Saturday, October 8, 2011

Relationships in Georgia

This is a topic I have been hesitant to write on for the last year, but now after some rather curious and insightful events into Georgian culture as it pertains to relationships, I feel the time is right. I am still not at expert level for this topic, but I’ve been a conscientious observer.

The Basics

In simplest terms, what is considered normal in America, can be construed very differently in Georgia. Seemingly benign behaviors from an American viewpoint will result in questions, looks, and confrontations from the host family. (More on that in a minute). In America, hanging out with the opposite sex is just that: hanging out. You go to movies, make dinner, whatever; it is harmless. In Georgia, from what I have been able to discern, that is more on the level of American dating. Here when they find out you are dating, the next question is: Rodis aris tqveni kortsili? (When is your wedding?) Consequently, dating here is like being engaged in the United States. Moreover, it appears (based on what I see at the university) that most of Georgia’s young people have to hide their relationships from their family or the public in general, as in Georgia everyone knows everyone and they like to talk. More than once I have walked by couples hiding in a small thicket of trees by the university to simply hold hands away from prying eyes. It is weird. They give me dirty looks for interrupting, but can I help that the path goes right by them? No.

Displays of Affection

Furthermore, displays of affection have very different meanings. In Springdale, hugs are freely given on the streets, at the library, at Sol Foods, it doesn’t matter. When we see our friends there, it is the most appropriate way to greet them. Here hugging is almost scandalous! Something which saddens me. With my close male friend here, sometimes we can hug; sometimes (depending on who is around) we have to shake hands, which I feel is rather awkward. It feels like we just got out of a business meeting instead of being friends. Last year some of the students I tutored came to me saying that they saw my friend (also their neighbor) kissing on the street. I was just as shocked by this as they were, and when I spoke to her about it she said she was simply holding hands. Apparently here handholding is like kissing. Wow…benign in America, scandalous here. I also find it odd that here it perfectly acceptable for two guys to walk arm in arm on the street, but a couple really isn’t supposed to do that. Curious.

Yesterday at the university during our lecture, I asked my students what winking means in Georgia. In America, we all know basically when to wink and it what contexts it is appropriate. I had previously been told that it is like waving. This person wasn’t Georgian, and according to my students she was very wrong as it means a guy is flirting with you. Great. They then got very excited at the prospect of a Georgian boyfriend for me. I didn’t mention to them that there are two guys who wink at me…a lot. Two guys I see on an almost daily basis.

Host Family Confrontations

While still living with host family #2, one morning they confronted me about my “boyfriend.” With my limited Georgian capabilities, I at first thought they were talking about the cats in the yard by the building because the word for cat and man in Georgian are pretty close. At this point I was thoroughly confused and I kept saying “I don’t know!” because at that point I couldn’t remember “I don’t understand!” Saying “I didn’t know” made them mad, to which they replied, “Shen itsi!” (You know!) Then I realized that they were talking about my close friend I mentioned previously. They thought we were dating because I went places in his car. Great. Between that, us hugging in the yard, and him walking over to meet me, the host family and the neighbours thought I had a boyfriend. Moreover, they were mad that he had not properly introduced himself. The whole confrontation was really awkward, and I felt unnecessary considering I am 31 years old and who I associate with was none of their business. Furthermore, explaining that he wasn’t my boyfriend, just my friend was made more difficult by the fact that the words “friend” and “boyfriend” in Georgian are the same. Eventually, I gave up trying to get them to believe that he wasn’t my boyfriend, and just said he was a “kai bitchi” (a good boy) from a “dzalian kai ojaki” (a very nice family). One morning I was even late for school due to trying to explain, yet again, that he wasn’t my boyfriend. When I apologized to my co-teacher, she was upset that the host family would pry into my life so much. It was refreshing to hear from a Georgian that it was none of their business.

While the whole supposed boyfriend fiasco was unfolding with Host Family #2, at school the same thing happened. I was using my laptop in the cafeteria one day, and one of the cleaning ladies saw the wallpaper on my screen. It was just a picture of a friend and I being silly in Rockville over the summer. She thought it was my boyfriend. She asked, and I replied, “Kho, chemi megobari.” (Yes, he is my friend.) Only after I said that did I realize what I said, and it was too late to take it back. Now she thinks I have a boyfriend in the United States, and every time she sees me she gives me this huge smile and a thumbs up. Oh well.

But the ideas about my supposed romantic relationships in Georgia do not end there. Upon moving to host family #3, the place I currently am living and which I love dearly, I was informed that the family thought when my close friend informed them that I was going to be moving in for the year that he had secretly gotten married. I am sure that the family is really suspicious of our friendship. Yesterday morning while working on a university project in my room in the morning, his mom came into check on us. It was like being back at BYU. This morning when we were headed out, one of the students from school saw us together…twice. I am sure I will hear about that on Monday at school.

It should be interesting to see what happens this year. One of my host brothers is taking very seriously the task of finding me a Georgian husband. He already believes that I would make a perfect Georgian housewife because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t carry on. Little does he know I would not be a Georgian wife who stays at home all day cooking, ironing, and cleaning. In his quest to find me a Georgian husband, he has enlisted the help of the owners of the business he works at. He works at the Adjarabet Casino in Batumi. I can only imagine what sort of guys casino owners will bring.


  1. Hey Charlotte

    Great to reading your postings again. Especially interesting is the this one.

    > what is considered normal in America, can be
    > construed very differently in Georgia

    I do understand that your blog readers would be mostly native Western English speakers for them above statement does not require any clarification.

    However for the people never being in States (locals in Georgia - your students, host family, etc) would be interesting to know that there are two statements associated with the above sentence - 'What' and 'Why'.

    I think you'd agree that the question 'what' is easier to answer just by describing 'what' exactly is 'normal', however answering and describing 'why' part is considerably more difficult. And the problem sadly is because of people's lack of exposure to different environment, way of life and ideas.

    When one never seen and experienced anything different (not just better, but different) then the environment he/she was born, raised and formed as an adult person accepting non-familiar ideas and concepts for such person is quite difficult. Seen it way many times.

    > words “friend” and “boyfriend” in Georgian
    > are the same

    Small correction - the word 'boyfriend' with the same meaning (i.e. a person who you are romantically/sexually involved with) does not exist in Georgian language because the whole concept of such kind of relationships did not exist up to... 10-15 years ago. (And probably this is on of the reason why things which are 'normal' in States are not 'normal in Georgia.)

    So the word 'friend' started to assume this meaning because (probably you've already discovered) there is generic assumption in the society that there could be no friendship between opposite sexes. Yep. And it is even represented in the language - there are two words: დაქალი (literally - sister-woman) and ძმაკაცი (literally - brother-man) for describing true friendship (i.e. the person who will help you move bodies from your car's trunk at 2AM). Those words are reserved to describe non-romantic relationship between the same sexes, but are never used in opposite sex relationship.

  2. > I am 31 years old and who I associate
    > with was none of their business.

    Well, this is the whole concept they are not aware of - privacy. In Georgia you can not live the life on your own - other people's opinion and relationship is more important than than what you think about yourself.

    >Apparently here handholding is like kissing.

    Local are quite famous by assuming things and taking things into their logical conclusion, despite the fact that have not witnessed such a 'conclusion'.

    In this particular example the student saw your friend holding a hand and obviously assumed (correctly) that handholding means that your friend is romantically involved with that guy. And for that student handholding = kissing, despite the fact that he/she did not see the latter. And this is not the case only with that student, whole society is like that.