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Posts Tagged ‘Humorous Situations in Culture Differences’

It’s been three months since I’ve been working full-time in Malta, it’s gone so quickly and I think I’m finally starting to fit in a little bit.  I am past the imaginary finish line of the “probation period” and things have been going well, even though the only Maltese word that I can seem to remember is ‘Mella’ (of course).  Homie and I have come to the conclusion that the only reason that we can’t seem to memorize any of the Maltese language is because we don’t ‘have’ to.  English is spoken by 98% of everyone on the island, so we are able to communicate quite easily. 

All of my colleagues are Maltese, except for the owner who is Greek, and two others who are German.  I don’t get mad when I’m the only one in the room that can’t understand the conversation, I just feel isolated.  I tell myself that they are not talking Maltese around me because they don’t want me to know what they are talking about or that they are purposefully trying to exclude me, it is just that this is their language and when you let your guard down during the course of the day it is easy to slip into your native tongue.  At least that is what I hope they are doing!  But then there is another part of me that is annoyed and kind of hurt by it.  I know I  would not speak in a language in front of someone, let alone carry on a 20-minute conversation in front of that person, if they could not understand what I was saying.  I think it is really rude and insensitive, especially if that person was the only person who didn’t understand.  Just today we ordered take-away and most everyone was in the board room eating lunch and everyone was talking in Maltese.  I wanted to stand up and take my lunch to my desk where my iPod and the Internet were, but I didn’t.  I wish I could just politely say, “Could you speak in English please?” and I can not do that either for some reason.  I’m so afraid I’m going to offend someone, unintentionally, and I don’t ever want to create problems with my co-workers. 

In any situation in America, whether social, work-related or family and friends related, I’ve been a really down-to-earth, assertive and tell-it-like-it-is kind of gal and I’m not here.  That pisses me off too.  That I can’t be myself.  I have been popular and well-liked in all of my previous positions and I love  making people laugh. And it never fails, I inevitably become half of the office’s confident.  But I don’t see that ever happening here. 

Right before the Christmas break the people I sit with in a rather large room were all called into the board room for a short meeting.  We were told that because of reorganization and expansion purposes we were going to be switching offices.  Because part of my job includes recording instruction videos for our software, I was getting my own office.  I thought this was great for my work, because it does get noisy every now and then and I was wondering how I would manage.  But then it occurred to me that I will be segregated from my co-workers even further.  I am curious to see how it works out, sitting by myself has its advantages, but then I won’t have the opportunity to get to know the people I work with better.

Other than the language barrier things have been going well at work.  I’m finally understanding the software and have no problem finding the tools I need on the network to do my job.  I love the fact that I can walk to work and it is just a short 10 minute jaunt to and from.  The office atmosphere is relaxed and they have flex time, meaning that you can come in up to 10:30 a.m. and then leave at 7 p.m.  I have health insurance and direct deposit.  I have access to the Internet and freedom, meaning I am left to meet my deadlines without anyone looking over my shoulder, criticizing my work.  Then, I called in sick.

I was sick.  I had a terrible head cold.  In the States, I probably would have went into the office, but here, it just seemed like too much trouble and I didn’t want to give anyone my cold.  I emailed the HR gal and about a half hour later she called me at home.  She wished me well, told me to take care and said the Doctor would be by shortly.  Huh?  I said, “Doctor?”  She said, “Yes, the company will send a doctor to your flat.”  I said, “Will he call me first?” She said, “No, but he usually comes by in the early afternoon.”   A couple of hours later the phone rang and it was the doctor, he was lost.  I truly did not feel well, (thank God) and tried to give him instructions to our flat, but he lost patience with me and, well, he hung up on me.  Now I was thinking I really didn’t want to see a doctor who was angry with me.  So Homie, always coming to my rescue, offered to go and see if he could find him.  Of course he was successful and less than 10 minutes later I could see them on their way to the apartment. 

So he examined me and sure enough, I had a sinus infection that may possibly turn into bronchitis, so he wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic (I’m actually surprised that he didn’t ask for my Father’s signature…) and for ibuprofen.  As he was giving me all the instructions for the medication, the rude American that I am, I interrupted him and said, “Well, I can go back to work tomorrow, right?” It was a Thursday.  He looked at me with a worried look on his face and said, “Slow down!  You may want to take an extra day to recuperate and get back to normal before you go back to work!”  I just looked at Homie,  shrugged and said to the doctor, “Well, if you think it’s best.”   It was a great 4-day weekend.

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Adventures can come in many different forms, like leaving America to live on a small Mediterranean island, or starting a new job in an office in a foreign country and then, there is my new friend Inga.  Born in Iceland and raised in Norway, this girl has become one of my favorite peeps to hang out with on this little rock in the sea.

