THE MALTESE ISLANDS

Country Facts - Maltese Society

(as at end-September 2003, unless otherwise indicated)


   

Language

The official languages are Maltese and English; Maltese itself is a language of Semitic origin, although it bears traces of the influence of centuries of successive foreign invaders. Most Maltese have a good command of Italian while French and German are also widely spoken. Most business correspondence is in English, which makes Malta an attractive place to conduct business. An added benefit derived from the Maltese' excellent command of English is that Malta has become one of the most popular destinations for foreigners to study English.

Work, play and rest

The main island, Malta, is 27 km long and measures 14 km at its widest point. Because of the island's size, it is one of the few places where you can enjoy "eight hours of work, eight hours of play and eight hours of rest", according to the locals. You can cross the main island of Malta in just 45 minutes, reducing commuting times and increasing leisure time.

Religion

The Maltese pride themselves on being one of the first countries to embrace Christianity. The Acts of the Apostles describe how St. Paul was shipwrecked on the island in 60 AD and the locals have embraced his religion since. The Church plays an active role in most communities on the islands. This is reflected in the large number of churches to be found in Malta; 364 in all - more than one church for every square kilometre of territory. Most Maltese are Catholic, but other religious denominations are also represented. There are small Anglican, Church of Scotland, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Methodists and Muslim communities.

Culture

Maltese culture and traditions mirror the islands' long domination by foreign powers together with the local's interaction with the million plus tourists who visit the islands every year. This has resulted in an interesting hotchpotch of predominantly west European culture tinged with a definite central Mediterranean flavour. Students study Maltese literature, alongside English classics and Italian poetry. Italian opera is widely popular as are plays in English, pop music from all over the world and the local "ghana", a form of singing where the lyrics are made up there and then by the performers. The influence of religion is also felt in the country's traditions with each town and village celebrating their patron saint's feast day with great pomp and gaiety. The food is mostly European, with a strong Italian influence and Maltese bread is renowned to be the best in the world.

Past colonizers

Over the centuries Malta has been ruled by the major powers existent at the time. The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Spanish all ruled the island for varying lengths of time. The Arabs, who arrived in 800 AD stayed for over two hundred years and laid the foundations for the origins of the Maltese language. In 1530 the islands passed into the hands of the Knights of St. John, who eventually had bow to Napoleon's might in 1798. The French domination was but a brief interlude of two years. In 1800 the islanders asked the British to liberate the country from the French, after which started a hundred and sixty four year period of British rule that lasted till independence in 1964.

Sports

Various types of sports are practiced throughout the island, with football and horseracing being the two most popular. Sports facilities were sparse up till about fifteen years ago, which together with the limited size of the population, probably accounts for the lack of success at international level. However, there is considerable interest in sports at a local level, and most towns and villages have their own hotly defended football and basketball teams. Water polo, which is played during the summer months, is also hugely popular. Malta's international football team participates sportingly in a number of international tournaments, and the island hosts one of the world's most prestigious sailing events, the Rolex Middle Sea Race, which is held every October. Rugby is gaining in popularity, and golf, tennis, squash, cycling and many other sports are widely practiced.

Business and pleasure

Business and pleasure coexist happily in Malta, and the boundaries between the two become ever more blurred due to the islanders' knack of mixing the businesslike British character adopted from their former colonizers to their own more relaxed Mediterranean characteristics. Maltese hospitality is legendary - a long history of greeting visitors and adapting to the demands of the less welcome has left the Maltese with a truly international attitude characterized by openness, tolerance, friendliness and a zest for innovation and information.

Education

Combined gross enrolment ratio% (2000/2001)

76%

  Number of schools (2002) 303
  Teachers per 1,000 students (2002) 86
  Adult literacy rate: %age 15 and above (2001) 92%

Health

Life expectancy at birth

 

Males

75.8
 

Females

80.5
  Crude birth rate, per 1,000 Maltese inhabitants 7.2
  Crude mortality rate, per 1,000 Maltese inhabitants 6.3
  Doctors per 1,000 students (Dec. 2002) 3

 

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