Thursday 01 June 2023

This country is flipping out, and we haven’t even had our first heatwave yet

This column first appeared in Malta Today

A TikTok video doing the rounds starts off with a female voice saying “today we share the things you need to know before you go to Malta”, which you think is going to be one of those cliche promotional lists issued by the tourism authority. Instead it is a roughly edited collection of locals swearing and shouting and generally having meltdowns in different situations.

Rather like Prince Louie who completely lost it during the start of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations when the noise of the flypast had him screaming his head off while plugging his ears (but he’s only four years old, so I would say he’s excused).

Let’s just say the above-mentioned Tiktok video shows some segments of the nation in less than their finest hour.

It opens with the first expressive expletive by a man who seems to have been startled.

Then the soothing voiceover continues, replete with gentle irony: ”the locals are known for their friendliness and hospitality (cut to a woman screaming, “f**k your mother)

“English is Malta’s official second language” (cut to another enraged man, “you’re a mother f**ker).

“Try scuba diving in the clear blue waters” (cut to a diver being swept away by waves as someone screams, “Madonna, Madonna, no…!”)

“Make sure to drive with patience” (cut to a video of a famous road rage incident, “move, ħaqq….bleep, bleep” in more colourful Maltese)

“Public transport is the cheapest way to get around Malta (cut to a furious bus driver yelling “get out off my f**king country, you prostitute, you f**king bitch”)

“Also enjoy the festivals,” (cut to a religious statue falling over, accompanied by, you guessed it, “Madonna, Madonna”)

“Reckless driving is a problem” (cut to the voice of whom I presume is a driving instructor, “Go, Bro, Madonna, go, you do stupid f**king mistakes”)

“It’s full of grab and go eateries” (cut to a man throwing a crate of bananas through someone’s car window)

Then the startled man we saw at the beginning comes back and utters another string of expletives.

End of video.

Ok, don’t get your panties in a twist as some have already done.

I am fully aware that this is not a complete picture of the island, and that the segments were specifically hand-picked to show us at our worst. But put yourselves in the shoes of someone new to the country, who can easily encounter such episodes at least once on an average day. The harsh sound of our language, the loudness of the voices, the angry gestures and the contorted facial expressions are not exactly welcoming. We make allowances because we are used to these scenes of people flipping out at the slightest irritation or inconvenience…but for someone who is not familiar with our hot-blooded Latin temperament, all this can be pretty alarming.

No wonder so many new arrivals to the island seek refuge on Expats Malta where they ask each other in bewilderment: is this normal behaviour for Malta?

It is sometimes hard to explain that what sounds like an angry shouting match is actually a ‘discussion’ and what would be deemed a public disturbance in another country is just your typical Tuesday morning over here. There is the obligatory swearing, usually with a lot of creative descriptions of body parts, and blasphemy thrown in for good measure, with the mention of God, Jesus and of course the Virgin Mary (hence the constant references to ‘Madonna’). Those who have lived here long enough know that the use of religious icons in our swearing is in direct proportion to our lavish religious pageantry. In fact, I’ve always found it fascinating that the people of a Catholic country should resort so quickly to blasphemy, invoking all the saints when they angry, as if all the years of religious repression has brought them to a pressure cooker limit, and they need to break loose in one violent, volcanic stream of profanity. I’m sure there must be some anthropological reason for this.

Another interesting thing about swearing is how some people are only prone to use it in specific situations, for example when they get behind the wheel of a car. Granted, the daily traffic jams, despite all the promises that they would disappear, are enough to make anyone swear. Here I raise my hand, guilty as charged, because nothing makes me see red and reduce me to a bag of jangled nerves more than the impatient, aggressive and arrogant drivers we have on our roads. Yes, your Honour, I have been known to utter the F-word, in all its many variations, in these circumstances.

On the other hand, walking around in a permanent state of anger and rage, always ready to let rip at the slightest provocation, is no way to live either. It’s actually very exhausting. On reading the news that we are going to have our first heatwave next week, which is always guaranteed to make everyone more irritable and cranky, I am dreading the idea of more flared tempers. It won’t be a pretty sight if everyone starts losing it…and we don’t exactly need to provide more fodder for more TikTok videos do we?

Whatever happened to the Tourism Police?

As the temperatures rise, people are also back to more socialising and tourist arrivals are increasing. That also means that the country is back to feeling very crowded once again. With these crowds all eager to party after two years of nothing to do but dine out, you will get the inevitable unruly behaviour, which can spiral into arguments and fights. The combination of a sizzling hot summer, people losing their inhibitions because they are drunk or stoned, plus the seasonal increase in the population is a potentially risky one. Before things really start getting out of hand I must ask whatever happened to the Tourism Police which were supposed to be patrolling certain tourist zones? If you spot any of our men or women in blue doing their rounds in this capacity, please let me know.

The return of large events and music festivals, where alcohol (and probably other substances) will be flowing, means that the need for law and order are paramount. We already have enough news every Monday morning of fights which break out over the weekend involving glass bottles, knives and in one case, even a sword. If law enforcement is not going to get a grip on the situation now when we are still at the beginning of the summer season, I hate to think what will happen by August.

Clearly we are surrounded by people with anger issues, and it’s almost come to the point that you have to be careful not to look at certain people in the eye lest you trigger them for some reason. But it’s not just when we’re out and about that things can get heated. This week a man stabbed his brother with a knife in an argument over a bottle of water while at the dinner table. Collectively, as a nation, no matter what nationality we are, we are trying the best we can on this hot, crowded island full of hot-heads. Yes, it’s very easy to lose it and explode, but just like Prince Louis was sent inside by his mother to calm himself down …we all need to learn to breathe, and if possible walk away to defuse an escalating scenario.

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