The tourist season is about to start once again but whether you're looking to visit the tiny Mediterranean islands of Malta this year or you already live there, here's some weird and wonderful things about the country we bet you didn't already know...
1. There's something fishy about the fish.
Thanks to past British colonization and ruination of Malta, unlike the rest of the Mediterranean there's not an abundance of fresh, locally caught fish on sale here. Instead restaurants teem with hamburgers, pizzas and fries to provide the main source of food for those wishing to eat out. However, while there are a number of fishing villages replete with charming "luzzu" fishing boats, there is no longer the demand for fresh fish nor the skills left to sustain a viable fishing industry. Instead, the few fishermen that remain merely row out to sea to meet up with huge supply ships from which they load up with frozen imported fish and bring that back to Malta's gullible shores for resale in those few outlets that still bother to serve anything healthy.
2. Not OK for your daily OJ.
It's not just the fish that's off, again like much of the Mediterranean, orange trees can be seen growing across the Maltese islands. But, if you haven't already, do not be tempted to pick them thinking you can get your daily dose of OJ goodness for free. Maltese oranges are disgustingly bitter and inedible compared to those from Spain or Italy. This is mostly thanks to Hitler's extensive bombardment of Malta during world war two, which resulted in Malta becoming the most bombed country in Europe and with the most contaminated water table. This contamination lasts to this day and explains the bitter taste of oranges here.
3. Shake, rattle and roll (backwards, down a hill).
Many will recall that the charming but bone-shaking Maltese buses were retired in 2011 and replaced with a modern air-conditioned fleet, much to the dismay of bus anoraks world-wide. What you may not know is the reason why they were replaced. It was mainly because the buses were so old and Malta so hilly that they were constantly overheating and breaking down in summer, resulting in the regular sight of tourists and locals alike getting scorched in the sun while swearing, sweating and attempting to push buses uphill, over-stuffed ftira in one hand and boiling hot bus pressed against the palm of the other. The EU didn't think this fitted in particularly well with Malta's new image as a modern EU country and thus they demanded the government take action to replace them.
4. Tourists: no sex please, we're Maltese.
As a staunchly Catholic country the church here has a lot of say in the legislative workings of Government, albeit mostly indirectly these days. The Church wants everyone to respect Catholicism and that includes Malta's tourists. We all know that Catholicism prohibits sex before marriage but it's a little known fact that one of the laws the church got onto the statue books is one which requires hotels to accommodate couples who are unmarried (or have forgotten to pack their marriage certificates) in separate beds, ideally in separate rooms. This has proved unenforceable with the rise of cheap package tourism and the excessive costs of employing the hundreds of "sex inspectors" required to police it. Thus in most hotels one normally finds two single beds in what is supposedly a double room just so they can claim compliance with the law. For verified married couples the beds can be pushed together and random nightly room checks are sometimes carried out to ensure everyone else obeys the law and has a little less fun while on holiday.
In Malta there are no naturally sandy beaches. Until some years ago, there were only harsh, rocky shorelines and thus during summer they were coated in the blood of sunbathers who had slipped on the rocks and cut themselves. Realising that this was not good for the tourism industry long term, the government wisely decided that the most popular beaches should be covered in sand. The sand was imported originally but each year it is topped up by catching and reusing sand blown over from Africa during the many dry storms that pass over Malta at certain times of the year.
6. Funerals are events to mourn the dead and to find a job.
Being a very small country where practically everyone knows everyone else (or at least, knows someone who knows you) there's really no need for recruitment agencies. Historically, when someone who works dies it's tradition that the replacement is recruited from among those attending the funeral. Since here would be only the most loyal, respectful and trusted persons anyway, much of the selection process has already inherently been done, making hiring a replacement quickly a snap since the Maltese all love an easy life with the minimum of hassle possible.
7. Are you being served?
Not in Malta during the summer afternoons at least. Did you know it's so hot here that by law all shops must close around lunchtime so that everyone can go and cool off or have a nap? While siestas are hardly news, what you might not know is that because Malta is such an old-fashioned, trusting place, most of those "closed" shops actually have an unlocked back door via which well-informed locals can nip in and get whatever goods they need at times of emergency while the staff snooze upstairs. Payment is just left on the counter for them to collect upon reopening. So if you want to buy something during the afternoon siestas, just look for a back door!
8. The road to hell is built like any Maltese road.
In Malta there are no working speed cameras at all. This is because the government decided long ago that the best way to control speeding was with pot holes. Those huge lunar craters that cover most of Malta's roads in much the same way as acne covers a teenager's face are, in fact, a deliberate act of traffic control. It also has the secondary effect of increasing employment for car mechanics thus helping to keep Malta's unemployment rate low and accounts for why there are so many mechanics in any given town.
Google is currently working to update their maps to indicate the locations of the biggest holes but faces difficulties doing even that as it has previously confessed that these holes are why their Streetview service still does not cover Malta: their camera cars - containing sensitive electronic equipment - were wrecked after just a few hours mapping Malta some years ago and Transport Malta still haven't processed Google's claims for compensation. While some may claim to have gotten a speeding fine from a camera, that is impossible as those evil road-side yellow boxes on poles are in fact dummies. Instead, retired folk peering out of windows in houses close by armed with a radar gun, digital camera and an endless supply of pastizzi are paid to take photos of any car doing more than 35kph in designated areas.
9. Flying to the scareport.
We all know that Malta is a very small country and that it's been overbuilt over several decades. This presented a problem to the aviation industry when launching the new breed of super-jumbos (such as the Airbus A380) as the runway was just slightly too short to accommodate them safely and there was no room at either end to extend it. While such planes do now land at Malta's only airport, this was only made possible by rebuilding the runway such that it gradually slopes upwards by some degrees towards one end, so as to help with a landing plane's braking and meaning that when people looked relieved that they've landed OK, in Malta there's an extra reason for doing so.
10. No one coming to Malta to learn English ever does.
Malta is overrun with Language schools yet no one who comes here to learn English during the summer ever does. Why? Simple really, there's so much heat, sun and cheap alcohol here that even the most studious, committed of folk get lured away from their desks and into a life of endless BBQs, beach parties and drinking. At least everyone involved makes money from the students though, so it's all good anyway even if the students go home only having learnt how to ask for junk food and booze in English, still it's no worse than most British tourists going to Spain anyway so it's kind of a traditional throwback to Malta's British-ruled past!