Across Continents

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Eyes and ears

For someone used to stumbling along with the merest rudiments of the local language, reliant as much on the patience of others as his own enthusiasm over ability, Malta is quite intriguing. It’s an eyes and ears thing. Shop fronts, signs, pretty much most things in English, yet, rightly enough, the spoken first language is firmly Maltese. A strong Arabic influence, perhaps some Italian, elements of Turkic, and quite a few English words and expressions. I’d found this disconnect between sight and sound a little unnerving at first, more striking than during my childhood in a strong Welsh speaking community. There, at least, you saw, as well as heard, a lot of Welsh.

There’s a strong British influence, hardly surprising for a country given independence less than forty years ago. This is reflected not just in the grand imperial architecture, but in everyday life. Traffic wardens, they even drive on the left, social norms. First names – George, Charles, Simone – are English, but surnames most certainly not. Being able to use English has helped hugely with getting various tasks ticked off, but, just as importantly, has been the way things are done here. Wonderfully intuitive.

I’ve always said there are countries where I’d be happy to live for a few years, but I’ve never found one where I’d even contemplate leaving the UK for good. It’s a bit premature to say Malta may be the one – I’m rather fond of my old English cottage in a charming, friendly Somerset village – but as a home-from-home, a winter escape, perhaps somewhere for a writing project, perfect.

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