Saturday 22 June 2024

Is everyone so touchy about their country, or is it just us?

This article was first published in Malta Today

I have been mulling over this topic for a while. It all started when I shared one of those articles which tend to rub people the wrong way entitled “Living in a Developing Country”, penned by a Canadian travel writer who lived here for six years.

Yes, I know, that word “developing” – Ouch.

But when I read it through it, I found myself nodding at each of his points and I had to admit, grudgingly, that he was right. Others were not as forgiving and came out guns blazing (even though I had posted a clear warning that those who are too sensitive should step away from the article – but do people listen? Nope).

This got me thinking, not for the first time, whether we have particularly thin skin and are just way too touchy and defensive when Malta is criticized. Why can’t we just take it on the chin, laugh it off, accept it with a grain of salt? Do other nationalities get so deeply offended about criticism towards their patria?

There was only one way to find out. So here it is, a straw poll, by no means scientific, but which provides much food for thought.

Maltese, resident of Switzerland (German-speaking part) for 5 years

The well-travelled Swiss tend to be quite open and verbal about the country’s shortcomings. They will let you know within the first few minutes that they have lived elsewhere as an indicator that “I’m different and I’m open. You can speak” to show how tolerant they will be to some of your opinions about the country. They will most probably agree with your criticism and even engage further.

Then you have the ones that believe in Swiss greatness and wealth. Although well-travelled, they’re more the luxury type of tourist rather than explorers. I wouldn’t call them touchy per se but they tend to disagree with any criticism about the country and are equipped with hard facts and statistics to support their arguments. They would normally blame you as an immigrant for not adapting to this great nation.

Then you have the ones who are not really exposed to foreigners and are more Swiss than Switzerland. They can get quite touchy about foreigners (if they know any) criticizing their country.

Personally, for me, it all depends whether I feel the criticism towards Switzerland is warranted. I tend to snap at comments that have little factual basis.

“Eħe, I know you get better salaries in Switzerland ħi pero it’s sooo expensive” (that’s where I normally snap and I automatically shift into the whole disposable income explanation).

“But the Swiss system is rich and we’re not. Not everyone is lucky hux!” – luck! My ass! They built a robust system that is governed by discipline not by a bunch of corrupt idiots.

When it comes to bashing Malta, I normally join in to be honest. Malta produces more comic material than any jester could ever dream of!
I think getting offended is very personal and tends to come from an irrational place which has little place for facts. That does not lead to good debate – only drama. Having lived and worked in the North for several years now, I have learnt how to take more of an analytical stance when I speak…I’m more inquisitive.

People tend to be touchy about things they’re insecure of or subconsciously accept as an “issue” (that might include lack of knowledge). If you know your facts and are not a victim of mindless rhetoric, you can have a good discussion without the Hollywood exit at the end.

The way I see it, as long as I have my citizenship and a right to vote in my home country, I have the right to criticize.

As long as I continue to contribute to my country of residence’s tax system, I have the right to criticize.

And as long as I have a stake in a country, I have the right to criticize.
Maltese-American (raised in Malta), resident of California for 23 years
I have to admit I do get offended if someone criticizes Los Angeles. I think many of us are proud of where we live, whether it’s just your town or city or the state. Keep in mind many states are jealous of California so some people even visit here with attitude.

The comment that bothers me the most would have to be about our traffic, yes it’s bad, yes we deal with it every day and yes if you don’t like it leave or keep your opinions to yourself, if you leave it’s one less car on the roads and you have become a part of the solution.

I look at Malta as once my home and even though I’m far away, when I visit i love to see the progress, no doubt the island is getting busier and more populated, it has lost some of its old 1977 charm that i remember but development brings that. When i visit I try not to compare as that’s not fair. If I hear someone bashing Malta, I would say if you have never been, just say nothing until you visit.

Personally, I think the world is becoming full of Snowflakes where no matter what you say you are bound to offend somebody, I personally take offence but at the end of the day you have a right to your opinion. I don’t have to agree with your opinions about my country or state but you are free to voice them, when you choose to live in one particular place that’s your home. We are territorial creatures so we protect where we live and when we don’t like it, we move.

I think if you are visiting somewhere else you should be respectful of your surroundings, if you live there full time whether you are a citizen or not I think you have the right to criticize, because those are your surroundings.

German, resident of Berlin (lived in Malta for six years)

If we had to be honest, I think everyone is a bit proud of their native country. But even I used to be very critical about Berlin myself… I always wanted to get away to a more sunny, happy place. People just want to get out of their rut. It’s very easy to always criticize the place you live in since that’s where you get all the negative news from. Once you are settled in a new place and make it your home you start nagging about this and that again too.

I probably do get offended if the person who criticizes Germany is not using facts or makes a general remark that includes all Germans, eg., Germans are all Nazis, or we all wear Lederhosen (although this is funny!). If someone critiques something which true, such as, Germany is so bureaucratic… I would agree with it.

However, If someone bashes Malta I feel sad too.. but only if it’s a generalisation. If someone bashes the Maltese government for not doing anything about the environment, or the bird hunting issue…I would have to agree. I once had a Maltese boyfriend whose brother was a hunter. I never judged him for it but I could never agree with his hobby.

I think we get defensive because it’s a feeling of protecting what’s dear to you…home is where the heart is, but that should not make us blind to an open discussion

The way I see it, if you live in a new country, and make it your home and pay taxes, I think you should have the right to have your voice heard. I don’t like people myself that totally complain about everything. I always made a point when I lived in Malta to respect (as much as I understood) the culture. You can’t ignore the cultural aspect, otherwise why did you leave your country in the first place? Don’t expect everyone around you to change for you. But you can always set a good example and lead. You can give ideas and constructive criticism. Don’t piss people off unnecessarily but be always respectful about the way you speak about someone’s home country.

