One of the things you find just about anywhere you go is the ex-pat. The Englishman abroad is embarrassing enough to his fellow man, but at least he has the excuse of being genuinely out of place. The ex-pat in his purest form displays a lack of self-awareness so complete as to inspire a kind of admiration. The type of person who can live for years in a country without learning a word of the language, without realizing that his clothes are ridiculous, without ever wondering what people around them are talking about, what the great issues of moment at the bar or café are, without trying to discover why they have the customs they have and what it means, without wanting to acquire some of the cultural background and references which are behind much of what they think and do, without ever being able to have a proper friendship (believe me, expecting people always to talk to you in a more or less forced second language in their own country does not lead to closeness and confidence), without any curiosity whatsoever, almost without knowing or caring where they are. To me it is inconceivable not to want to discover and understand what is happening around you.
I met one such in Malta. I was going to identify him (he has a bar there) but they were a pleasant and hospitable couple and it would not be kind. But he had lived there for years and not got past the, 'look at these funny people, aren't they funny, they talk funny and they do things that we didn't do in my street back home' stage of observation, all expressed with the effortless and complicit superiority that only the English ex-pat is able to feel.
He mentioned, inevitably, the driving. It is a bit unusual to the English eye, and hair-raising in its way, and my temporary acquaintance leapt from that observation to the conclusion that it must be very dangerous on the roads there. Well, it isn't, and despite all his years there he had never bothered to find out whether he might be wrong, or speculated as to why they have the fewest road deaths per head of any country in the EU.
These things are never directly comparable, naturally, and various other factors are relevant: about half the island is urbanized, for example, many times the proportion of all other EU countries, which means average speeds are lower and so fewer collisions result in fatalities. But the fact remains that a country with a very large number of cars per head has the lowest death rate on its roads.
I offer a form of explanation for this. In Britain there is a tendency to take the laws of the road as the principal reference point. If the light is green we go, if we see a zebra crossing we stop, if we brake we assume the chap behind us is well back, we explain a lot of accidents by saying that the other driver should not have been there. In some places, however, and Malta is one of them, the principal point of reference is the actual circumstances. This looks chaotic to the outsider, but if everyone is doing it it means that they are rather more attentive to the details of what is around them and what other drivers and pedestrians might be about to do than if you just assume they will do what the law says they should.
Just a thought, but as they don't have a death wish, it must be more rational than the Englishman imagines, and it seems to work.
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