Malta is a small country with a very high population density, so for the most part, people tend to have to live cheek by jowl. This means that, willy nilly, we tend to hear, listen to, and be part of our neighbours’ everyday lives, so much so that the adage of no man is an island holds very true in a totally ironic and quite intrusive way.
This claustrophobic and irritating mode of living has no practical solution apart from emigrating or dealing with it! Malta simply does not possess the vast unspoilt plains, large tracts of forest or huge amounts of land prevalent in other less densely populous areas around the world!
Our culture and mentality were fostered and influenced by the ideology that our Maltese neighbours are there, just a wave and a shout away, which is all well and good jekk jinqala xi ħaġa (should something bad happen). Yes, our compatriots are there… ALWAYS there.
Image credit: Leslie Vella
They’re there when we have a sore throat and cannot help but cough and cough again all throughout the night (in which case, poor them). They’re there when we want some kinky alone-time with our partner, even though we’re trying to be very, very, quiet. They’re there when we’re baking an apple and cinnamon pie, and its delicious scent almost drives them mad for a bite.
Whether we find it annoying or not, whether we think they’re poking their noses into our affairs or not, not one house, flat, or maisonette is totally insulated from the neighbours’ day to day foibles and goings-on, unless you’re rich enough to live in a sound-proof villa hidden on the outskirts of Mellieħa or somewhere. Whether your next door neighbour fancies himself a tenor and keeps vocalising in the shower, or the widow across the street keeps inviting different ‘friends’ to keep her company throughout the night, whether Shanaia down the block is doing a photo-shoot for her Confirmation, or Censina’s in the mood for boiling cabbages at five in the morning… we know it all. Even if we don’t want to.
Of course, we’re aware that this lack of privacy works the other way round as well. We try to keep it down, knowing that our penchant for Stephen King horror movies bothers the 89-year old man next door. And yet, we still have to live our life, don’t we?
Image credit: Maria Thompson
The Maltese like to pride themselves on being very friendly and amicable as a people; always there for their neighbour should they be in need. Yet, the downside to this is that the Maltese people in general are also actually enormously nosy as well. One need only take a look at the obnoxious comments written in response to certain articles on local online newspapers to get that, especially when it comes to certain issues such as divorce or gay adoption. Enough said – my point is that one must always keep in mind that it’s actually very easy to make a friend or an enemy of someone. A kind word, a mean look, an unneeded judging glance or a casual smile can tip all the odds, one way or the other.
Many people make an effort to be kind to foreigners, just as others seem to make an effort to be unpleasant towards them. Yet, when it comes to our neighbours and fellow Maltese, it seems like no one even tries to make an effort to sympathise or make contact. Our relationships with these strangers, which nonetheless share so much of their life with us, are often left subjects to the whims of fancy. We jostle them at the supermarket, we snidely cut them off to grab the last parking space on the street, we unthinkingly throw unwanted papers and trash in front of their doorstep. It’s so easy to make someone dislike you. Just as easy, perhaps, as it is for someone to turn to you with a smile, and in that moment cement a friendship which could make your lives much easier and more pleasant. And yet, most of us never even try to make a conscious effort to do that.
This rant serves as a reminder both for me and hopefully for others. Next time your neighbours’ letters arrive at your house by mistake, or an item of washing blows off their clothesline and into your yard, hand it over with a smile and a nod, instead of an irritated mumble and a pinched face. It might make all the difference.