The series launched with my own post, the story of how I ended up in Mexico all those years ago. You can read it here: Stories from Life Abroad - guest post series launch. Last month's post was A Story of Ice and... Sun by Paola from The Elephant Mum
Each month there will be a new post by a different contributor. They may or may not be bloggers, they could be from any country, living anywhere in the world as expats, immigrants or nomads. The idea is to tell as wide a variety of stories and experiences of living abroad as possible, from many different viewpoints.
This series will keep running for as long as I continue to get contributions for it, so if you would like to take part, email me at email@example.com and I will be happy to send you the details.
This month's guest post is by the wonderful Prabs of Absolutely Prabulous.
www.absolutelyprabulous.com is an award-winning blog, written by Prabs, a former London/Paris girl, now turned humorist, opinion-giver, observer, key-loser, housework avoider (it’s a long list) in Malta. Prabs writes about motherhood, marriage, Malta, midlife and anything she can get away with. Her greatest achievement is leaving the house with 3 kids (it’s ok, they’re all hers). Her biggest fear is running out of vodka & screwing up her kids (in that order). She's married to the luckiest man on earth (obviously). Her best domestic tip is: wear sunglasses at home so you can’t see the mess. You can follow Absolutely Prabulous on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Can't Get Off The Island!
When the lovely Ruth of Mummy and the Mexicans, asked me to write something about expat life, I wasn’t sure what I’d come up with. I was also a bit worried about the potential tone/interpretation of my article. But as the Maltese say…mela
Am I an expat anymore? Technically we were when we left the UK with a then 14 month-old, only expecting to settle for three years before moving onto somewhere else(like so many others I’ve met over the years who thought the same thing). We’ve been here over 12 years so far…! Like the characters in the TV series Lost we #CantGetOffTheIsland
It seems so many of us foreigners, as the Maltesers call anyone not born and brought up on this dusty island, get ‘stuck’ here.
Stuck on a strip of rock:
- 17 miles long, 9 miles wide that will never be cosmopolitan by sheer fact of being a small conservative island
- plagued with such bad drivers that by June 2017, there had already been as many road deaths as for the whole of 2016.
- with head-wrecking noise pollution from car hooting, endless fireworks, Wild West construction with no time limit etc
- where crimes seem to go uninvestigated and corruption is next level
- that is being destroyed by buildings on every last inch of space, even in the protected zones
- where the overriding culture is not based on respect, manners or courtesy.
I sound like a whingeing ungrateful Brit abroad don’t I?
So why (and how) have Hubster and I stayed so long? In fact, why do SO many ‘foreigners’ (grrr…that word never gets easier to say) end up staying for years?
How have we ‘put up with’ the Mediterranean madness for this much time? (Hot-headed keyboard warriors, rest your hands…I say that with affection!)
Firstly and simplistically because nowhere is perfect or problem-free. If one hopes to find Utopia, one is in for a whole heap of disappointment.
Then, there are specific compelling reasons not to come back to the UK/move somewhere else (did I really just say that?):
The Sun, Sea, Sand Lifestyle is Addictive!
Due to the incredible weather, the lifestyle here is an outdoors one. The phrase ‘weather permitting’ means ‘if it’s not too frickin hot’ not ‘if it’s not freezing and chucking it down’. Winter al fresco dining is perfectly normal and the beach is fab in Autumn.
We live a short walk from the sea; it’s the backdrop to our life. Right off our doorstep, you can go for a coastal run, swim, snorkel, hunt for crabs, laze on the sand, eat at the beachside restaurant while watching the stunning waves (that you can hear from our house on certain days). If you’re more of a land lover, you can head up the hill through farmland for a hike through the traditional village where you see beautiful houses of character and villas. The whole package is a huge attraction for two people who grew up in a regular Indian family setting with nothing of the sort.
A former city lover who lived and worked in London and Paris (and grew up terrified of water), I have no wish to return to the urban life and am now never far from the sea or happier than when I’m in it. I’m writing this from one of my adopted offices, the beach club where my kids and I do Summer swim camp. Hubster now leaves work early twice a week to walk down (no tortuous train or car journeys) and join us for a swim, drink etc. It’s a simple unlavish life (this is no modern first world country) and yes I do miss my beloved London town, the the British countryside and so much more but it would take a lot to make me leave the lazy crazy Med!
Cost of Living
Our relatives visit Malta less often now as they feel it’s become less affordable since joining the euro and I also know people who left this little rock for the same reason. Property (although significantly lower cost than UK housing), utilities and products are not cheap, yet you can still live well for less (and a girls’ night doesn’t set me back more than 35 quid for everything!). I do miss the range and breadth of UK goods and amenities but if I’m honest our lifestyle was pretty modest there because a lot of what was available was too pricey. Whilst we don’t live in a plush palace in Malta, our well-sized 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom coastal abode is a major step up from what we had in the UK.
Malta has one of the most favourable tax statuses of anywhere in the world. It’s the reason why so many people who leave for bigger modern countries return. This little rock may be old-fashioned/undeveloped but the taxes are hard to beat!
The crime rate of other countries is unknown here. It’s totally common to see kids out of their parents’ view at a playground, alone in a shop (like it used to be in the UK) and on the beach with no adult etc. Childhood lasts longer here; again the outdoor lifestyle helps as there are inexpensive ways to have fun without having to pay ticket entry or pile into a cafe.