The first time we met it was at an expat event at the Black Pearl, a bar and restaurant in an actual ship that had been resurrected from the sea, then used in the film Popeye.   She smoked all my fags, (I am still SO not used to calling them fags!) but in return bought me wine all night.  Me, Inga and Valerie (from France) had a great time inciting riots on the dance floor and by the end of the night we had promised to get together for dinner the next week.

The next week it was my birthday and the three of us met for dinner at a cute little restaurant right on the sea and we shared three bottles of wine, and the last one I brought home with me.  Inga took a class to learn about wine and she is passing on the knowledge to me, free of charge.  This adventure was of a different flavor, there was a dead fish floating right below us and none of us could identify it and after the second bottle of wine and two Irish coffees, we seriously contemplated climbing over the railing and finding a way to get down to the rocks to check it out, but finally settled with talking the waiters into sitting down with us and having a glass of wine, even though they were waiting patiently for us to finish our long dinner so they could go home for the evening.

The next adventure was a BBQ at her house where I had so much fun playing hide and seek with her seven-year old in the mansion they are calling home for the next three years.  After the kids went to bed, we stayed up, discussed world peace, politics in Iran and damn if she didn’t teach me a thing or two about this crazy, radical world we live in. 

The next adventure was a short trip to Gozo, Malta’s sister island and a visit to the dentist office.  It seems this wild child has a phobia with the dentist and she needed some moral support.  I wasn’t working yet, and it was a beautiful day and who am I to say no to an all expense paid trip to the quaint little island? As we sat and talked it occurred to me that I had found a great friend; and in such a short time!  It seemed we were passionate about the same things and as we sat on the ferry and drank our Cisks, we both wondered how lucky we were that we were living on Malta and what luck it was that our paths had crossed so momentarily. 

On to Mdina!  Originally she offered to drive Homie and I to Valletta, since the work permit had not yet materialized, we needed to apply for an extension on our travel visa, and she knew right where to go.  But since we live in Malta, (and remember, we are glad we live here) they closed at half past 11 (that’s in the a.m. folks) and here we are at 12:10 with a whole afternoon free on our hands, so why not visit the oldest city in Malta, the silent city, Mdina.  As we park and get out of the vehicle the clouds start to get dark and here is Inga ready to give her umbrella to the parking attendant, and lucky for her I was there to talk some sense into her as it wasn’t a half hour later and we were caught in a torrential downpour.  We finally found a little restaurant appropriately named Bacchus, and we had the best lunch of calamari, wine and caesar salad (Inga doesn’t eat mammals…) and the three of us had a great day.

The other day we were supposed to meet for dinner and while I still don’t have a mobile (my year of giving up my dependence on the mobile phone is nearly up, and it was Inga who in her distress at not being able to get ahold of me claimed I was so “1995”) she was actually able to phone me.  How you ask?  As I’m biting into my delicious garlic chicken, the owner of the restaurant hands me a phone and says in his Maltese accent, “It’s for you.”  I answer and who else?  Inga.  At the hospital with poor little Freyja, who needed a few stitches above her eye.  We met later the next week for dinner and Inga picks me up looking like a battered housewife.  She has decided to take parasailing lessons and as she was getting to know the gear, the wind took hold of her and dragged her across the rocks for at least 50 meters.  She just laughed about it, and I thought to myself, it’s always an adventure with Inga!

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When Homie and I left the States a little over eight months ago, we dreamed of traveling all over Europe and knew that we would eventually make it to Tunisia, Africa as it is less than an hour’s plane ride away from Malta.  Since we needed to re-new our travel visas and were required to travel outside of the Schengen zone, Tunisia was our destination.  We just returned from an 5-day, all-inclusive vacation that served two purposes, we have a freshly stamped passport and we added another continent to our list of travels.

We were excited and just a little bit nervous because we had no idea what to expect.  When we told our friends in America that we were traveling to Africa, most immediately assumed that we were going on Safari!  This girl does not do Safari, she does all-inclusive hotels with a pool, a spa and room service.  Well, we never used room service, but we did see a live camel and he was only there to provide entertainment for the children lucky enough to get a ride.  We found out that we could book a two-day trip for a camel ride in the Sahara desert, stay at an African version of a bed and breakfast for less than €100 each.  Homie was very excited at this prospect, but luckily for me we didn’t have enough time and the camel ride would have to wait for another trip.  A camel ride in the Sahara?  Ummm, no thanks.  With my luck it would be like the time I went horse back riding and the saddle fell off the horse with me in it.  I don’t like riding live animals, they are so unpredictable and they have no brakes.

We arrived to the hotel late and just made the buffet before it closed down for the evening.  I don’t mean to be a complainer, but I really am not in to buffets, especially ones that don’t have the germ/sneeze/cough glass covering all the selections.  I was starving though, after traveling all day and my empty belly won out.  We walked in and the first thing I see is a cute little five-year old reaching into the olive tray with her hands and another woman picking apart a baklava desert with her fork.  Yum.  So I grabbed some roasted chicken (very hot so I knew that no child could have touched it with their dirty little fingers) and a jacket potato wrapped in foil and reminded myself to let it go, we were on vacation!

