Category Archives: Analysis and commentary

Immigrant life in Malta: it’s lagom

When I was still relatively new to Malta, I wrote about how the Danish word ‘hygge’ captures what I sorely lack in Maltese houses and offices. Now I’m going to use the Swedish word ‘lagom’ to explain, in my understanding, why so many people get frustrated about living in Malta but continue living there.

Being a member in a couple of Facebook forums for immigrants, I frequently see some people estimating, half jokingly, how long it takes until some Maltese member will virtually shout “Go back to your country” after an immigrant complains about this or that. A few hours. A day! Maltese people join immigrant groups for various reasons – to sell stuff, to advertise, – or to offer tips and helpful advice. Once in a while some of them snap in the face of criticism of their country. Those who complained get an additional point – “you see, they’re not welcoming people after all.”

My theory about the patterns of complaining among Malta’s immigrants on social networks has to do with cognitive overload. It is rather difficult to form habits and automatisms, because you have to be on the lookout as you move around, and constantly process the environment. Various negative stimuli add to the overload (noise, pollution, eyesore buildings, stressful road conditions, dust, garbage and pervasive humidity assault all senses). But I’ll elaborate this some time later. This time I’ll try to answer the question why people stay in Malta when they see so many negative aspects of both its development and its cultural habits. Continue reading

Decluttering, backlash against Marie Kondo, and obsessive ownership

My Facebook feed is full of posts denouncing the suggestion made by decluttering guru Marie Kondo to keep no more than 30 books (example). How dare she, they write,  attack the most noble of middle class obsessions – book hoarding? In the age of bite-sized online news, screaming headlines and kids who never let go of their tablets, aren’t books the last refuge? As an avid reader, I beg to differ. Continue reading

Mogul sets off to lecture young people, admits infrastructure flaws

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. Continue reading

Why do restaurants shoot themselves in the foot?

Food is increasingly glorified – as a travel, community, bonding and self-development experience. Many people of my generation and social class spend a huge portion of their monthly budgets on eating out rather than saving for purchases. Unsurprisingly, catering is a robust business even in countries that are still grappling with the impact of the economic crisis. Restaurants compete for this ever-growing market – if not locals, then at least tourists will consume whatever is on offer. Yet I keep seeing habits that are counter-intuitive and don’t seem to make business sense.

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Charity or rights? New survey on helping poor countries

I’ve been unpacking the results of the recently released Eurobarometer survey with a focus on Malta lately. It is full of interesting trends, which are likely to translate into policy decisions about development aid. These are the most interesting findings:

  • Respondents who experience the most difficulty in paying bills are generally less positive about development aid issues and the least likely to agree providing financial assistance to developing countries is an effective way to address irregular migration (61% vs. 68%-71%). They are also the least likely to be personally involved in helping developing countries by donations, volunteering or ethical shopping (33% vs. 39%-50%). Note that the lower limit of the less financially challenged individuals is very close.
  • Apart from France, which caused quite a bit of turmoil in its former colonies, which now receive development aid, the least enthusiastic Europeans when it comes to aid live in Central and Eastern Europe. Residents in the Baltic States are among the least likely to say that tackling poverty in developing countries should be a priority of the EU – among rich countries, Dutch residents rank the lowest by this parameter.

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Building Friendships event in Msida

The first day of September was rich in intercultural events: Appogg (the governmental youth agency) and UNHCR Malta brought several communities together to share food and traditional music in Msida, targeting mostly families in their Building Friendships event, and Spark15, a young migrants’ NGO, publicized a contemporary music and games event in Valletta. It was a tough choice, but Msida and Valletta being relatively close, I expected to make it to both. The first one was attractive for the opportunity to meet organized diaspora communities in Malta. The second one promised an energetic and youthful vibe.

Msida, home of Malta’s junior college, is a well-connected town by the sea. With the event taking place opposite the church, there was a good chance that passers-by would spot it and spontaneously decide to join. The center of the square was kept free for folk dancing performances, and several food stalls were arranged in a semicircle, offering Palestinian/ Levantine, Bangladeshi, Ghanaian, Maltese and Somali food, with face-painting and drums workshops in between. Continue reading

The dangers of NOT being a happy camper while living abroad

One day I was browsing the Expats Malta Facebook group, when a discussion about pros and cons of living in Malta caught my eye. The group is too active for me to find it again, but basically (<- that′s a strongly beloved word among the locals) it was a flood of reactions to a British person criticizing healthcare, streets, and people′s attitudes in Malta. Soon enough she was told to go back to her country.

It inspired me to draw this comic. Continue reading

Hot & cold, or how a New Yorker article explained Malta to me

When I came across an article about a glossary of positive emotions in the New Yorker, the idea was far from new to me. But this important quote is worth rethinking:

Lomas has noted several interesting patterns. A handful of Northern European languages, for instance, have terms that describe a sort of existential coziness. The words—koselig (Norwegian), mysa (Swedish), hygge (Danish), and gezellig (Dutch)—convey both physical and emotional comfort. “[…] In contrast, more Southern European cultures have some words about being outside and strolling around and savoring the atmosphere. And those words”—like the French flâner and the Greek volta—“might be more likely to emerge in those cultures.”

This theme comes up in many of my conversations about perceptions of cold with Mediterranean people. I certainly relate to the Nordic idea of doing one′s best to feel hyggelig as much as possible, if not most of the time – this, however, doesn′t apply to British people, who seem to like exposing themselves to cold as long as the sun shines on them. Continue reading

Maltese festival, Armenian violinist and habitus questions

Social theorist Pierre Bourdieu famously defined the sum of acquired tastes and various dispositions as habitus – not exactly an over-structure where individuals merely participate, but neither an individual portfolio of competences, crafted upon a free choice among components. Although this theory is about everything and anything, I find it very useful both academically and in my own observations about societies.

On April 20th a friend and I went to see a free concert in Valletta – a part of the Malta International Music Festival. The concert hall, hidden somewhere inside the Mediterranean Conference Centre, looked long and small, and we wondered where we could enjoy the best acoustics. The crowd looked cheerful, and there were several dressed-up children with excited parents, suggesting that the Russia-based duo, Karen Shakhgaldyan (violin) and Natalia Sokolovskaya (piano) are not the only stars of the evening for some.

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False news, world literature maps, and why not anything goes for small countries

Culture reporting is every bit as serious as war reporting.
– My friend Alexandra Belopolsky, a culture reporter

Several of my Facebook friends shared this map, which claims to represent each country’s favorite book. How does one measure that, the creators did not bother to explain too much. A reddit list became the primary venue to crowdsource this information, but clearly the author came up with the list out of the blue and did not quite respond to comments. Some of my friends were pleased to find respectable works of literature representing their ancestral or adoptive homelands. Lithuanians, it seems, were left puzzled. Continue reading