Category Archives: Analysis and commentary

When businesses encourage wasteful behaviour

A recent article in the New York Times attempted to calculate individual contributions to climate change derived from driving, flying and other activities. The criticism is very valid, but once again it is focused on individual responsibility and individual behavioural changes, which make life less enjoyable for those already ‘converted’ to environmentalism. It is true that we vote for the world we want with our money, but I would suggest first and foremost focusing on businesses that encourage this wasteful behaviour:

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Libraries, public space and obsession with cafes

A NYT article about libraries and civil society was one of the warmest and most hopeful texts from the other side of the Atlantic in the recent years. It made several key points: libraries are open, inclusive and fun spaces to interact – or to be by oneself. The growing emphasis on libraries can hopefully replace the recent obsession with cafes in many discussion circles.

On my three most recent visits to Vilnius, I couldn’t help but admire how cool the national library has become. People go there to record their podcasts, schedule meetings, work on their stuff, concentrate on reading or talking, or attend events. The building is bright and inviting. I could only dream of this when I made a few attempts to get work done at the national library in Valletta. The gloomy building was cold and dark, and although I enjoyed the selection of newspapers to read and the set-up, it was clearly built for reading something from the library’s archives. To continue discussions on public space, ignited by last year’s Capital of Culture events, Valletta should revitalise its libraries rather than move community events and discussions to cafes. Libraries should be our focus as we, as communities and democracies, seek to create the ultimate anti-Facebook.

 

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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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