When the desk clerk told us that a bell hop would watch our luggage as we ate, we didn’t think she meant literally.  We wander back after Homie filled his plate three times (did I mention my husband loves all-you-can-eat buffets?) and the bell hop is still standing next to our luggage smiling as if he just won the lottery.  He took us up to our room and patiently explained all of the amenities and waited for a tip.  I had to nudge my darling husband who reached into his pocket to oblige and handed over three or four dinar coins, and as the bell hop was leaving I inquired about the air conditioning.  He stomped over to show me, then stomped out.  It wasn’t until the following day, when we exchanged more euro for dinar that we realized we gave him about .30!  We felt horrible!  We were able to make it up to him on the day we left.  He happened to be the one who put our luggage in the storage room because we had a seven hour wait for our shuttle to the airport. 

The hotel had two large swimming pools, a salt water pool and a pool just for the kids.  We quickly learned that in order to get a lounge chair with cushions you had to get out to the pool by 7 a.m. to claim your spot, leave your towel on your chair and then go to breakfast.  We just happened upon this information our first full day there because we were up really early wanting to explore the hotel grounds.  We got a lovely spot, under an umbrella and spent the whole day at the pool, and it was a good thing because it was nearly 100° and humid.  I knew we were in a Muslim country but I was not prepared for the traditional Muslim women’s bathing suit.  While I was in my bikini and still feeling the heat,  these Muslim women were covered from head to toe, (only showing face, hands and feet) in their bathing garb while their fat and hairy husbands were in a regular bathing suits and I couldn’t help but think how unfair it seemed.  Now, I know it is their belief and their religion, but it bothered me.  In all other respects, each Muslim family I observed acted just like any other family on vacation and I never saw any man treat any woman badly, subservient or rudely, so I just had another cocktail and let it go.

The second day we decided to check out the hotel’s beachfront offering and it was a completely different experience.  A beautiful sandy beach was just what we needed after weeks of laying on the rocks near the sea in Malta.  There were many vendors walking up and down the beach selling their wares and they never tell you how much anything costs.  You have to offer a price, then haggle as though your life depends on it.  They get insulted if you don’t haggle, as if what they have to offer you isn’t worth haggling over.  I thought I was good at it, but in reality I’m a wimp.  I know this because I bought a lovely ankle bracelet for six dinar and the lady next to me got it for four.  So on our last day we had time to souvenir shop and went to a little bazaar area to look around.  I found a beautiful Chanel knock-off bag that was only 24 dinar and I haggled for 20 dinar.  The shopkeeper went down to 22 and I demanded 20.  He wouldn’t go for it, so I started to walk away, assuming he would chase after me and give in, which happened when I bought a little harem outfit for our friend’s daughter.  He didn’t chase after me and all I have been thinking about since we returned is that damn Channel bag that I really wanted and was too cheap to pay 2 extra dinar for.  We’re talking the equivalent of 1 euro.  I’m just heartsick over it, and I console myself with the thought that he is probably just as mad that he didn’t sell the bag for 20 dinar.

After a little over two hours in the shuttle bus, we finally get to the airport in Tunis and we check in.  We are immediately told to follow a customs official into a room with our luggage.  He didn’t speak English and we don’t speak French or Arabic.  He shouted at me to open the suitcase and he went through everything, simply tore it apart.  When he was done he said, “Put it back!”, which I did.  Then he went through our backpacks.  All I could think about was this stupid show Homie and I always watch called ‘Banged Up Abroad’.  We weren’t the only ones, nearly every one on the shuttle had their bags searched as well.  Our backpacks were searched three more times and twice the customs officers asked me for my passport and ticket as we waited to board our flight that was delayed for over two hours.  Most of the passengers around us came to the conclusion that they were looking for someone, they were everywhere.  It was really kind of scary and I couldn’t wait to get on the plane!  We finally made it back to Malta at about 2:30 a.m. and it felt so good to feel like Malta is finally ‘home’.

~Peace~

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I can hardly believe it has been almost a month since my last entry in this online journal!  I finished my first project with my new company and am looking forward to starting something new.  It is so hard to adjust to the slower pace of life and to just “be”.  In every other position I have ever held, the work environment has been so fast-paced and deadline oriented that you hardly have a chance to catch your breath before another project is thrust upon you without a moment’s notice.  It really feels good to be part of the working force and I am very grateful to have found what appears to be the perfect fit for me.

