My Mini Pre-Reverse Culture Shock Experience
AKA, My Trip to Malta
I just got back from Malta, where I experienced culture shock and reverse culture shock at the same time. But how is that possible, I hear you ask? Well…
For one, the island of Malta is a relatively recent British baby. By that, I mean, it only gained independence in 1964. As such, they drive on the wrong side of the road, and a lot of the Maltese speak British English. So that was weird. But the bigger culture shock was a result of the way Maltese treat women.
Or, I should say, stare at women.
Because I spent the better part of my weekend feeling slightly uncomfortable because of the stares I was getting in the streets. I wasn’t wearing anything particularly provocative. (This shouldn’t need to be a part of the consideration or a part of this post, but it is anyways…) There was only one point over the weekend where I felt truly nervous, when a guy literally started following me down the street. When you’re traveling alone as a young woman, you expect stuff like this, but it is still a bit scary. Especially when you travel the way I do and enjoy wandering down side streets and abandoned alleys. But I stayed alert, walked quickly, used my highly reflective sunglasses as a mirror of sorts to keep an eye on the guy, and struck up a conversation with the first people I passed so he had to move on.
In other ways, Maltese people are pretty nice. They are always willing to help if you’re asking for directions, or which bus you should be taking. But the constant staring was unnerving, and the first time all year I’ve really and truly felt like I was in a significantly different culture. (It takes a lot for me to feel out of place, because of my experiences in the completely different culture that is Japan’s.)
Reverse Culture Shock
I spent the weekend in Malta, where everyone speaks both Maltese (a strange hybrid of Arabic and Italian) and English. Let me tell you, the fact that everyone spoke English threw me off my game. I would walk up to someone to ask for help, and not know what to say. Or I would walk into a store and not know how to greet the clerks. Or sit down in a restaurant and be unsure if I should just order or also point.
In each of these situations, about two seconds later I realized I could just speak English like a normal person, but it was always a strange realization to have. I haven’t been in an English-first country for almost nine months. Technically, Malta isn’t an English-first country, but it is one of the official languages, and everyone I met spoke at least reasonable English. In fact, the two adorable old people I met were the only ones that didn’t speak perfect English. And so I realized that I went to Malta and experience pre-reverse culture shock.
Is this, I wonder, what going back to the States is going to be like? Am I going to get home and not be sure how to address people in the airport, or wonder how to tell the cab driver from the airport where to go? Am I going to think Dobry Den when I walk into a store before I think Hello? It is an interesting thought that I can’t do much about at this point, but it is also a slightly frightening thought that makes me just a bit nervous about going home.
Other Highlights from Malta
They really like this kind of window. I like them too! More significantly, though, all the buildings in Malta were made of giant bricks that reminded me a bit of the adobe bricks we made back in elementary school. Although I think they were actually limestone. Even though the buildings are all made of these bricks and often showing significant weathering, they all have pops of color – usually in the form of brightly painted doors or bay windows like these.
I liked this window too! Called the Azure Window, it can be found on the island of Gozo (the northernmost of the three islands that make up the small nation of Malta) and is gorgeous. As you can see from the photo above, the day that I went was beautiful, the sky was clear, and the hiking was fun (and easy!).
The Dingli Cliffs, on the South West side of the island, are beautiful. Just another drop-dead gorgeous natural feature on the island, the cliffs also seem to be really dangerous. If you look carefully at the center of the picture above, you can see an old white car that clearly went off the side of the cliff. This was one of about a half dozen cars I saw that had gone over the edge, probably with deadly consequences for the drivers.
I also went scuba diving, which was my first dive since I completed my PADI Open Water certification. I got certified in Monterey Bay, CA, where a good day in terms of visibility is 20 to 30 feet. In Malta (we left from the beach above) our visibility was more than 20 meters. I dove to about 15 meters for about 40 minutes. Not a particularly long or deep dive, but absolutely gorgeous. The name of the dive was Cirkewwa Arch, and it was awesome. I saw jellyfish, poisonous scorpion fish, and all sorts of really brightly colored fish weaving in and out of the grass. All told, best experience of the weekend.
So yeah, Malta is gorgeous.