My friend, Jess, who has lived in Malta for two years explained to me the three phases of Malta. First phase is “Oh Malta is awesome! I LOVE it here!”. Phase two is “What the hell is wrong with this place? I can’t wait to get back to where things are normal.”. The final phase, Phase three, is basically complacency; “Whatever, it’s Malta.” I am fairly confident I am in the beginning stages of Phase 2.
This week proved to be a cultural experience and those experiences have led to the fact that I am starting to get island fever that I would compare to cabin fever.
School started monday, and promptly Tuesday, I had my first presentation. It was worth 20% of my grade and about Pillsbury Cookie Dough. Side note – Did you know that the cookie dough refrigerated rolls you by at the grocery store are honestly called “Chubs”? Who the hell thought that was a good idea?
With my presentation out of the way, Tuesday afternoon was one of the most odd experiences I have encountered here so far. In order for the University of Malta to sponsor our residence permits, they require us to go get chest x-rays to prove we don’t have TB. The University told us where to go, and told us it would cost us each 30 euros cash. Ok, no problem. Now, imagine what an x-ray appointment in the states would be like; it would all be really private, especially when it comes to your results, right? Well, not so much in Malta. They crammed four of us in the doctor’s office (who, BTW, was busy pulling second duty as the receptionist) in addition to the doctor. It was so crowded, I had to sit on an ultrasound table. Then, with the lights out and multiple jokes from the doctor about it being a “club” and a “party”; he proceeded to put our x-rays on the screen and go through each one out loud in front of everyone. No bars hold. It was strange. Then when it came time to pay, they insisted we all pay in one lump sum. If it didn’t scream shady, I am not sure what does. The four of us walked out of the clinic looking at each other and saying, what the hell just happened.
The rest of the week was filled with school work and still trying to get settled in. I am trying to get my bearings straight, and get my “places” set. In San Francisco, I had my go-to places. I would go to Nani’s for coffee and see John every morning. I would go to the Pig and Whistle and have a beer with Chris, the bartender. I would go to the same places for my nails. I had a dry cleaner who knew my name. I had my spots. I have been trying to do that here in Malta. So far, it’s getting there.
On mornings where there isn’t school we have been going to a place called Fresco’s. It got to the point where they ordered “take-away” cups just for us. They have become somewhat of friends. Even if we aren’t stopping in, just walking by, they yell hi to us out the window. The same goes with my “sports” bar – Balluta Bar. Bryan, the owner, has taken good care of us. Friday night I went in to watch the first MLB Wildcard game with a roommate. Bryan fed us, gave us snacks to take home and sent us home with two arancini. I can tell that’s going to be one of my “spots”.
Speaking of baseball, I had my first chance to share my culture with someone this week. While watching the Cards/Braves game, an older man in the bar asked what we were watching. I told him baseball. He proceeded to ask 1,001 questions about the game. I dutifully tried to explain it to him – before realizing to myself that baseball really is confusing if you have never seen a game before. The man started picking up on it and by the third inning he was saying things, without prompt, like “Strike out!”. It was rather amusing, and to be honest, I felt pretty proud that I was able to share my culture with someone.
Throughout my time here, I can already tell that here is some hostility toward Americans. Every chance I get, I try not to bring attention to the fact that I am American. It’s not that I am proud to be one, it’s just that we are rather close to areas of the world that hold anger towards our country. I am trying, though, to take in the cultures I am learning about, but also share mine. It’s a learning and teaching experience in every aspect; even down to getting chest x-rays. To be honest, it’s really kept me on my toes.
“Culture is the process by which a person becomes all that they were created capable of being.” - Thomas Carlyle
- UK survey finds that many don’t know where Malta is (timesofmalta.com)