May 1st we went on our first boat trip with other expats from all over the world. Not only did we get to see more of Malta by enjoying the picturesque views of Gozo and Comino, but we also had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the globe that are bound to be friends for life. We love hearing everyone’s stories about why they moved to Malta and how they came to be here. The boat trips are held all summer long, twice a month.  For only €15, you get six hours on the boat, plenty of time to swim and snorkel in three beautiful lagoons (pictures posted to your right!) and a complementary glass of wine. Everyone brings a dish to share, (about 20 people in all…) and a bottle of wine to share.  The experience is relaxing and it’s so much fun to be on the water that we plan to attend as many as we can.  The gal that organizes the events also does a meet every Friday evening at a different bar/restaurant on the island, so we have been meeting  people and getting to know them, as we see them regularly now.

May 7 was LB’s birthday at the Rasta Bar. On the way out the door to catch the bus, I grabbed my camera, ‘just in case’ and ended up taking pictures for the birthday boy all night. He had a delicious spiked punch in a carved out watermelon, and offered everyone a ‘welcome drink’ when they came in.  As soon as he saw us he rushed up to us and gave us six free drink tokens.  Then about two hours later, Hugo’s delivered sushi, satay and egg roll platters.  The place was jam-packed all night long and we had such a great time.  We didn’t get home until nearly 4:30 a.m.  It was a great opportunity to meet more Maltese people and to talk to them about their lifestyle and the way of life on the island.  It never ceases to amaze me how much love they have for their homeland and how well they know the history of Malta.  From the youngest to the oldest of everyone we’ve met so far, dreams of traveling abroad is always on their minds, but they eventually return to Malta and say that there is no better place to live.  

We managed to get our Mother’s Day cards in the mail on time and when we went to look for the cards all we could find in several different drugstores were cards that said, “Happy Mum’s Day!”  It was funny to us, having never have seen a Mother’s Day card like that before, and Homie chose a cute one for his Mum, but I chose the traditional “Happy Mother’s Day” for my mother.  It occurred to us that we really have to stay on top of the American holidays, (Mother’s Day is observed here however…) as it is easy to forget them, like Memorial Day coming up this Monday.  Fourth of July is another holiday only celebrated in the west and we were wishing that we had more space to be able to invite our new friends over for a old-fashioned BBQ and bean bag tournament, but it is not to be this year.  I am sincerely going to miss that day of brats, beer and lawn games with family and friends, so I suppose we will take our little disposable grill down to the rocks by the sea and have our own little celebration.  Malta is big on fireworks, they seem to find any occasion to light them off, so maybe we will get lucky and see a display that we can ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at.  I can tell you there will be no brats, we have looked high and low for them, and when we go home next summer for an extended visit, we will just have to get our fill then.  My husband is already wondering if we will be able to find corn-on-the-cob here, and we are both hoping so.   When we decided to move to Malta and leave our American roots behind, we did not take into consideration ALL that we would be leaving behind, but it just gives you a better perspective of the differences in culture, lifestyle and customs of other countries.  But I can assure you that on July 4th, when we venture out for an outdoor BBQ, rabbit will NOT be on the grill!  Still not ready for that, will I ever be?  We were excited to see a new store open just five minutes from our flat called Miracle Foods where we can now purchase frozen meats and foods that are very similar to what we are used to seeing in America.  They also have fresh beef and pork and Homie is delirious with all the selections, except still, no brats. 

On May 23rd we went on our second boat trip and while the weather was not as cooperative as the first trip, it was still a massively good time.  It really isn’t warm enough for me to jump into the sea and risk the sting of jellyfish, but Homie loved the water and it is starting to finally warm up enough to swim.  We can’t believe the weather in Minnesota!  It has been hot and humid, warmer than Malta in the past week or so, but the weather we have been experiencing is much more to my liking (low to mid 70’s) and we keep wondering when it is really going to start getting hot.  The boat trips will really be fun then, when everyone is swimming and enjoying the hotness of the day.  And for those of you keeping up, the driver of the boat was not a woman, and when I asked our skipper if there were any woman captains in his company’s employ, he looked at me as though I asked him if the boat is capable of driving itself in the choppy waters of the Mediterranean! 

In the meantime, have a safe and happy Memorial Day!

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Whenever I talk to my friends and family in Minnesota, I say that “Everything is the same, but different.”  From grocery shopping to job searching to Malta’s nightlife, the contrasts are all around us, everytime we leave the flat.  Every day is a new adventure and that is why making the decision to lead a life in a land we knew little about is what we considered “living our dream”. 

So far, living on Malta has been lovely and not hard at all.  We talked to friends of ours that moved to Cairo last night, and I don’t think I’d be as happy living there as I am living here.  We are able to get almost everything we could want, and again, the statement, “the same but different” applies.  Some items that look exactly like what you expect you are buying, turn out to be completely the opposite of what you thought you were getting.  Like the pickles we bought the other day that I was sure were dill, but ended up being “sweet” pickles, only because I was unable to read the Maltese label.  Some things strike you as funny and interesting and at other times it can be really annoying.  In the end, all is good because we are doing something very few people have been able to, for whatever reason, and we remind ourselves to always try to embrace the contrast.  What we thought made us happy in the States, for instance all the variety,  doesn’t matter to us  in Malta.  We are living with less that we ever had and it is actually comforting.   Like not having the responsibility of owning a vehicle.  We are living more simply and are happy doing it.  

