Posts Tagged ‘learning Maltese’

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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I know that I am not the first person to complain about the traffic on Malta.  It’s in the newspapers, its in the blogs and even our Maltese friends admit to the occasional road rage episode.  I just hope it isn’t a deal breaker for me.

In Minnesota, Homie and I were the happiest when we lived in the Uptown, a trendy part of Minneapolis.  We were in the heart of the city, in a lovely apartment right off of busy Hennepin Avenue.  We both drove to work, but as soon as we drove home the car was parked for the evening and we walked everywhere.  There was always something to do and wherever we went, we walked.  We loved it!  When we went to sleep at night, we hardly heard any traffic, even if the windows were open.  Well, we did hear traffic in the summer, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the windows were open, which was often, because we didn’t have air conditioning.  However, by 2 a.m. the noise was gone, except for the occasional whine of an ambulance or police cruiser.

Here we are on an island living our dream and all I hear is traffic.  Honestly, it never stops.  When we first rented our flat, and I realize we didn’t know the lay of the land then, we really thought we were off the beaten path, but we now believe we happen to be on one of the busiest roads on the island! The traffic seems to quiet down a bit at night, but it never really stops.  During the day, it can sometimes be unbearable!  From the cement trucks, to the city buses, from the garbage trucks to the little foreign affairs that haven’t seen a muffler in decades, it’s a total mayhem of gasoline and exhaust.

I was reading the Malta Times the other day and came across this little gem.  In March of 2001 a man was driving, admittedly excessively and negligently, struck another man and unfortunately, killed him.  It is nine years later and the man driving finally had his day in court.  He received a €4700 fine, an 18 month prison sentence (suspended for three years), and here’s the part that this man thought was unjust, he lost his license for 10 months.  The article ended describing the make of the car and the damage that the poor dead man had caused to the vehicle.

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death on Malta.  When I did my research about Malta before the move, I have to take the high road and admit that I read a lot about the traffic and the drivers and the high rate of accidents.  No amount of documentation could have prepared me for what my eyes see now. 

I don’t understand the complete fascination that the Maltese have with driving.  There are not just “smart” cars here.  No sir-ee.  There are SUV’s, Caddys, 4X4’s, and even the lone Hummer I’ve seen driving around.  And the amount of car dealerships blows the mind.  Every Maltese person I’ve talked to complains about the cost of driving, and owning your own vehicle.  They have to post their insurance information on the inside of the windshield and parking is at a premium, which actually reminds me a lot of the Uptown and all the headaches associated with having to get to a place by a certain time or there would be NO PARKING FOR YOU!!

The drivers have no care or concern for the pedestrian.  You walk at your own risk.  If you happen to get in the way of the Driver, you suffer the wrath of the extended horn.  The Maltese love to honk their horns.  Today, Homie and I were walking down to the sea by way of the marina.  We were on a somewhat private road, that ran right along the marina and was a one-way street.  We heard cars behind us  and scurried to the side.  It happened to be two student driver vehicles.  The first student driver was a more mature adult woman who was white-knuckling the wheel and going (God forbid) at least 5 miles below the posted speed.  Right on her tail was another student driver, somewhat younger,  and as we are looking on we see the second car’s instructor reaching over and honking the horn at the first driver.  All we could do was laugh and thank the stars above that we are not concerned with or ever intend to purchase a vehicle and drive in Malta.  I must admit it is totally liberating not having a vehicle.  We do not miss it one bit. 

We found out that it is rather cheap to rent a car for a couple of days time in Malta and I suppose in the summer months if we plan on doing some day tripping that may be an option.  I had elaborate daydreams in the states of owning a cute little Vespa that Homie and I would putt around on all over the island.  That thought is now nothing but a whimsical fantasy of the unenlightened American.

I was walking down the strand yesterday to meet my husband after his shift and walk home with him.  On my way down I encountered a man lying on the pavement and two young girls talking to him as if he were having a bad dream.  I stopped, concerned, not knowing what the heck was going on.  I find out that the two young girls had been chatting away (the Maltese have a charming phrase they use quite often, “To be completely honest with you…) and had actually hit him as he walked down the road.  Well, it was kind of his fault, he was walking in the road and not on the sidewalk… 

Malta is like the UK, they drive on the opposite side of the road, as compared to the U.S. (well I suppose “opposite” would be a matter of opinion) and the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car.  So its been rather difficult and sometimes confusing for me to remember which way to look while crossing the road and looking for oncoming traffic.  Homie has had to throw his arm out and stop me, rather brutally on certain occasions,  from walking right into an oncoming vehicle.  So now, I make it a point to always look twice before crossing.  Always!


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I am an expat.  I decided to look up the actual meaning of the word expatiate and it provided two meanings:

1.  To speak or write at length;
2.  To wander freely

I am both of these things.  I never thought I would ever want to wander freely, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would always live in Minnesota, because that’s where I’m from, that’s where my family lives and that is where I’ve always lived (except for six weeks once in Billings, Montana).  I told myself that I loved the seasons changing, how could I live anywhere else?  Well, here I am living in Malta where it is warm all the time  and I am not missing Minnesota’s cold, dreary winter months at all!  When spring finally arrives in Minnesota sometime in late April, or early May, I will have already experienced much warmer weather here than my fellow Minnesotans will until June.  I can live with that.

It hasn’t been that difficult living in a country I have never visited.  Of course we (my husband and I) chose a country where English is spoken fluently so it has been fairly easy for us to navigate about and learn how to get from point A to point B.  I can make friends with anyone, so meeting people has been easy. The Maltese are  helpful and very easy to get to know, they love to talk about their homeland and are genuinely interested in your story.  Most that we have met so far do not find it unusual at all to discover that we moved here from the United States, they only want to know why we chose Malta.  Every Maltese person I have met that has moved from Malta to another country, has always returned to Malta.  They talk about their travels, what they have seen, what they have done, but ultimately, they always return to their homeland.

Today it has been the chilliest so far at about 54 degrees and I have a cold nose.  We have a unit in every room that is supposed to supply air conditioning in the summer and heat in the chillier months, however we are unable to figure out how to get it to throw some heat in the main living area, so we just wear more clothes and socks and slippers.  It is supposed to warm up a bit this week and I hope so as I would like to take the laptop down to the sea to write and really get some work done.  The building owner is moving into the flat next to us and it has been really hard to concentrate.  They are also working on the building, below us somewhere and I don’t know if they are using a power drill or a jackhammer, but it sounds like a jackhammer!  Don’t they know I’m a writer and I need to concentrate??!  It seems like everywhere you go in Malta there is some kind of construction going on.  When we first arrived we were subjected to the jackhammering constantly from our hotel room as there was some sort of renovation going on in the building next to our hotel.  Looking into the distance from any point you can count up to ten or more “booms” as the construction seems to be neverending.

My husband starts his new job tonight working in a kitchen in a little restaurant on the Strand and I have been job searching as well.  I want to find a part-time job so that I have lots of time to continue working on my book, but I am finding out that the job market in Malta is very slim, and its all about who you know, not what you can do.  I met a new friend on the bus last Saturday night, his name is Charles and I plan to call him today to see if he is able to refer me for a serving job at the restaurant he works at.  He told me that he could, so I’m hoping he can deliver!  We will see.  I haven’t waited tables for a long time, but it will be a great way to meet people and start learning the language.

Signing off for now and loving the Expat lifestyle!!


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