunk, silly, inconsiderate, or carried away by group mentality, but because they haven’t read in print that this is not a way to behave. If only the young people in Paceville (this notorious area is never mentioned, but it is easy to guess) read a text about how to behave, the problem would be solved. This is in line with what some other people believe about migrant integration, from Malta to Germany. Some people are confident that immigrants should sit in courses and take notes to find out that it is not OK to hurt others. Apart from being extremely patronising, this assumption seems to be based on a strong belief that people form their behaviour on the basis of abstract textual information. When I researched information materials provided to newly arrived asylum seekers, I learned about a plethora of booklets and leaflets that they receive from state institutions, international organisations and NGOs. There is an assumption that a person, already overwhelmed by the new situation, will easily comprehend abstract textual information. Now Salt wants to apply a similar approach to tourists.
When I visited Prague for the first time, I was taken aback by how tourism was damaging the livability of the city. Alcohol tourism, drug tourism and sex tourism were tiring to encounter even on a short visit, as lots of people come to get their destructive energy out. Malta’s issues are not as dire as those of Prague or any destination of stag night tourism, but it doesn’t make these challenges any less real. I have met English teachers who suffer as they work with unmotivated foreign students, aware of Malta’s reputation as a place to get trashed while pretending to study English. However, the infrastructure is built to favour this pattern. There are night buses from Paceville, known for its club scene and high criminality, to various locations in Malta, while much-needed night bus service from Valletta, as well as alternative entertainment locations, is largely non-existent.
In square brackets and side notes, Salt admits that for his patronising commands towards tourists to be enforceable, there needs to be proper infrastructure: more bins, more zebra crossings, cycling infrastructure, street lighting, and wardens to fine offenders. Living here, I have seen Maltese people littering on beaches, into the sea, on narrow pavements and near gorgeous vistas, often in the presence of their children, showing a bad example. I once asked two Maltese teenagers why they tossed their ice-cream cups into the sea when there was a bin two metres away, and they responded with silly giggling. “Do you know that your parents may have to pay a fine for that?” I asked them. They giggled some more. Near the bin, there was a sign politely asking people not to litter the sea – something along the lines of Salt’s suggestion. And yet it was very clear that these two young persons opted to misbehave not because they had never been explained, in text, that it’s not nice. They acted out of spontaneity, out of their lack of consideration, and because they cannot connect their actions to the plight of turtles – or workers forced to clean up after them.
Over the weeks, I occasionally contemplated what could have worked to convince the teenagers otherwise. Fear of sanctions? Not very likely. Law enforcement is too busy checking if someone untied their bikini straps in public to tackle such issues as pollution or numerous traffic offenses. Should I have had disturbing images of dying turtles ready? The two didn’t look like people who would care about dying turtles. Young people cause damage to the environment, other people’s property and health when their rationality is suppressed – when they are drunk, high, elated, or blindly following a group leader. Rational explanations help very little at this point. I’m afraid the most effective way would be to plant an idea in their mind that causing damage to others and to the environment is not cool, their idol does not approve of it, and their friends, too, will find them pathetic.
On the topic of zebra crossings, I dare the property developer to cross the road on foot safely on the way to the cinema in Paceville, or around Tigrija in Marsa. There simply aren’t any options. After the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, many people in other countries ask me whether it’s dangerous to be a journalist in Malta. I tell them that I fear for my life regularly – not because I’m a journalist though, but as a pedestrian.
Young tourists ‘integrate’ into the prevailing mentality, and the textual reminder to behave like they would in their countries would do nothing to change that. Many other countries have better enforcement and clear, location-specific signage to guide people. It’s time to take the businessman’s remarks out of square brackets and transform them into policy suggestions for better infrastructure.