It has only been a couple of weeks since I started my job search, and I realize that patience is a virtue.  I try to fill my time during the day writing and keeping busy, and I now realize that I long for the daily interaction only employment can bring.   I am so looking forward to meeting more people and learning more about where I live and the people who have lived here before me.  I started wondering why I wasn’t hearing from any of the companies I’ve applied at, (because once they see my resumé, how could they refuse me…?!), then I suddenly realized, it’s the week before Carnival!

Carnival has been celebrated on Malta and Gozo since the 15th century.  Since the days of the Knights of the Order of St. John’s, Carnival is one of  Malta’s largest celebrations and Homie and I couldn’t be more excited.  We are going to Gozo to celebrate and expect to see parades, costumes and eat all the traditional food that will be served by vendors on the street and in the small restaurants all over the tiny island. Gozo is a short ferry ride away and we’ve been waiting for the weather to get a bit warmer to go visit, but after talking to our Maltese friends we’ve been told that the celebration on Gozo is one not to be missed. 

We have celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans several times.  We would leave the cold Minnesota tundra and drive south for 20 hours to spend a long weekend in The Big Easy.  We made this trek five times consecutively, until I finally convinced Homie that “been there, done that” was something we should think about.  The celebration in New Orleans can quickly become exhausting and draining.  We would stay in the French Quarter, (where else?) and everyone is either on their way to drunkenness or returning from hours of debauchery.  The parades are amazing, and it’s fun to collect as many beads as possible in one night out just to start a whole new collection the next day.  And, the people watching has always been above expectations, especially on Fat Tuesday when everyone is in costume.  

We have asked our Maltese friends about what to expect from Malta’s celebration and we realized rather quickly that we won’t be experiencing anything like we did on Bourbon Street.  They talked about the parades, the costumes and the food.  We did find out about one tradition called The Kukkanja which is a high vertical pole covered in grease with prizes at the very top.  Always located in a public place, it dares people to try to climb to the top to claim the prizes.  Sounds like fun, if not a little messy.  I can’t imagine any prize that is fine enough for me to try, but it will be fun watching others get to the top just to see what could be worth the effort.

Last year there was trouble in Nadur (Gozo) when a young man was arrested for dressing up as Jesus Christ.  The Maltese are predominantly Catholic and in 1933 a law was enacted that made it clear that anyone who publicly vilifies the Roman Catholic Religion can end up in jail for up to six months!  Dressing up as Jesus, a priest or a nun is considered denouncing the religion and the courts do not look favorably upon you, even if it is carnival.  Many thought the authorities had taken this young man’s costume too seriously, but none the less he was charged, held and then fined.  Homie and I remembered a picture I snapped of him on our first visit to New Orleans when Homie’s hair was the longest it had ever been and we both remarked that he looked a lot like Our Savior, so we thought it may be in his best interest to wear his Cubs hat to Gozo, just in case…

Tonight we plan to take the bus to the largest casino on the island, the Dragonara Casino, located in St. Julian’s.  The building itself was built in 1870 and has lots of history.  The palace got its name from the promontory on which it is built,  and means “dragon’s lair”.  Ancient folklore tells the story of a roaring dragon that lived in the caves and hollows beneath, but most will tell you that the noises were no more than the waves crashing about the little peninsula on which the building stands.  

Just two days ago another smaller casino was robbed and the thieves made off with over 500,000 euro after dumping the get-away car into the sea at Fort Angelo, then jumping into a waiting speed boat.  The police currently have no leads, as the helicopter used in the land and sea search was not equipped with a night-time search facility.  Again, everything is the same, but different…

~Peace~

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We had so much fun last night!  Yesterday, (Wednesday) was Homie’s one full day off and it was finally sunny and beautiful.  It has been rather chilly, windy and rainy the last couple of days and seeing blue sky when you wake up is so energizing.  We got a few things done around the house, and then left the flat for a long walk, to take care of a few errands and enjoy a couple of Cisks. 

I submitted my CV (resume) to another Malta company that shows real promise.  This is a technical company located right here in Msida.  Our destination today was to see how close the company was and whether it was in walking distance.  I am happy to report that it is within walking distance and only about three blocks past Cafe Jubilee where Homie is working.  They have offices in Australia, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Texas!  I’ve researched and have read as much as possible about the company, and feel like it is only a matter of time until I start working there.  It-is-going-to-happen. 

