This article first appeared on Malta Today
As the saying goes, comparisons are odious, but there are times when they are inevitable.
I know that I am not alone that, whenever I’m abroad, I start mentally comparing the lifestyle and habits of the country I’m in, with our own. It’s not always Malta which comes off looking worse, either, as we have a lot to be proud of on this island nation. There are times when you think, well that would never happen in Malta and other times when you think, well thank God that it doesn’t. I always say that when one weighs the pros and cons, I still prefer living here to anywhere else, although admittedly the negatives tend to assault your senses and general well-being on too regular a basis.
In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I can boil it down to one very essential factor: space.
Let’s face it – living in a large country with wide open spaces, and stretches of land which go on forever, where you can have a sprawling metropolis of a city and yet can still afford to have acres of parks and recreational facilities, poses a major advantage. Have you ever noticed how people seem much calmer, more polite, less stressed, less aggravated? I am sure that it is the availability of having lots of space which makes this possible. The closer you get to the crowded conditions of a bustling, hustling city centre, the more on edge and wired up people are…but once you move towards the suburbs and the outskirts, it is like an aura of calmness has descended on the psyche which serves to soothe the soul. It is very difficult to be perpetually aggressive when you have one house separated by a large front lawn and an even larger backyard from the other. (Unless that is, you are the type who goes stir crazy by too much quiet, in which case you are better off living in a busy city). The point is that you do have the possibility of “getting away from it all” when crowded conditions get too much, and that is the essential difference.
Even in denser areas, however, I always notice that the crowds on the whole have that certain something which is sorely lacking here: the ability to wait their turn, to be patient and to be considerate towards others. Maybe it’s years of living in a society where self-discipline has been ingrained and there is no question that laws will be enforced, which has ensured that people will behave themselves. Even in Las Vegas where I was recently, there was never a moment when I felt unsafe, because the watchful eye of police officers, discreetly yet visibly in view at all times, ensured that even those who may have had too much to drink were not being a nuisance to others. My comparison radar kicked in to play: can we say the same thing for our own Paceville these days?
Even at a crowded theme park, where the sheer volume of people can be overwhelming, there is always order and adherence to regulations. Paradoxically, even in crowded spaces, there is a respect for personal space (one of my pet peeves, as I absolutely hate it when people invade my space). If someone accidentally bumps up against you there are profuse apologies, not a glare and a scowl or a muttered obscenity. Frankly, it always takes me a few days to stop being surprised at the good manners and general amiability everywhere one goes, which is a sad statement on how I have become “used” to rudeness and bad moods. No matter how people may scoff at the false cheerfulness and concern (“so how is your day is going so far?”) by every cashier or waiter in the US, it made a welcome change from being studiously ignored or looked at as if I had killed their cat, which is the kind of attitude I come across so often here.
Yes, there are times when the constant small talk every time you go to a shop can grate on one’s nerves (will you please stop talking, I was on the verge of telling a cashier one day, fully aware that my Maltese grumpiness was rising to the surface) and yet on the whole, I think most would agree that pleasantness is much more preferable to unpleasantness when dealing with people in the service industry. And while they obviously get specific training on how to deal with the public, good manners are just a way of life, so it does not take much to apply that to one’s job. Speaking of which, people are simply happy to be in employment, even if it is just minimum wage, so they make sure they do their job well, because there are plenty of others to take their place. At one restaurant, the manager was so concerned that he did not have one specific item we ordered, and so worried that we would be upset, that I almost fell about laughing. You, my fellow Maltese, will obviously get the humour.
Yet, despite all this, I love this Malta of ours, I really do and would not trade it with anywhere. We just need to give ourselves some more space (which is why I will always support protests against more insane development). and with that, more consideration and respect are bound to follow.