August shutdown: all Malta goes on holiday?

 
No way we're opening for the next two weeks!
 

The traditional August shutdown, while not strictly needed for most firms these days, is a habit hard to break. Maybe we can blame it on Malta’s most important public holiday, Santa Marija, which falls on the 15 August. The day is in Malta’s psyche; not only because of the religious feast but also because it marks the end of Malta’s second ‘Great Siege’ in 1942 when a small, war-torn convoy of Allied forces’ supply ships limped into Grand Harbour relieving the islands which were at near starvation and capitulation hour.

Anyone who has holidayed in continental Europe in August, especially in cities, will know that many bars and restaurants are shut, sporting notices such as ‘Ferie’ or ‘in Vacanza’ in Italy, for example. Just as tourists arrive, those who should be making a buck out of them choose to go on holiday too.

So, what does Malta do?

What to Expect in the August Shutdown

The next two weeks are Malta’s peak summer holiday time. If the father of the family hasn’t taken a break yet, he will now be shipping himself and family somewhere like a holiday flat up North – around St Paul’s Bay or Mellieha – or if lucky enough, to a second home in Gozo, and even abroad (certain patches of Tuscany are now hot spots for the great and good of Malta).  If very lucky, some folk will be aboard a motor cruiser or yacht island hopping around Malta or crossing over to Sicily. (N.B) Not that women aren’t in the workplace in Malta, but probably the man’s job will, out of habit, dictate the ritual of when holidays get taken.

Mid August sees a change in the weather to humid, sweaty, still grey days that promise rain from humid, sweaty days that don’t offer any relief. We can see the odd freak flash flood storm as a taste of autumn rains to come. It’s not rained yet this summer, but it’s known as a changeable time of year. Wind by the way, which is brewing as I write, won’t bring lower temperatures, just more dust! The shallow reaches of the sea can be somewhat ‘slimy’ as still waters are streaked with diesel from boats and algae blooms. Again, this August has seen clearer seas than ones of past years but we’re all longing for a bit of a breeze to mix things up!

But back to business, rather than holiday weather…

The summer recess in Malta moves in mysterious ways. We might not have ‘Chiuso per Ferie’ on our windows as our Italian neighbours do, but the habitual two weeks’ shutdown does leave its mark. Here’s how:

The good news

Everything a tourist needs stays open. Local businesses know that this is the time of year to make almost all their profits if they rely on tourist bucks from sun, sea and sand seeking visitors.  Few of the habits of Italian restaurateurs here.

The bad news

If you’ve moved to Malta recently, you might not know that a lot of firms – even those in service industries and some retail businesses – will be firmly shut for at least a week either side of 15 August.  So, if you forgot to order that spare part for the washing machine, you’ll have to wait till well after the 15th. Even then, next deliveries after the summer recess can take often until end September or longer to materialise in Malta. You will notice too that supermarket shelves may run out of favourite brands as shipments slow in August.

Although Malta has a dwindling number of manufacturing plants, the tradition of closing up the office still holds even if a firm doesn’t have a production line. The knock-on effect of the shutdown ripples through the economy. We’ve said before that the public sector is hard to reach on the phone after 12.00 from mid June to mid September, but I doubt you’ll get anywhere until September if you try to call a government office now with a query.  We might be proved wrong of course!

The other bad news is that we are all left to battle for the best places on the beach, best restaurant tables and best parking places as the islands teem with holidaymakers, locals and visitors. For some insane reason, we like to take our holidays now, altogether in a pressured two weeks. Malta’s schools don’t go back till around 26 September or later, so we’ve plenty more time to take a break.

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