Culture shock comes as part and parcel of the expat experience. Moving to a new country means that expats need to form new routines in an unfamiliar place, where what is usually taken for granted becomes completely unfamiliar.
Many people are attracted to Malta because of the mild yet sunny climate, the proliferation of English as a spoken language among locals, and the island's affordability compared to other European destinations. Malta offers a broadly Mediterranean lifestyle but has a large foreign population and hosts countless tourists, a fact which may ease the transition. Despite some things being familiar, however, there are specific details of life in Malta that expats will have to get used to.
Aside from missing their loved ones, the main things expats have trouble adjusting to in Malta is the slower pace of life and the small-town atmosphere, which is partially a result of Malta's size and the role of religion in Maltese values. An expat’s happiness often depends on their ability to accept and adapt to their new surroundings, a vital step for overcoming culture shock.
Language barrier in Malta
How expats approach the language barrier in Malta depends on their expectations. Since English is widely spoken, most expats don’t learn to speak Maltese and get through their daily business without much trouble. However, this often means that they don’t make local friends and spend most of their time with other expats.
Expats who value integrating into their surroundings should make some effort to learn Maltese. The language stems from Arabic, uses a Latin alphabet and borrows words from European languages, particularly Sicilian Italian, reflecting the archipelago’s interesting history. A few basic phrases can go a long way to bridging cultural differences and endearing expats to their hosts.
Religion in Malta
Roman Catholicism is the state religion in Malta and is the foundation for many of its customs. The most important dates on the Maltese social calendar are Catholic festivals and saints’ feast days, which are celebrated on a large scale.
Even though other religious views are recognised and respected, Catholicism is practised by 90 to 95 percent of the country and has shaped Maltese society. An emphasis on the traditional family structure affects every level of interaction, and is reinforced by how small the islands are. Gender roles are more traditional and social groups are close-knit. Making local friends can be challenging but is ultimately worthwhile for a fuller experience.
Time in Malta
Many of the expats living in Malta are retired and attracted by the idea of living life at a slower pace. While this sounds easy enough, recent retirees and expats who come for work might take a while to adjust.
People don’t mind taking their time walking between specialised traders to get their groceries, so there aren’t as many supermarkets. Many of these smaller businesses close for a few hours in the middle of the day for a siesta, and stay open a bit later. Service in general can seem unhurried, which can be frustrating for expats from faster-paced places.
Understanding and accepting that things take a bit longer are vital to adjusting to life in Malta – and stopping to appreciate the little things can improve an expat’s stay in the country.
Are you an expat living in Malta?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malta. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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