With 7,000 years of history, colorful religious festivals and archaic cathedrals, Malta is home to a truly beautiful and immersive culture. Whether you’re thinking of making the move or you’ve already relocated, here are a few essential things to know about Maltese culture and lifestyle to help you feel at home.
One of the first things to know about the Maltese is that they are very religious people, with the majority of the population devout Catholics. While you obviously don’t have to be religious to live in Malta, it’s important to understand the religious customs and beliefs that more than 90% of the population follow.
Catholicism has had a long-standing presence in Malta. It is widely believed that Saint Paul the Apostle brought the religion to the country, when he arrived on the island by shipwreck around 60 AD. He then became the first bishop of Malta, beginning the dominant religion that shaped Malta’s rich culture into the one we see today.
Each town has their own Catholic patron saint, or two depending on the number of churches in the local area – because each church is dedicated to a different saint. Each patron saint is honoured regularly through a magnificent celebration, known as a Festa (or feast).
These colorful celebrations feature fireworks, food, live music, marching bands and other spectacular festivities. With a delicious array of sounds, sights and smells, be prepared for a sensory overload.
Most festas are held during the summer months and can continue until the early hours of the morning. Religious celebrations like Festas are a vital part of Maltese culture and are enjoyed by everybody – locals, tourists and expats alike. So whichever town you’ve chosen to call home, be sure to attend a local Festa to really immerse yourself in the local culture.
From past to present
It’s impossible to discuss Maltese culture without at least mentioning the country’s fascinating history. You should also note that locals are proud of that history – and rightly so – which is why having a good understanding of it is vital.
With 7,000 years of incredible history etched into Malta’s very soil, there is a lot to learn. However, you don’t need to know every minor detail of the country’s past to understand its present.
First inhabited by the Ancient Phoenicians in 700 BC, Phoenician traces can still be found today in Maltese culture, traditions and language. Then came the time of the Romans between 218 BC and 395 AD, the Arab invasion of 870 AD, the Norman invasion of 1090 and finally, the arrival of the Knights of St. John (also known as the Knights of Malta) around 1530.
Under the rule of the Knights, this era is often referred to as the Golden Age for Malta and it’s not difficult to see why. The Knights brought various advances in healthcare, education and wealth of the Maltese, as well as architectural and artistic changes which can be seen today. After the blissful Golden Age, Malta was then subjected to French rule and then eventually British rule until Malta announced its independence in 1964 and went on to join the EU in 2004.
With so many defining moments encompassing Malta’s historic heritage, it’s no wonder that Malta is made up of a beautiful mix of diverse societies and cultures to this day. The high-quality of healthcare and education is something that has stood the test of time, and parents will be pleased to hear that free education is available for children living in Malta who are between the ages of 3 and 16.
Lessons are typically delivered in English, as Malta prides itself on being a bilingual country. Healthcare is also publicly-funded, but if you’re moving from outside the EU you may need to think about investing in an international healthcare policy, as you won’t be eligible for free care.
Pace of life
The pace of life in Malta is slow and relaxed – great if you’re a city dweller looking to escape the busy nature of metropolitan life. Sometimes it even seems as if time itself has come to a stop, reflecting Malta’s equally timeless beauty. This doesn’t mean, however, that life is too slow. Blessed with year-round sunshine, the island offers plenty of opportunities for exciting outdoor activities to enjoy. Watersports in particular are very popular in Malta – whether it’s sailing, yachting, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkelling or diving.
With hidden coves, caves and beautiful beaches, there is plenty to explore in Malta and its neighboring islands of Gozo and Comino. Gozo is a lot smaller than Malta, with a population of 30,000, compared to the 433,000 people that reside in Malta itself. As a smaller island, Gozo is far more secluded, tranquil and serene, yet it is still an attractive place for expats to call home.
Shopping and family values
When it comes to shopping in Malta, it’s good to note that traditional Maltese business owners tend to open from 9am until 1pm, and reopen around 4pm until 7pm, from Monday to Saturday. Shops and markets are usually closed on Sundays as it is a day of rest, so make sure you get all your groceries before this time!
The midday siesta is very common in European cultures, for it is a time where business owners can close their doors and spend time with their families – which is a very important of their culture. As well as being a religious community, a core part of Maltese culture is family. For example, many children tend to stay in the family home until they are married, and parents will often have an active role in helping their children find their feet – whether this is acquiring a house or a car.
The Maltese are known for being respectful, kind, generous and friendly, and many people will go out of their way to make you feel at home – so be sure to treat others with the same respect and kindness.
While the Maltese make up the vast majority of Malta’s population at around 95%, there are expat communities to be found – mostly made up of Brits. It can be very comforting to befriend expats who understand exactly what you’re going through, and who you can turn to when you’re initially unsure about various local customs. However, to truly understand and experience the culture, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make friends with the locals.
Settling in to a new culture, unfamiliar to your own, can be nerve-wracking to say the least. There are bound to be cultural differences that may seem disjointing at first, but as long as you try your best to embrace these differences with open arms, you should find yourself feeling much more at home.