This will change once Brexit is enforced and we’ll no longer enjoy the privileges of free hospital care that we currently do as Brits. Seeing a specialist costs around 30 British pounds though so that helps.
Sorry but this is one of the things I can’t cope with when I visit the UK. The cost of going anywhere via public transport makes my hair fall out and the fricking congestion charge and parking drives me insane. Meanwhile, back in Malta, parking on a yellow while you hop out to grab some milk or parking legitimately for free (we don’t have parking metres) is the norm. Even if you use a paying car park, it’s subsidised if you use the attached supermarket/restaurant etc.
English is widely spoken and you can get by without Maltese (although now we’ve stayed so long, perhaps we got it wrong re our kids not learning the local language in terms of respect/integration).
Easy Come Easy Go
How many times have I forgotten my wallet only to be allowed to take items and go back at a later date to pay? Countless. We’ve even eaten out as a family and urged the proprietor to at least take our details and been told ‘Mela, I trust you’!
As I said in Where is Home? despite the ‘three year max plan’, two more kids came along, they started school, we bought property… It just gets harder to leave. I’ve seen numerous people relocate every two years and the impact on the kids is huge. I’m a nomad; I’d gladly pack up and regularly move onto a new adventure just like a ‘real’ expat – and I know kids are resilient - but my kids love their life here and I’m not sure I have it in me to tear them away from it.
Are There Any Reasons to Give Up This Life and Return to the UK?
Yes! Again, going with the most simplistic one: family and friends. It’s hard not seeing one’s kids grow up in the bosom of a close network of grandparents, cousins etc. And while I love my friends in Malta, the ones I know from back home are special. And again, there are other reasons:
Malta is Insular
The chauvinistic and rather regressive way of thinking can be disheartening. Maltese nationals who’ve emigrated often say this is why they left. I’ve never been more aware of the island mentality than when I wrote one of my most viewed (and unintentionally controversial) articles Dear Malta, You're Breaking my Heart . The uproar it caused (a government minister actually tried to get information on me) but also the number of people who came out in support, was eye-opening. You need steel cajones to talk publicly about Malta; I guess most people are protective towards their country of birth but I’ve honestly never encountered amore patriotic (often in an irrational way) or defensive nationality in my life (and I’ve lived in France!).
Not only does it get you down on a human level, it is frankly a concern if you are trying to raise your kids as considerate global citizens.
Due to Its Small Size, There is Limited Scope
You literally cannot compare the range of employment opportunities available on a small second-world island to those in a developed country such as the UK. For obvious reasons, jobs are scarce and career progression and opportunities can feel like a non-starter.
Assuming we haven’t totally ruined ourselves with school fees by then, I want my kids to have a British university education. I guess it’s what I know.
My heart sinks as my blood pressure simultaneously rises just typing that. I’m anxious over our future as we don’t know what will be agreed regarding British citizens currently residing in EU countries. I’m bereft that the once mighty British passport is now almost worthless. My whole adult life, I’ve enjoyed the advantages of a UK in the EU; I don’t know a life without that. I’m not a political animal so I can’t go into the rationale of why it didn’t benefit the UK to stay in, as widely propounded by many. What I do know is that life may become untenable for Brits living abroad.
Why Will We Not Move Back to the UK Any Time Soon?
The Man From Delmonte…He Says No!
Don’t shoot the messenger here (!) but to my shock and disbelief, Hubster says he wouldn’t willingly move back to the UK. This is beyond my comprehension as it’s usually human nature to have an affinity with the country you grew up in. I love Blighty. Whilst I was happy to leave as I don’t want to live in the same country all my life, I am so proud to be British and despite my feelings about lifestyle, cost etc, I love going back. (Rumour has it: photos exist of me grinning like an excited tourist in front of a red bus/Buck House from our UK visits but I can’t confirm that.) I also love Londoners and tire of hearing that they are miserable and unhelpful. Every time I come back, this is not my experience.
But this life of turquoise waters, six months of flip flops, hot balmy nights and ice cream smiles…#NotReadyToGiveItUp
Two Epiphanies that Crystallised it All
A year after we arrived in Malta, I bumped into someone who’d shown us some properties at the start. She asked how we were settling in, well aware that some expats don’t last long. For this former city chick who had spent a year whingeing, the answer that came out was an unexpected turning point. Until that chance meeting at the supermarket deli counter (!) I hadn’t realised:
Once you stop obsessing over what Malta doesn’t have and start focussing on what it does have, life gets so much better.
More recently, some UK friends expressed their amazement we’re still here and asked when we’re coming back. How strange of people to just assume we plan to return we both thought!
This time Hubster came out with a response that is the most astute analysis of our (and most Malta expats’) situation I’ve heard:
“Malta may not have everything. But when you look at that world map and start making the list of countries that have all your ‘must haves’ (English language education, weather, safety, taxes, enjoyable easy lifestyle, healthcare etc), do you know how many countries are on that list?”
Yep. One little island south of Italy, west of Greece, just above Africa.
Starts with M, ends in A.
I live there.
You can follow Absolutely Prabulous on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and do have a read of her blog, Absolutely Prabulous.
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Photo credit: Antique globe turned to Mexico by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash