-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
Island of Gozo, Malta
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I'm living with my (Maltese) husband
and 21-year-old son - my 22-year-old son moved to Malta to follow a career as software developer; he does come home most weekends though.
-How long have you been living in Malta?
23 24 years... and counting!
-What is your age?
48 49 years young
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Malta?
Hmmm... It was that age-old story of single gal meeting Prince Charming while on vacation. The year 1983 goes down in history for me as the year with a record number of vacations abroad as I went to Gozo in June/July, October and December, to be able to be with my boyfriend... The result was a serious low tide in my bank account. So the decision to move here permanently was the logical conclusion! I finally moved to Gozo in April 1984.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It would have been difficult in those days if we hadn't married. We got married in July '84, and with that I was automatically granted freedom of movement.
Today, citizens from countries outside the European Union, still cannot take up residence here “just like that”. But if you have sufficient funds to purchase property (which is a condition) and to sustain your living here, a residence permit is relatively easy to obtain.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Some of you might find this hard to believe, but I never even thought about that. But again, with my marriage that was taken care of as well, as I was then automatically insured with my husband.
Malta has an excellent public health care system – every permanent resident has the right to free medical treatment, provided you use the public facilities (hospital, policlinics). Nowadays, Malta has reciprocal medical care agreements with a number of countries – especially for EU citizens there should be no problems (make sure you get the form E121 from your health insurance in your country of origin before leaving for Malta!).
-How do you make your living in Malta? Do you have any type of income generated?
When I first moved here, tourism was the only option for me to work in. I was quite lucky in that respect because there was hardly anybody in Gozo who was fluent in German. I started out as a part-time holiday rep for various tour operators, then gradually moved up “the ladder”: first on to a full-time hotel receptionist job, and later I worked as front office manager and reservations manager.
However, tourism was never really the field I wanted to work in; I quit my employment at the end of the summer season of 2005. I just felt I’d had enough after almost 20 years! I’m now trying to make money with a little bit of writing, web design and translations. Difficult to make a living though – thankfully my husband is still working, our son is grown-up (and employed) and life isn’t too expensive!
Update July 2008: I have been in employment again since November 2007. But although I'm back in tourism - I'm working for a 5-star hotel in Gozo - it's not as bad as it could be. I was lucky to get a position in public relations, which is close enough to my writing aspirations to be quite satisfied and happy with my work! :)
-Do you speak Maltese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
You’ll get by very well with the use of English – which is the second official language in Malta. Correspondence with public authorities is usually bilingual. Having said that, I started learning Maltese round about the time when my son started school; I’m now almost fluent and can also read it. Writing is sooo difficult, though!!
Yes, I think it’s important – though perhaps not vital – to learn a country’s language. It was and is my way of showing people that I truly belong here! As for local customs in general, I think it goes without saying that customs and traditions ought to be respected.
Local customs are not too exotic in the case of Malta. Probably the one practice standing out like a sore thumb is the obsession with letting off fireworks, and most notably extremely noisy petards, during the various village festas, which stretch over a whole week and culminate in a flurry of outdoors activity on the weekend. Each Maltese and Gozitan village celebrates its patron saint on a designated festa weekend, most of them during the summer period, between May and October.
It would be wrong not to mention bird hunting and trapping, which is sadly still “big” in Malta and Gozo, although awareness among the Maltese people has risen considerably in the past few years. Those who practice this kind of pastime insist that it is their right to keep up the tradition… I think only education of the next generations can put a stop to it, eventually!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I mostly miss my dad and my sister, but I don’t think I was ever really homesick until my return from Berlin after a business trip (manning a Gozo stand at an international tourism fair) in 1999. I attended again the same fair (ITB) last March, and together with a friend organised a 31 year reunion of our old school class. I was able to help a lot with tracing people by way of the internet, and setting up a website for the reunion. It was fabulous, and such a great success – very satisfying! In the wake of that… I’m now rather missing old friends and contacts again. I think that also has something to do with getting to an age that makes you prone to fits of nostalgia!
