Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Trip to Spain...and Back to Malta!

My wife and I returned from a brief holiday in Spain yesterday afternoon. The time we spent in Madrid and in Toledo was magical. It really felt as though we had visited another planet! Faced with the many beautiful things that Spain has to offer, neither one of us was particularly enthusiastic about returning to Malta.

When it comes to living in Malta, there are some very positive points that should be mentioned. One is the high level of safety that exists. Another positive point lies in the small distances that exist between one place and another; this makes it easy to visit many spots in one day.

Once a person has spent some time abroad (working or studying or even on a holiday), comparisons are virtually impossible to avoid. My heart sinks when I start making those comparisons and when I become aware of the several negative points associated with living in Malta. Since I had spent over a year working in Spain, it is extremely easy for me to list a number of problematic issues related to life on the Maltese Islands:

1.) Low salaries: At little over EUR 600 a month, the minimum wage in Malta is a joke. Furthermore, with the exception of certain jobs in a small number of areas, many people are paid a pittance when compared to how much they would earn to do the same thing in several other countries.

2.) High cost of living: There was a fairly long time during which Malta had the highest inflation rate in the European Union! How is the average worker supposed to live comfortably when they struggle to make ends meet with the relatively little money that they receive every month? Whilst in Spain, we took a taxi from Puerta del Sol to the Barajas airport (a drive of around 20 minutes). The trip cost us around EUR 22,00. In Malta, one might easily end up paying the same amount of money to take a taxi from Ta' Xbiex to St Julian's (a drive that is often less than 10 minutes long).

3.) Public transport: The public transport system in Malta is a disgrace. Many buses are incredibly old, dirty, and uncomfortable. If you live in, say, Tarxien and need to go to work in Mosta, you would need to wake up very early in order to make sure that you get to work on time. In Spain, the public transport system is absolutely great! The use of the subway allows one to travel from one part of a city to another in only a few minutes. The buses are clean and air-conditioned.

4.) Entertainment: Malta is so small that after a few months, one would have done it all, seen it all...After a while, one ends up going to the same places, seeing the same people, doing the same things. Yes, there are exhibitions here and there, but it can be expensive to attend some of them and it may also be hard to go as a result of the poor public transport system. In a place like Spain, it is so easy to go from, say, Madrid to Toledo and feel as though you are visiting another country!

5.) Degree of conservatism: Although there have been some changes during the past few years, Maltese society could still be regarded as a very conservative one. To me, it is ridiculous that there are still huge debates about whether there should be a condom machine on the University campus! *rolls eyes* When it comes to religion, although fewer people are going regularly to Sunday Mass, the Roman Catholic Church is still quite powerful in Malta. Indeed, a huge number of youth organisations are somewhat linked to the Church.

6.) Making friends: Since many Maltese people do not move from their family homes until they get married, it is plausible to say that most individuals born in Malta stick to the same group of friends throughout their lives. This group would normally include childhood schoolfriends and some other people encountered at work/in some religious organisation. Once it is formed, a Maltese social group tends to be quite strong and does not allow an easy entry to "outsiders". This situation is very different from the one witnessed in other European countries whereby individuals often move to other cities for various reasons (such as finding a good job). In such cases, the person who moves has to start from scratch and this makes it easier to move from one social group to another. Furthermore, the fact that there are more secular groups abroad makes it easier for non-religious people to make friends.

In a nutshell, I strongly believe that Malta is a great place for people who have a certain type of job, are religious, do not have to depend on public transport, are fairly conservative, and who have belonged to a strong social network for many years. I do not match this profile and I do not, therefore, feel very comfortable living in Malta. Yes, things will probably get better as time goes by, but life is short and I am not willing to wait decades until Malta can offer what I can find today in many other countries...