It comes with the territory, they say. From the moment you’re born on these islands, you’re aware of the fact that you’re part of a much larger world. And that much of it lies beyond your horizon, literally. Then you get older, and as you muddle through your life, you start to realise that there are upsides and downsides of living in smallness.
Here’s my list:
The upsides of being small
1. Painless commuting. Yes, we do get traffic jams, there is a rush-hour, but most times, you can get to your destination within 30 minutes. Tell that to someone on an early morning or late night commuter train somewhere on the Continent.
2. Neighbourly love. You know your neighbours, they know you and your family. The networks are wide and deep and old and extend beyond technology and social media. Read more here.
3. Help is at hand. Even if you’ve only lived in the place for a short while, if you ask, you will get recommendations for anything from tradesmen to schools. And if you break down in your car, it’s likely that someone will stop and help.
4. Safety, of sorts. Crime is relatively low. And if someone’s ‘done it’, the size of the place means that likely than not, they’ll be ‘found out’.
5. Personal and the hyper-local. You get your personal baker, grocer, fishmonger and even hairdresser in your locality, and most are happy to do doorstep deliveries of goods and services.
The downsides of being small.
1. Claustrophobia. If I’ve been here for longer than 2 months I start itching for things I cannot get. From proper city life to theatre, trains, bookshops and painful commuting. Low cost airlines mercifully provide the opportunity to get some much-needed, regular cultural and spatial oxygen.
2. Small-mindedness. The most petty of things can become a national obsession. Lately, there’s been an alarming tendency to ban ‘dangerous’ pieces of theatre and even ‘voyeuristic’ pieces in University magazines to ‘protect public morals’. Mercifully, the Maltese’ growing use of social media is denting any lasting impact of this kind of stuff.
3. Xenophobia and racism, and hunting (that’s done alarmingly close to public highways). In my more benevolent days, I try and blame the shocking intolerance to the refugee and illegal migrant issue on ‘lack of space’. On other days, I just nail it down to racism that only small brains are capable of. The problem is unresolved and will not go away as long as the boat-loads of desperate people keep reaching our shores. More about hunting some other time.
4. Self-centredness. Yes, the world is flat. But judging by the way some politicians, business people and other notable egos behave, you could be fooled into thinking that we still have global strategic importance. Just see what happens during the Eurovision when countries gang up to vote in blocks and we realise that nobody cares for the rock in the middle of the Med.
5. Inability to laugh at ourselves. There is no real history of satire, stand up comedy. We take ourselves far too seriously. It’s no accident that so many people opt to become lawyers.
Photo: Andrew Galea Debono. View: coastline near Blue Grotto, Zurrieq.