Michael Zammit Tabona – What’s It Like to Be an Ambassador?

Business — 21.2.2017

A summary

I made an article for the Finnish readers about Michael Zammit Tabona – the Maltese ambassador for Finland. I had lunch with Michael in December and I interviewed him and asked what is it like to be an ambassador – what is the job all about?

Business man Michael tells me that he doesn’t really have a politicical background. The Maltese government asked him for the job and he answered yes. The appointment was confirmed in Finland and the first time he went to Helsinki to check the places was a week before the assignment started. He had been to -40 degrees cold Lapland before, so the weather wasn’t an issue.

“I don’t have political background really. The government searched someone who they thought can handle the job.”

When Michael started he started from scratch. There are two types of ambassadors: the ones that live in the country – that have the ambassy and the staff to help them – and then there are non-resident ambassadors. Michael is the latter, and he says that it was much harder especially in the beginning. The first days when waking up at the hotel felt like being lost: ”And now what… You know nothing in the beginning, it’s not easy.”

”When you are a non-resident ambassador it is just you and the suitcase, and that’s it.”

Michael started by speaking for the flight route between Finland and Malta. The work of an ambassador is about creating relations between the countries. There are political topics to handle that come from the Foreign office – like contributing the educational co-operation – but there are also tasks to increase trade and tourism. That’s where Michael has been able to use his business sense. (Michael’s background has always been in tourism, and he is a business man. He owns the Fortina Hotel, The Terrace restaurant, the Captain Morgan Cruises, the sightseeing city buses, Malta’s biggest hotel cleaning service and a company that imports wines and spirits to mention a few) Now, after three years everything is easier; when the contact network is created and even friends made.

”Things were quite dead, we didn’t even have a direct airlink.”

”Seven professors from the university of Malta will leave to Finland to monitor what they do there. We are also going to eat school food. Our Minister of education is coming with us.”

Ambassador and hotel owner Michael Zammit Tabona at his Fortina hotel lobby in Sliema in Malta
I interviewed Michael in December. His wish for Santa was, that this year ‘we will send’ a lot of Maltese to Santa’s village in Rovaniemi. By far, Maltese people haven’t travelled too much to Finland – only less than thousand people have travelled annually. Michael wants to double the amount. ”They will love it. I took my grandkids there and they loved it.”

“The job is basically to introduce people to each other. For example, I asked, why don’t you go to Lapland? I introduce them and then they find each other and start working together = work done!”

Michael Zammit Tabona at his The Terrace restaurant in Malta
Michael Zammit Tabona at his The Terrace restaurant in Malta. Michael’s favorite Finnish product is Napue gin: ”I have some here, but I hide it, it’s for me only.”

Michael explains, that in the political topics you have to be a messenger, but when it comes to trade ”you have to entertain and push.” It’s a totally different setting when finishing an office meeting – that’s when you shake hands and leave – but at dinner after the official part you relax, the topic can change to anything and the tone is friendly.

“You take the hat off and put another hat on. And you become friends. And that works a lot.”

“Once you get to know them and you are having dinner, the meeting can also finish with a kiss if you know what I mean, if she’s female – or whether it’s a good handshake, if it’s a male.”

Michael Zammit Tabona having a business lunch with his guests at The Terrace restaurant in Sliema in Malta
Business lunches are everyday to Michael.

Michael sees that even though Finland and Malta are the northernmost and the southernmost countries of Europe there is a lot in common: the work ethic, common language to use, and even the drinking manners. According to Michael, Malta got the northern mentality because of the past Brit governance. That’s why the island is an easy place to live in for over 10 000 nordic people.

Michael Zammit Tabona and guests having fun at business lunch at the Terrace restaurant in Malta
We had lunch together with the italians, and the topic was the tourism of Lampedusa. I don’t know the language, but the nonverbal communications!

White fish lunch at the Terrace restaurant in Malta

Since I’m wondering about all the energy Michael has, he tells me: ”My life philosophy has always been to strive and excel.” And that means, when he does something he does it well. This has always been the motto for all the businesses and also for handling the ambassador’s job. Now we will see, what happens next: the ambassador term is finishing in April. Let’s see if Michael is nominated to continue in the role after that. If somewhere he would like to continue in Finland; he has enjoyed the new challenging role, feels that he can still learn after three years and he likes Finland.

“I have done a lot in a different way but like I said, I always try to strive and excel with my best capability. I took this with me as an ambassador; I went with very high standard and wanted to get good results. And now, the government can judge.”

”It’s up to them, I will have to do what I’m being told.”

Delicious starters, shrimps and pasta at the Terrace restaurant in Malta
At The Terrace there is good food in a beautiful setting facing Valletta. Michael’s recipe “strive and excel” has worked…
Text message of Michael Zammit Tabona, he sent this to the foreign minister of Malta
Michael has a silly personality. He sent this text to foreign minister.

Maltese ambassador for Finland Michael Zammit Tabona at his The Terrace restaurant in Malta

The pink shirt of Michael Zammit Tabona with his initials
Michael makes his shirts in Kämp gallery in Helsinki: he can choose the colour, buttons and sewings himself. There are his initials in the sleeve.
Michael Zammit Tabona passing through his Fortina Hotel Spa
According to Michael, the craziest thing in Finland is to go to ice hole swimming in a frozen lake. Michael says he’s “too chicken” for that and that the heart would stop. Here we are walking through the Spa area of his hotel when Michael is showing me the places. We say goodbye in the lobby of Fortina.

All the quotes by Michael. Thank you Michael for the interview!
(Finnish people, read the whole version of the article by clicking “FI” on the up right hand corner)

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