After we discovered how close my potential new employer is, we walked into a really cool little bookstore that I hadn’t been in before.  They had great merchandise at a reasonable price and I found a few things that I want to go back and get.  Our main purpose for this visit was to find a sympathy card for our best friends in Minnesota. We found the perfect card and then browsed for a bit.  My husband was amazingly patient, and then I even took a few minutes longer drooling over the desert case.  I didn’t realize it at first, but the gift shop/bookstore is connected to a little sandwich shop.  I realized how hungry I was so we headed further down the Strand to an outdoor café and bar called Tri `Angeli that we like.  A pint of Cisk is only 2 euro and we decided to split a hamburger plate because we were still going to make dinner later.  We got our lunch and usually the portions are huge, but when Homie lifted the top bun we found that our cheeseburger was the size of a regular McDonald’s hamburger sitting  on this huge bun.  We both started laughing and if you knew my husband like I do you would know how hilarious this is. The size of his burger or steak can make or break his day.  

We made our way home after three pints each and really felt like taking it a step further and hitting the Rasta Bar.  It had been a couple of highly emotional days because even though we are over 5,000 miles from home, we can not seem to escape the family drama.  I grabbed the laptop and logged on to check email.  As I was reading the latest posts on Facebook, our Maltese friend who owns the Rasta Bar, started a chat with me and we ended up making plans to hang out for the evening.  He lives in Bugibba (buge-gee-ba) and he suggested we take a bus from Msida to Bugibba.  His plan included to then pick us up at the Bugibba bus terminal. Homie and I are looking at each other like, “What?  Take a new bus at night to somewhere we have not been yet?”  Here’s the deal.  We are public transportation rookies.  We feel confident learning in the light of day, but to try something new at night is a little daunting for us.  Liswed (I call him LB!) chats:  “I pick you up in an hour.”  Okay.  I let him know we will try and hope to see him soon.  I say to Homie, “Well, we just have to try, because we have to get used to taking the bus to get where we want to go.  The only way to learn is to do it!”  Homie reluctantly agrees and we decide to give it a go.

On the way out, we check our trusty bus schedule and quickly learn that we have choices!  We can catch either the 48, 49, 58, 70, 86, 149, 427, 449, 627, or the 652.  We go to three different stops, and stop the bus three times and each driver advises us to go Valetta and take the 49.  We look at the bus schedule and the 49 leaves Valetta and goes to Msida (where we are currently standing…) and then on to Bugibba.  So frustrating.  It is almost 8:30 by now so we decide to go home and call LB to let him know that our effort is fruitless.  We catch LB just as he is leaving to meet us and he sounds disappointed.  He says that he does not want to drive to Msida to get us then back to Bugibba then back to Msida.  I tell him I understand (when actually I am disappointed and don’t understand because he’s got a car and the island is only 20 miles long for crying out loud!!) and that we have plenty of time to meet again.  I hang up the phone and we start talking about finding a bar around Msida then the little handset chirps.  It is LB!  He has decided to come and get us!  Hooray!!  We tell him we will walk down to the KFC on the Strand, since he knows where it is and has never been to our flat.  We put our coats back on and practically skip (well, I did) down to the Colonel’s. 

LB pulls up in a silver Mercedes.  We hop in and he wonders aloud where to go, what to do.  Suddenly he says, “You ever been south?”  Homie and I say together, “No!”  “South it is then,” he says.  He is driving and I think it’s funny that even in Malta there are different degrees of road rage.  Everyone is a poor driver in Malta, and everyone, including LB, drives too fast.  He is playing the part of tour guide happily, showing us  several points of interest and how they have affected his life, such as the dry docks where he worked as a youth.  We come along to a marina and he says he is looking for his friend’s boat to see if his friend is there, that he would like to show us the boat.  He drives by a small little pub and is looking inside, then grabs his mobile (iPhone btw…) and calls his friend Tony.  Tony answers and says to come to the pub, so we turn around and look for parking.  I make LB laugh by telling him no one uses their “indicators” (blinkers to you and me…) unless they want a parking spot.  Suddenly we see Tony walk out of the pub and motion to LB to pull up in front.

We go in and there are about ten patrons fixed intently on the football (soccer to me) match on the projection TV.  LB goes up to the bar and gets us beers and the gentlemen on my left introduces himself to me as Noël, you know, like Christmas, he says.  I am instantly engaged in conversation with him, and he is adorable.  LB introduces us and then Tony introduces his friends.  The door to the pub is left open and the place has cats strolling in at will.  A discussion ensues about all the cats on the island and everyone states whether they are a cat person or a dog person.  Then LB makes me and Homie laugh when he describes to us how much he hates cats and that they always seem to be attracted to him. He says he is patient with them, he pets them, but then they always bite him.  So to let them know who is boss, he plays a game.  He will rock back and forth on his chair and right at the most opportune moment, he will then set his chair down and it may just happen to land on the tail of the cat.  Then Tony launches into the days of when they were children (he is a few years older) and explains to us how LB was always called the little devil, and he was called the little angel. 

I turn my attention once again to Noël and he offers me a cigarette.  I told him I would love one, but that I have quit and I haven’t smoked for eight days and he is so apologetic I wanted to hug him.  We talk about quitting cigarettes and how he wished he had never started, as most smokers will tell you.  I say that I wish I could be the kind of smoker that could just have one once in a while, like when I drink beer.  We also discuss how it is sad to not be able to do something you enjoy because life is so short anyway, and that cigarettes can be bad for you.  Then he looks at me as if he is telling me something really important and confidential.  He says that he went to his doctor recently and his doctor asked him how much he smoked.  Noël told his doctor that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, which is 40 cigarettes!  I show my obvious concern.  So he leans in and he tells me, “The doctor told me, if you smoke 10 cigarettes a day, it won’t kill you.”  Then he says, very seriously, “But, if you smoke 11, it will kill you.”  He was so serious and I couldn’t help but laugh and then he laughed too.  We tried to guess how old each other was.   He told me how old he was and I was shocked to find out he was 67!  He looked more like 52 or 53.  The Maltese men age very well here. 

All of a sudden I had three full beers in front of me.  Homie and I became concerned that we were not able to buy a round, but when we tried to order a round, one was already on the way.  I’m talking to Noël, reveling in the fact that he thought I was 32 and LB pokes me in the arm and says, “Drink up!  We’re leaving soon!”  So I oblige him and we all step outside to smoke.  I made Noel give me a smoke, but I didn’t light it, I just pretended to smoke and oddly, this really helped me.  I asked Tony what he did for a living and he said he works with wood.  Then he says very seriously, “I’m not a carpenter, I work with wood.”  I told him that when I lived in Minnesota I ran a training program where we helped trained women in construction.  He looked at me with his mouth agape, and started laughing, and in between gasping breaths he says, “They say women can do construction, wood working, but they can’t. No, they can’t.”  He is politely chuckling and kind of just mumbling on and on about the equality of men and women and I realize that I’m in another country and I laugh too.  I keep my mouth shut, because who am I to argue.   Suddenly Tony decides we are worthy enough to see his boat.   We walk with him, just across the street, to the marina and Tony hops on his boat and slips off his shoes! He and LB start a very animated conversation in Maltese and finally LB says that they are talking about the fact that LB refuses to take his shoes off to go on a boat!  Homie decides that he too, does not want to, and later tells me that he felt it might be rude to leave LB on the dock by himself.  I want to see the boat and I say I will take my shoes off, but my problem is the distance I have to jump from the dock to the back end of the boat.  Tony laughs and puts down a little “bridge” that helps.  I take off my boots right away and keep telling Tony how awesome his boat is.  He says, “What is this ‘awesome’?  This means nothing to me.  Don’t you think my boat is lovely?  Lovely is what my boat is!”  And I say immediately that it is just horrible American slang that I can’t seem to let go of and I make a solid effort to use the word lovely in every sentence.  The boat is actually really lovely with three bedrooms, a bathroom,a  full kitchen, and the woodwork is gorgeous. He offers me a beer and we get comfortable at the table.  We are having a great drunken discussion about whether the earth is going to end in 2012 and suddenly Homie shouts that LB wants to leave.  Darn it!  I hadn’t even finished my beer!  So I get my boots on and make it back to the docks and here is LB reading his email on his iPhone, and it doesn’t look like he is in any hurry.  I give Homie the look and say, “I thought we were in hurry!”  LB thinks this is funny and Homie just shrugs and I know he is wishing he would have had a beer on the boat.  As soon as Tony makes his way to the end of the boat and starts questioning LB as to why he has to leave, it is still early, LB is suddenly ready.   So then I say to Tony, “Wow, these are nice docks.”  And he looks in the sky, and he says, “Ducks, where do you see ducks?”  This makes us all laugh and Tony says that in Malta they call the docks pontoons.

We take our goodbyes and tell Tony we hope to see him again and of course he knows that we will.  We pack ourselves into the Mercedes and I ask LB what part of Malta were we exactly and he says we were in The Three Cities.  This is a trio of towns, Vittoriosa (where the bar and marina are located), Senglea and Cospicua.  A close-knit working community largely dependent on the work that is at the dry docks, where LB worked as a youth.  The Three Cities were originally named Birgu, L-Isla and Bormia, but their names were changed after the Great Siege of  1565.  Birgu became Vittoriosa (Victorious), L-Isla became Senglea (after Grand Master Claude de la Sengle), and Bormia became Cospicua (as in conspicuous courage).   Very cool. 

So we are on the way home and LB is driving, messing around with his iPhone, and fooling around with his car stereo.  He says how amazing the iPhone is and shows me an app he has that if you hold the phone next to the stereo speaker it will tell you who the artist is and what the name of the song is.  I ask him if he’s got a decent stereo in the Mercedes to get him to turn it up and he says,  “Here’s a song I love, listen to this!”  He cranks up the sound and after the song I say, ” Great song, who sings it?”  He says, “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” And once again, he pulls out the iPhone.  We both agree how handy this is.

