We’ve lived in an old farmhouse in Siggiewi for the past 12 years. In Malta, you get people who would not contemplate the idea; and there are others who, like us, have moved to village life after years in big cities, or leafy suburbia.
There are many different views of what goes into making up Maltese village life, so this is just a snapshot from our perspective. If you’re new to Malta, our list can count as quick tips to living in a village with the minimum amount of hassle and on your own terms. If you’re an old-hand at village life, or a Malta local, then you may easily recognise some of these aspects.
1. Do say hello to the neighbours when you arrive. They will definitely know that you have taken up residence and have probably done some research into your family history, if you are Maltese. If you cannot speak Maltese, just smile. ‘Being seen to be friendly’ goes a long way.
2. Watch where people park their motors before you deposit your own prized asset in that empty place. Villagers can get territorial. Or they simply know the driving practices of others in the neigbourhood. My car lasted a full 4 weeks before someone crashed into it and drove off without ringing my bell.
3. Even if you cannot find anything you want from the village grocer, pop your head in there for the occasional carton of milk. Many of these have great, fresh stuff behind the counter, like gbejniet, bigilla and stuffed olives. You will also realise that queuing is not normally practised at the village grocer: conversely, you may sometimes be served first because of your ‘guest’ or foreign status. Go with the flow.
4. Accept the fact that every village has more than its fair share of weirdos. Ours include a priest who has persuaded the council to paint yellow lines in front of his door in our alley and erect signs advising drivers to park with their exhaust pipes facing outwards – in between bending other drivers’ mirrors and remonstrating with anyone washing a car in the vicinity of his house. Never underestimate the power of all things ecclesiastical in a village community.
5. Accept all forms of gifts and kindness. We are blessed by having people who come round with lemons, oranges and whatever is in season.
6. Ask for local help if you need some DIY done. There is always someone who knows someone. And in true word of mouth tradition, people will generally only recommend tradesmen they trust.
7. Do your research about your house locality before you move in. The haphazard layout of village core architecture means that you can easily end up living in the vicinity of neighbours you never knew you had who have pigs, goats, chickens and pigeons as pets. The building boom in this country also sadly means that ‘back-building’ in core village areas is still allowed.
8. Accept the fact that people are either incredibly kind or incredibly cruel to animals. Stray cats either get fed by batty ladies throwing fish over their roofs, or hounded by others who detest them. Another old lady across the road lived with over 100 stray dogs, till the day she fell and broke a leg and the whole village turned up to gawp at the police, fire-brigade and SPCA attempting to evacuate the place.
9. Be prepared for odd people banging on your door. For about six months, we had an old lady with a goat and shaggy dog in tow show up to sell us mainly rotten vegetables from her pram. Be polite, but firm.
10. When it’s time for the village festa, either join in the fun, buy ear-plugs or go on holiday if it’s not your cup of tea. For a solid week, for instance, our alley is transformed into an open air bingo hall, pizza parlour and venue for ‘local talent.’
11. Nothing helps as much as having a young child around to ‘get accepted.’ Our masterstroke was going down to the local council and asking for a recommendation for a child carer when our child was 1. Like many others we know, our child-carer Joyce is a substitute for the grandparents we cannot call upon to occasionally help us get a breather – and get our child to ‘integrate’ with what’s actually going on outside his door.
Photo: Walter Lo Cascio