So, you’ve been on the island for long enough to have heard mela thrown around plenty of times. Maybe you’ve even heard an explanation or two about what the word supposedly means from some locals. Or worse, some other expats. All things considered – or ignored, for that matter – you feel the time is ripe for you to pitch in a few mela’s of your own. Big mistake.
Do not, I repeat, do not think you get what mela is. You are doing it wrong, I can guarantee you. At best, you just sound ridiculous. In addition, you’re quite likely being offensive. You’re offending the language and the nuances it hides.
Take It from Me – I, Too, Have Erred
How do I know so well? I, as so many others, obviously fell for the mystical allure of mela. I felt comfortable enough not just using mela, but also advising others as to what it means and how to correctly use it. The unbelievable arrogance, geez. With that being said, please don’t punch me, I promise, I’ve learnt from my mistakes.
it ISN’t the one-word-solution for “whatever”, no matter how much you want it to be
Mela is incredibly versatile and even though it’s close to impossible to adequately explain what it means, I can tell you what it’s not. It is definitely not the equivalent of the Spanish “mañana” – not by its literal translation nor by where and when it’s appropriate to use it. Nor is it really the one-word-solution for “whatever” or “oh, well, what do you do,” no matter how much you’d like it to be. And just to make it clear, even though it does mean “apple” in Italian, that is not the way this word has entered Maltese.
Mela Can Be Used for Anything
Now that we have the big no-no’s sorted, let me go ahead and completely contradict myself by stating that mela can be used almost anywhere and as anything. By those who know how. Just in case I wasn’t clear on that before, that would ONLY be the native speakers. Never-ever the expats. Sounds like I’m discriminating? Well, show me one expat who is using the word correctly in everyday conversation, and I will retract my statement. Oh, and the correct usage needs to be confirmed by at least 5 locals, of course. It’s not like I could judge whether it’s valid or not.
“Mela! Mela.. Mela. Mela?”
On that note, I happened to overhear a conversation snippet a while ago which was basically this: “Mela! Mela.. Mela. Mela?” I am not even exaggerating, this is literally how it went down. Now, obviously, there was a dialogue before and after this snippet between the sales representative and the client. But this particular sequence of 4 (!!!) mela’s in a row was there, no joke.
The best part is, not only were the people engaged in the conversation completely fine with the statement, so was I. Even with my very limited knowledge of Maltese, all those mela’s actually made sense.
For those who weren’t witnessing the epic moment, here’s a loose translation of the short monologue: “Yes, please, do come in! If you’d be so kind as to follow me into this area.. Now, let me think a little, I believe we do have something that might interest you here. Take a look, how does that one seem?”
Hey, the Estonian in me salutes the practicality in this one. Why the hell would you go for the unnecessarily long “bla-bla-bla”, if you could get the same message across in just 4 little words. In fact, just by repeating one and the same word 4 times. Brilliant!
Versatile, But Not for You
Indeed, based on confirmations from our team’s resident Maltese, as well as some other Maltese, mela can be almost anything. Mela is “yes”, mela can be a sarcastic “no”, or, on occasion, could be thrown in as a place filler. Hm, it sounds a lot like women came up with mela (to all the keyboard warrior feminists out there – relax, just a joke). We’re not done yet, though. Mela is “so”, mela is “or”, and it can, of course, be “of course”. The list is endless, really; these are just some of the most common examples.
Unfortunately, more often than not, I hear mela being butchered by expats and slipped into conversation moments that it surely does not belong in. Just the other day a co-worker pitched it as a final statement at the end of a “Maltese buildings are ridiculously cold” talk. I could grasp from the previous sentences and the vibe of the discussion that he meant it as “oh well, we’ll see how it goes”. But using it there was just the kind of mistake foreigners tend to do and I used to do. And if it, now, makes even me cringe, imagine how bad it must be for Maltese.
Therefore, I have a request for all of you, my dear fellow expats. Be respectful, don’t mela!
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and feedback. Especially for those who have – and correctly so – pointed out that mela is not really an “or”. After careful consideration and consultation, we completely agree. Our bad. Not an “or”, but perhaps rather an “instead of”, such as “should have done A instead of B”.