Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Malta vs. Canada: The Living Room

This is the last in our Malta vs. Canada room-by-room series (for now!) To conclude our tour of the Maltese home we're taking you to the living room.

Quite often, the living room, dining room, and kitchen are combined in Maltese flats into one open-concept living area. In most flats in Malta this room is tiled (hardwood is rare and carpets are almost non existent), and can be quite small compared to its Canadian counterpart. It is also very rare to have a fireplace, but air conditioners are pretty standard.

In Malta there seems to be a penchant for leather couches (particularly white ones) so you're quite likely to find one in a Maltese flat. Walls are almost always painted white, and that's where the generalizations end. Depending on the owner, decorator, and their taste, you might find rugs, artwork, shelving, display cabinets, or lamps in a Maltese living room, much like any North American home.

The living room seems like a good place to sit down and chat about the overall differences between the Maltese and Canadian, or North American, home. As we wrote in our Renting Property in Malta post, buildings in Malta are generally constructed of steel, concrete, and local limestone. Houses are not insulated and central heating is rare, so they can get quite damp and cold during the winter months. On the flip side, older Maltese homes in particular keep cooler during the summer months.

Modern apartment blocks are generally built in tall, rectangular stacks - similar to those teetering towers of standard rectangular Lego pieces you built as a kid. This means they have few windows, and are long and narrow. But this can be good for air circulation - flats tend to have windows or door at the front and back that you can open and let the breeze blow through.

Malta is the third most densely populated country in the world (Monaco is #1 and Singapore #2). Hence the tall, narrow buildings and urban density - 95% of the population lives in an urban setting. Not surprisingly, then, Maltese homes don't tend to have large gardens. Like many Mediterranean building styles, flats and homes are generally built around an inner courtyard - for ventilation and cooling purposes - but big British style gardens are quite rare. And it's much too dry here for sprawling, grassy North American style lawns - just imagine the water bill. Instead you will often see artificial turf in a Maltese garden!

artificial turf on a maltese balcony. image via
Many apartment buildings store their water in large vats on the roof of their buildings, and it isn't uncommon to see plumbing pipes and electrical wires on the exterior of a building - unheard of in Canada due to its wintery climate. By mid summer it can be difficult to get cold water out of a tap - which is great for our electricity bills. A 'cold' shower is warm, and our water heaters can be shut off during the summer months.

Malta is highly dependent on fossil fuels and, for a sunny and windy island, doesn't take great advantage of sustainable energy. But slowly, more and more home owners are choosing to invest in solar water heaters (installed on the roof) to save money on rising electricity costs. You can find facts and figures about solar water heaters on the University of Malta's web site here.

And yes, you can drink the tap water here. It is desalinated (ground water is scarce - it's a bit of a crisis), so it has a strange taste to many people. But we just filter ours in a standard Brita and it tastes fine.

Moving on to electricity. Like Maltese food, everything in the Maltese home is a curious blend of British and Italian influences. And while you probably know that outlets and plugs are different in Malta, you may not know that appliances here are sold with both Continental European two prong and British three prong plugs. But outlets in Malta are only British three prong. So Maltese flats are bursting with converters (by law, I think businesses are required to give you a converter if you purchase a European two prong appliance in Malta). And, electrical outlets here have on/off switches, which make so much sense!

maltese british-style three-prong electrical outlets - with on/off switches!
Luckily, converters are quite cheap here (€0.50 cents to €1 at a supermarket or ironmongery) so save your pennies and don't bother purchasing converters in North America before visiting or moving to Malta. In Canada they cost, on average, $20! Ever wonder why electrical outlets are different all over the world? Read more here, where you'll also find a handy outlet world map.

european light switches

Light bulbs are also different in Malta than in North America. And, as above, there isn't a standard light bulb in Malta. The difference is really in the shape of the base of the light bulb. There are two types: screw/Edison: like in Italy, or flat: like in the UK.

Over to you. Have you lived in, or visited Malta? What was your impression of the Maltese home? We've only touched on the Maltese flat - we didn't even begin to scratch the surface of Maltese villas or townhouses - and would love to have your insight! Even if you've never been to Malta, what differences do you find the strangest? What would bother you the most?

- Jess


  1. We moved from the States to England a couple of years ago and I love the on/off switches for outlets! It's so handy to not have dangling cords but be able to turn off the power source. Also, we've lived in two different houses and encountered at least 5 different types of lightbulbs- but they're really just different sizes (not just wattage, but sizes of connectors) of three standards: screw type, prong type, and bayonet. I hope your HHI is online, I loved that show when we lived in the States, and I'd love to see it now!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gesci!

      Five types of lightbulbs?! I can barely figure out the two we have here. On/off switches are the best, I'm a total convert :)

      Our full episode of HHI is available online via hgtv.com if you have access to a US IP address.

  2. I have a question about the power adapters you are talking about. Are they just to change the plug type, or do they actually convert the voltage, too? For example, if you are using a hair blow dryer or flat iron from North America, that is made for 110 or 120 volts, will it be safe to use one of these adapters in an outlet there which provides 220 or 240 volts?

    1. You can get adapters to convert either voltage or prongs or both. However, every North American hair dryer and flat iron I've ever used in Europe I have inevitably fried/broken (regardless of what kind of adapter I use). I would probably recommend buying in Malta if your stay will be longer than a vacation. For a short visit, I might risk it.

      Hope this helps!


Let's talk.