Having said this, when I lived in Malta there were several things that bugged me too, but overall I was happy and the positive outweighed the negative.

Maltese, resident of Norway for 5 years

I have never openly criticized Norway. I think it is rude and disrespectful to do so. And I question the reason for doing so. I would have to be really frustrated to vent out loud.
You do have the right to complain like everyone else, but you have to adapt to the culture, too. People here don’t complain that much. What I have done is comment on things which I find strange – and am usually met with silence.
Norwegians are hyper patriotic, so you have to be extra-careful when pointing out things that you dislike. A friend of mine once asked why Norwegian women are so openly promiscuous and the reply was ‘because we are not hypocrites’. You can’t argue with that.
There is a popular book The Social Guide book to Norwegians which says that you should never criticize anything Norwegians are proud of. I don’t think anyone would be happy if you criticized the royal family. They are very well-loved.
However, I do feel that one day I will write something about racism in Norway. There is a fine line between being patriotic and racist and I have been at the receiving end of what I could call an ‘unwelcoming’ attitude. It would be an insight, rather than criticism.

I feel that because I chose to live here, if I criticized anything I would be told “why don’t you leave. No one is forcing you to stay.” I don’t even complain about the weather. It occurred to me today when a colleague said “I want summer”. that I don’t even dare to say that.

I hate it when someone bashes Malta, the same way I would feel if anyone criticized members of my family. It’s an automatic reaction. I can do it in private but I don’t want to know if you feel the same way. I try to give reasons for things, but there is only so much you can justify the things we all hate about Malta, such as the litter, traffic jams, dog poo on pavements and noise levels.
Yes it is both over-protective and hyper-sensitive. I think it reflects one’s character.

Scottish, resident of Malta for 8 years

There is possibly nothing people can say about Scotland that I haven’t said myself. After all, I am living in Malta. I can get a wee bit protective when it comes to (leader of Scottish National Party) Nicola Sturgeon and Independence and I suppose I get most ticked off when people say that they couldn’t survive without England.

I don’t like the Maltese haters, who just complain day in day out. If you truly hate a place, why live there? After all, in life, there are choices.

On the other hand, I get so mad when people say that you have to respect the ‘host’ country, put up and shut up.
There are ways of saying things politely. You should hear my neighbours when it comes to Malta. They are relentless in some things, but maybe because they are Maltese they are allowed to?

I wouldn’t have achieved what I have, if I had ‘put up and shut up’. Should I have left Malta when I realized, and left it to someone else? I don’t think anyone else would have taken on the task of fighting discrimination in the rental sector, even when it affects Maltese just as much.

Words are just so easy, but action takes effort. Polite and respectful costs nothing, but I don’t believe in biting my tongue. More so when it’s important to me I think constructive criticism is brilliant, and I would never criticize for the sake of criticism.

Maltese-Canadian, resident of Malta for 11 years
I don’t get offended in the slightest when someone criticizes Canada and if the criticism is accurate. I’ll join in. If it’s not, I’ll correct them or possibly laugh at the error. What is to get offended about anyway? I’m not the country. I’m just a person who happens to have been born there.

Almost my entire family in Canada is Maltese, on my father’s side. Grandparents, half a dozen aunts and uncles, and a good percentage of their spouses, and lots of cousins of course. I grew up eating a lot of pastizzi. I’d like to remind everyone how many left Malta in the past for economic reasons.

So the way I feel about good honest criticism about Malta is the exact same way I do about bashing Canada or any place else, including all of planet Earth. Bashing is one thing, accurate criticism is another. One is silly, and the other useful.

I actually think the idea of patriotism is stupid. I’m not the country. I didn’t write the laws or create the language or raise some land out of the sea. This is not the same as taking pride in where you live in the sense that you will do what you can to maintain it or make it better, but that’s just being a good human. It is not the same as appreciation of what is good about a place. Nationalism is just a good excuse to hate someone else and pretend there is some huge difference between people. Most people didn’t get to choose their native language, religion, or culture. It’s just something they were born into. Even so, people for the most part just want to eat, work, smile, enjoy a sunny day, love their children and watch them grow, and hopefully have some good company along the way.

Being respectful and not criticizing are not at all the same thing. Understanding, accepting, and adapting to a culture is a good thing, and certainly something you should do. Good criticism though is how things that need to be improved get attention. In fact it’s a civic duty. Standing silent and doing nothing is to accept it. So, which is which? All a person can do is call it as they see it. Certainly though, and it’s a strange thing in Malta, it makes no sense to be angry at a foreigner for saying exactly the same things that many Maltese do.
British-Maltese, resident of Malta for 14 years, now back in UK

Generally I do my best to ignore people when they criticise the UK. I put it down to them having a bad day…! However if I get caught off-guard, usually unfair remarks that ‘tarnish all with the same brush’ about ignorance and bad education are what get to me the most.

When someone bashes Malta I just don’t give them the time of day really. There are positives and negatives in everything, and someone bashing something says more about them than anything else I think.

I think when we get offended it’s more of a feeling of being over protective. If we live where we live by choice, then we’ve decided to do so for a reason… if someone is offending that location then it’s up to me/us to convince them otherwise, and perhaps see reason?

On the other hand, it’s quite elitist to think that only the people born in the country have the right to complain about it. I would be respectful of a country’s law and constructs, but if I had a gripe I would communicate it in a civil manner and stand up for myself.