We pull up to the flat and I get my three cheek kisses (not everyone gets three and LB will tell you this) and he shakes Homie’s hand.  We thank LB and tell him what a great time we had and he squeals off into the night.  We are home, home in Malta and we feel so lucky to be here. 

~Peace~

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The  Minnesota Vikings lost.  We stayed up until about 3:30 a.m. and finally logged off (we watch the games online) when there was about 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter and the score was tied. We missed the interception and the Saint’s field goal that won it for them.  I’m glad I missed it as I tend to get overly emotional.  I’m sure all the die-hard fans and the Minnesota radio personalities will have lots to talk about in the coming weeks. There has been some controversy about this team and who the coach actually is,  Farve or Childress.  It’s been a great season, but I’m just glad it has come to a close for this Vikings fan.  Side note:  Homie is a die-hard Bears fan.  He tries to hide his happiness at the Vikings loosing, but fails miserably and once again I am reminded that I may be the only Vikings fan on the island of Malta.  When we were living in Minnesota, one of our favorite places to watch sports, especially football, was Lyle’s.  Homie always remarked that some day he would love to be in a bar where he is surrounded by Bears fans.  I don’t think that will be happening for awhile, unless we stumble upon a Chicago style sports bar on Gozo or something. 

I had my first Malta interview yesterday.  Because of the game, I got into bed about 3:30 a.m. and got up at 7:30 a.m.  So I put on extra undereye coverup, brushed my teeth twice and ran to catch the bus.  Homie didn’t have to go in until 8:00 p.m. so he insisted on coming with.  Last week we walked to where the interview was to take place and it took about 35-40 minutes.  We took the bus and it took about the same amount of time.  We walked to the bus stop and paid .47 each to the Viletta terminal.  This is the bus terminal which is right in front of Valetta proper, and Valetta is the capital city of the island.  Once we arrived at the terminal, we each paid .47 again to catch the 157 or 159 to get to within 2 blocks of where the company is located.  I kept telling Homie that I could handle going by myself, I know he must have been exhausted, but he insisted on coming with.  He knows I have a twisted sense of direction…  So we get to the terminal with about 3 minutes to spare because the next bus we have to catch only comes at 10 minutes past the hour.  If we missed it, I would be late.  When you are at the bus terminal, there are signs with bus numbers on them so you know where to go to catch them.  We looked and couldn’t find the 157 or 159.  So I just started asking bus drivers.  That’s the difference here, I have no problem stopping and asking anyone anything.  If someone doesn’t give me the answer I’m looking for, like the first two bus drivers, I will ask another.  This sometimes annoys my husband and arguments have ensued in the past, but I always say, when in doubt, ask. 

So we finally get a bus driver that understood my english and my question and no sooner did we walk to the designated area, the bus pulled right up.  It was 10:09.  We sat on the bus for about six minutes and departed at 10:15.  We arrived at our destination at 10:25.  I was thirty-five minutes early and it was windy and it looked like it was going to rain any minute.  We walked around and there really wasn’t a coffee shop or anywhere we could sit for a few minutes, so finally at 10:40 I decided to just go in and wait in the waiting room until my appointment time.  I walked upstairs and it was like an open office environment and I stood there for about 20 seconds and no one looked at me or inquired anything about my standing there, so I spotted a couch down the hallway and sat there for a few minutes, wondering what to do next.  People walked by, no asked who I was, or what I was doing there.  Finally at about 10:50 a young woman walked past me to the rest room and on her return I asked, “Are you Helga?”  She said no.  Then as an afterthought, she turned and said, “I’ll let her know you are here.”  I was going to tell her my name, but I wasn’t quick enough. 

Two minutes later Helga came to my rescue and took me to a conference room where she asked me to fill out a questionnaire.  Ten minutes later we started the interview.  She had some questions, I had the answers.  She was genuinely interested in my story and made me feel confident that she would be able to help me pursue a position within the online gaming companies.  I felt really positive leaving and then I as I was leaving, after thanking her, I somehow called her “sweetie”.  Sweetie?  What is wrong with me?  She looked at me as if she didn’t hear correctly, then realized she did, then said, “Okay.”  Damn it!  Why do I do that? 

 Once my mom and I drove down to the south part of the United States to visit my brother and his family while they were stationed at Fort Bragg.  At every restaurant we visited the waitress would call you either “honey” or “sweetie” and I hated it!  I started this annoying habit when I was providing computer consulting at a small non-profit I once worked at.  Homie hated it when I did this, because he said it “dated me”.   Thinking back on it, I know what I was thinking.  We had talked and she was really nice and seemed interested in my “story” and I’m always trying to make people feel warm and cozy.  Yuk.  I hope she doesn’t think all Americans act this way!  Only southern waitresses!

So I am consciously watching my indubitable dialect and here’s to hoping I am working in the iGaming industry by February 1st!

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