Juniper: Capers and Olives
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Malta, etc.
My name is Juniper and I am originally from the United States, I moved to Malta five years ago with my husband and three children. Before coming to Malta we had been living in England for 8 years.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I first started a blog because I wanted to share our small day to day adventures in Malta with our friends and family who lived far away. In addition if I am honest it was also a means for myself to try and take notice and see the many details of what living on an island in the Mediterranean was all about. To take notice of the small things, the tastes, sounds and light and try to share the parts I loved as well as those things which struck me as odd or unusual. In trying to really feel what it is to live in this country, eyes and heart open, helped me appreciate what being in Malta means and stopped me from constantly comparing it to what our life was like in England.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Malta differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life in Malta differs from the way we used to live in England in almost every way. At first the slowness of things bothered me, having to 'waste' half a morning waiting in line at the bank or post office. The fact most government offices are only open in the mornings. The endless red tape and often striking inefficiencies. The traffic jams. The lack of customer care in most places. In time I have learned to re-adjust though, be more realistic about what can be done in a morning, take things a little slower. Appreciate the fact that things are so local, the bread delivered to your door, the fish freshly caught taken to the many village markets across the island. The butcher who knows which cuts you like. The daily fresh ricotta and goats cheese sold for mere cents from the corner shop. The seasonal fruits and vegetables (who knew there were three different kinds of figs grown in Malta!) Initially I was struck by the serious, sometimes suspicious faces I would encounter in the village we chose to live in. I was struck by harsh sounding bargaining intensity at market stalls, and along alleys until I learned the bargaining game and to understand some of the language and until I saw how everyone melts when they see a child here. Every neighbor in a three block radius knows my toddler's name and calls it out while waving from balconies and front doorways. Old people and teenagers in equal measure. This warms my heart. The local baker will not let us leave the shop without placing a warm cookie in my sons hands, always free and given with a genuine smile. Once you are accepted into an area the neighbors really look out for you, come find you at the shop to tell you one of your towels has been blown off the line into a neighbors yard for example. Likewise if your cat gets stuck on someone else's roof. We have found people to be very helpful and kind once they get to know you. I have found the Maltese can look and sound harsh but be very kind and sincere once you get past the initial facade.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Malta? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was definitely not prepared for Malta when I arrived and I found the first year slightly difficult. I don't know if I would have changed anything though, apart from getting a car earlier. Being dependent on the bus is difficult here, as the times are not reliable and with children and the summer heat or winter rains it is a recipe for disaster. Having chosen to live in a house of character in the south of the island and not being central has also been at times problematic but I do love walks by the old cities of Birgu and Kalkara and I have made some wonderful friends in the area.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The sense of house pride and cleanliness in Malta is very high. So the casual stopping over at a friend for a cup of tea and to let kids play is not commonly done here. Luckily though, I found other parents who are foreigners or have lived abroad and are up for visitors and coming round for tea or a play date. I would also say the dressing up culture is very dominant even on Sunday afternoons! This took me awhile to get used to. Seeing women dressed in serious heels carrying leather handbags at the beach on a lazy Sunday afternoon was surprising to say the least.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Malta?
Be patient and persistent. Try what is local and in season, don't be afraid to ask your local green grocer, each season has its own feasts, special foods and musical traditions. Read the local papers (there are at least three printed in English), it will keep you informed about festivals, special events and general life on the island. Try something new while you are here, be it snorkeling, tango dancing or kayaking around the caves of Gozo. The weather is such that you can be out and about for most of the year. Of course the daily siesta (12-4) is a must as well. The nature outside the towns and cities is beautiful and there are many stunning hikes to take.
How is the expat community in Malta? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The Expat community in Malta is very friendly and accessible, it's a small enough place that you find yourself repeatedly running into like-minded people at various events or favorite spots from outdoor film festivals, organic farmers market, nature hikes and naturally you start to talk and from there friendships begin.
How would you summarize your expat life in Malta in a single, catchy sentence?
Slow down and let Malta show you its beauty, it may be hidden down a quiet ally or grandly staring down at you from a palazzo. It may be letting waves crash against its limestone cliffs above the blue Mediterranean or joining in with the carnival dancing and floats in the streets of Valletta. There is a richness in both culture and history in Malta that take time to appreciate and understand but in my experience it is worth the effort.