Why I Don’t Miss the Suburban-Home, Three-Car Lifestyle
The church bells are ringing to mark the death of another hour in Pjazza San Guzepp in the little village of Qala on the Maltese island of Gozo.
Feels like it’s 8 p.m. Or 10 p.m. Who knows? Time seems ephemeral here as diners, some sitting at tables literally in the street, spend a few hours chatting and sampling wine and pasta in the cool evening air.
Dinner starts late here. Might stretch past midnight. After which, several diners will amble a few feet away to Zeppi’s Pub and hang out there, drinking and regularly dancing to Abba and Italian electronica in the street for an hour or two more.
My date for the night is Barbara Trotman, a petite, 64-year-old Brit with lavender streaks racing through her platinum blonde hair.
She decamped to Malta nearly 30 years ago. She tells me she was looking for a different life after working for years in London as an ad exec. She was fed up with the rat-race, the high cost of living, au pairs taking care of her kids during the week.
She went looking for a new, better, safer, slower life.
She found Malta.
It’s a story I will hear repeated several times in some fashion over the next few days as I interview expats who left lives and careers in the U.K., Canada, Sweden, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and the U.S. and made their way to this rocky outcropping south of Sicily famous for its knights, its medieval history of corsairing, and a bejeweled falcon that Humphrey Bogart (as private eye Sam Spade) went looking for in the golden age of noir crime films.
The word I will continually hear in these interviews is “experience.”
As in “collecting experiences” in life rather than things.
“The experiences are everything,” Barbara tells me. “The culture, the people, the lifestyle. I wasn’t going to get that living the same life every day” in England.
The Americans I talked to here have a similar take.
They could’ve retired to Florida or wherever.
One is dealing now with a daughter who wants her to move back home and play the traditional role of a Southern grandmother. She’s like, “ummm, I think the hell not. What—I sit at home twiddling my thumbs until it’s time to play grandma? Or I live the life I want to live in retirement, collecting the experiences of traveling through Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Sicily on the weekends, and building friendships here I know will last forever?”
When we’re young, most of us are all about playing the game and collecting what we think are the mandatory toys of adulthood as we pass Go! on the Monopoly board of life.
But then you reach a point—often tied to something like divorce or job loss or retirement—when you catalog your life and you realize all that “stuff” means exactly bupkis.
I had the typical American life, with the typical suburban home, three cars in the driveway, the six-figure job.
And then I didn’t have it.
And you know what: I miss none of it.
Not the house. Not the cars. Not the job I lost.
None of that defined me. People didn’t know me as Jeff, the guy who has that house in Five Oaks and drove the white Nissan SUV.
Everyone knew me as that lunatic who goes to places like Myanmar and Cambodia and Tunisia and comes home raving about how cool those places are (they are, by the way).
They knew me for what I wanted to be known for—a global traveler experiencing the world…like having dinner in the middle of the street with a lavender-and-blonde haired Brit fond of late-night Red Bulls, in a tiny Maltese village most travelers will never see.
I didn’t begin to think about life in these terms until my 40s, when I realized I really don’t care about the detritus that we Westerners have been trained to collect for no other reason that pre-programmed consumerism.
Would I rather spend $1,000 on new clothes that I will literally never remember, or on the cost of a week in Istanbul and the memory of sitting atop a rooftop restaurant with my wife, watching the moon rise over the Bosporus?
I was in a tiny karaoke pub in Malta’s Balluta Bay on Friday night.
Met a 34-year-old, Swedish veterinary nurse named Malin Persson. She grew up in a small village in the way north of Scandinavia, and once she got out, she came to see that the world is obese with experiences just waiting for all of us. She found her experiences in the U.K., Norway, and Australia, before settling in Malta nine years ago.
“Experiences are really all we have, and that’s probably all we will ever remember,” she insisted.
Granted, she’d had her share of Magner’s Irish Cider at the point. But Malin’s right: Experiences are all we have.
And there are few greater experiences that getting out there and experiencing the world.