My trouble with pronouncing Hungarian vowels is legendary, if nowhere else than in my own mind. But for me, Hungarian has met its match in Maltese. Take the word qrun, which translates into the more manageable bull’s horns. Try as I might I can’t get my tongue to give it a shape that is remotely recognisable. But I can do the sign language! And this, apparently, is vital to survival in Malta.
The Maltese are a superstitious lot and it’s pretty easy to get a name for yourself on the island as a jinx. Just suppose we are chatting and I compliment you on, say, your teeth. And then later that day, you trip and fall and break your front tooth. Or, if we’re chatting over dinner and I remark on your outfit and then not five minutes later you knock your fork off your plate and land a dollop of spag bol on your pristine white shirt. Or, I tell you you’re headed for great things and the next day you lose your job, your partner dumps you, and even your cat won’t talk to you. Well, even if I had no intention of causing any of this, word will get around that I’m a jinx.And pretty soon, no-one will be talking to me, in any language!
So, in order to avoid creating that impression, any time I say something good about you, I need to tag on a ‘God bless’ at the end. It sounds weird, admittedly. ‘Love the hair – God bless’. ‘Great new car – God bless’. ‘Fantastic news about our promotion – God bless’. But hey, needs must! Now if I don’t know any better and haven’t been let in on this ‘God bless’ thing, then you can make the qrun sign to ward off any unintended evil that might come your way. Just to be sure. You’ve been warned!
On a child’s first birthday, the Quccija is done. [Will anyone lend me an infant?] Sit the child in front of a pen, a thermometer, money, rosary beeds, a toothbrush, an egg – whatever your imagination can come up with, and whichever object the child picks will denote its future!
Apart from this qrun thing and the quccija, there’s the keeping of an olive branch behind the door, the bżaru aħmar (chile pepper with a crown) in the window, and the eye to ward off evil. Look at the traditional Maltese fishing boat, called a luzzu. See the two eyes painted on the bow? These are to ward off the evil spirits that might be lurking in some harbour or inlet.
Going to Malta? Forget the sunscreen. Instead, pack your bull’s horns, an olive branch, and an extra eye.