My favourite recreational activity?? SHOPPING! In capital letters! It would be exaggerated to compare Gozo to a third-world country, but doing grocery shopping in a supermarket in Berlin makes a Gozitan supermarket look like a fraud!
Other than that, I miss the opportunity to go to rock concerts – yes, even at my age!! Malta has started to attract a few, albeit aging, rock stars, like Roger Hodgson (who’s my all-time favourite!), Sting, Roger Waters and Robert Plant.
Both shopping and concerts are limited in Malta, probably because the numbers of audiences/customers are not high enough with a total population of under half a million… which results in limited choice and high prices.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I’m desperate to get my writing “out there,” which is not as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve contributed a good number of articles to the Maltese press and a local Sunday paper magazine, even self-published a novel. My dream is not to get rich with writing, but to earn enough to make a valid contribution to the family budget…
One major project of mine has just come to a successful conclusion:A guide-book (in German) titled “Leben und Arbeiten in Malta” (Living and Working in Malta) was published in September 2007 by Gentlemen’s Digest Verlag, Berlin. I am hoping to secure the contract for its English edition as well.
Update July 2008: Unfortunately, I was not able to get ANY publisher interested in the English version. Because of the tremendous amount of work that its translation would bring, I decided not to do it on my own account. Sorry...
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
At least in Gozo it is still rather common to own property rather than renting. Renting a house or apartment is mostly done short-term, perhaps while looking for a suitable property to buy. However, as prices have increased considerably, it will not be as easy as it used to be, for young people to buy property.
We were very lucky to buy our house – with the generous help of my dad! – when we did in 1989. Prices began shooting up shortly afterwards; if we were to sell it today we’d probably get something like twenty times the amount we paid.
A two-bedroom house with kitchen/living/dining costs something in the region of € 190,000; an apartment ca. € 70,000. But prices vary a lot, depending on the view, comfort (e. g. pool or at least space for one) and location.
-What is the cost of living in Malta?
The cost of living has risen like it has everywhere else. Until the mid-80s many items were imported under a bulk-buying system by the labour government – which was in many ways communist-influenced. Life was simply cheap – but choice was extremely limited and the private importation of many goods was prohibited.
Today the market is wide open. You can buy anything and everything – but obviously at a price. Imported goods cannot be as cheap as in the rest of Europe due to limited quantities and cost of transport. If your standards are not too high you can live off a very limited budget
(I’m putting that to practice at the moment!). Update July 2008: I USED to put that to practice, until taking up regular employment again! ;)
At present, there are no further expenses if you own property, such as poll tax, garbage collection, etc.
-What do you think about the Maltese people?
The Maltese in general have a reputation of friendliness and hospitality, and that hasn’t changed too much. But just as it happens everywhere else, especially in tourist destinations, you do find people who begin to get wary of foreigners. Moreover, Malta is facing a very serious problem with illegal immigration as boatloads of refugees of African origin land on an almost daily basis, which has led to racist tendencies in certain quarters.
But the majority of the Maltese are as welcoming as they have always been, and many of them will go out of their way to help where help is needed.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Malta?
I used to mention the weather (see negative aspects for the rebuttal!!); fact is that temperatures are mild almost all the year round. There is no frost, no snow – ever! Rainy days are something you learn to look forward to.
If you are a “sea person,” this is the place to be. You’re never farther than a 30-minute drive away from a dip into the Mediterranean Sea – and if you’re in Gozo, where I live, you can make that 10 minutes!
The extremely low crime rate is certainly worth a mention, which is even lower in Gozo. I am used to leaving my car key in the ignition - windows wound down – when I pop into a shop. You still find many locals who leave their house key in the front door all day long! (That’s a habit not seen in Malta, though!)
In the case of Gozo, this island is so small that almost everybody knows everyone else. Sometimes I crave the anonymity a big city like Berlin affords me.
Oh the weather… right now (August) I’m swearing at it on a daily basis. Which is a blatant lie, because I’m constantly at it! Heat waves with temperatures of 35° - 40°C (95 – 104 F) can make you pretty miserable – especially if you are working in a non-air-conditioned environment!
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Malta?
Malta is European. It is not as exotic as you might think during a first visit; its people have the same or similar problems, joys and sentiments as you and I have. If you have decided to move here chances are that you’ve got to know the country and some of its people already. Personally, I have always made it a point to be myself, i. e. not to pretend that I’m better or worse than anyone else, and I have had little problems that way.
You will be confronted with people who don’t appreciate too much openness. And you’ll certainly meet those who don’t wear their hearts on their sleeve. Over the years my experience has taught me that the above mentioned reputation for being friendly and welcoming sometimes prevents locals from saying what they really think. So, while the vast majority actually is as friendly as they appear to be, it can be difficult at times to recognise a less well-meaning person.
If you are preparing to relocate to Malta, try to gather as much information as you possibly can beforehand. It will make things much easier for you once you are here. In case of European laws and rules, although Malta has been a member of the EU
for over 3 years since 2004, you might meet many a civil servant who has not quite accustomed him/ herself yet with the rights you have! Update July 2008: Things in that respect might have improved, but I have no knowledge about it. Still... better be safe than sorry and do your "homework"!! ;)
One last, important word… There is a huge difference between falling in love with a country while on holiday and living there permanently! Malta in particular might strike you with its laid-back attitude, where there is no worry in the world. As a matter of fact, Gozo is famous as “the island where time stood still!” The said laid-back lifestyle will come back to haunt you when you try to get things done. Whether it’s the kitchen you’ve been promised by your carpenter for “next week” or the repair of your car, which the mechanic has advised you would be finished “tomorrow” – make sure you calculate a lot of ‘buffer time’ when planning things, because “tomorrow” (in Maltese: g]ada) has very similar connotations as the Spanish mañana (and you’d be forgiven for thinking that tomorrow never comes…)
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Malta?
My own blog: Days of my life… in Gozo – In blog descriptions I’m normally using the subtitle “Not very exciting ramblings of a not very exciting everyday life” – so as not to raise your expectations too high!
Update 10th September 2007: I have just installed a small forum, It's all about Gozo! on my blog; if you have any questions regarding life in Gozo, you are cordially invited to pop in and ask away! User registration is possible but not necessary to participate. Look forward to seeing you there. :)
Update July 2008: Apologies... Because of the ever-growing spamming community I had to take the forum down again spam-fighting became too time-consuming. Well, it never really took off anyway, so good riddance! :)
Malta Forums Only In Malta – Subtitled “Malta’s Friendliest Online Community,” this is a great place to make friends even before you come over. A few quirky characters might greet you with “tongue in cheek” but most members are fabulous people and will attempt to help you with any question you throw at them!
Update July 2008: The name of the forum has changed (it actually used to be Only In Malta before it was named MaltaForums!) - but everything else has remained the same!
Wired Malta – Maltese journalist Robert Micallef regularly skims the internet for interesting articles about Malta from all over the world and presents them in this blog. A great source for finding out what foreigners' impressions of Malta are!
La Delirante – An expat from Salvador blogs about her experience of living in Malta - a great read!
My New Life in Malta – The well-written, witty blog of a Peruvian in the Mediterranean.
Update July 2008: Sadly, the author had to leave the island earlier this year. But the entries about his life in Malta are still there - and very interesting to read!
Update 23rd July 2008:
I haven't come back here for a very long time... In the past few weeks I've had several e-mail responses to this interview, causing me to have a look again. I found a few items that were not up-to-date any longer, so I corrected them. Should you come across anything that needs fixing - especially dead links - in the future, kindly contact me on scassaralpert [at] yahoo [dot] com. Cheers!