It is a paradox, but every time I start to write about interethnic relations in Georgia, I find out so interesting materials, that I change my topic. Last week I posted about Lezginka, Caucasian passionate dance, which was really new for me. Today I made a new discovery – a blog of an American teacher in Georgia. His name is Chris Bacon. He came there from Atlanta, USA as a participant of Teach and Learn in Georgia Program. He will spend some time there and teach English in the local school. Reading his posts, I found some commonalities and differences there:
- We have “exchanged” places: I arrived in the United States from Georgia, and he departed there last September. Both we are foreigners in each other’s countries.
- I study in the United States on the language I can understand. He teaches English to the children whose language skills are not so good, and whose native language he does not know.
- I feel fine here; He’s got a culture shock.
I’m asking: why? Both of the countries have multiethnic and multicultural population; things should be similar, should not they? But Chris has some troubles. Reading his posts, I can understand that he’s living in the world which is completely different from his familiar one.
Some facts to compare:
1. Georgians drive like crazy. Here is his impression:
Georgian drivers…what to say… hmm… God must watch out for them. They drive about 80 mph down roads barely bigger than the bus, dodging people, cars, and the occasional goat while smoking with one hand and honking the horn at seemingly invisible adversaries everywhere with the other. It’s certainly something to experience.
My American experience: very quiet streets. There are many cars, although drivers never speed up and shout. In my first days of the arrival, I was standing at the edge of sidewalk and talking with my friends. A car stopped and its driver gave us advice in a very calm manner: “hey guys, you get to change place, because it’s not safe here”. Behavior like that is not common in Georgia.
2. Dressing: Georgians like to be well-dressed, whilst I’ve noticed that Americans do not pay attention to it. To us, clothes are demonstration of taste, mood, social status, etc. Young people, especially girls try to look nicer day after day. That is kind of unwritten rule of our society.
3. Georgian food: that is absolutely different from American, mainly made of pastry, meat (beef or pork), cheese, etc. We use mostly natural products and the meals are really delicious. Bread is indivisible part of our culture. We bake traditional bread in special place – Tone (bakery).
Georgian bread has different forms and does not contain garlic, cloves, honey, pepper or any other ingredient. Though, it’s veeery good, especially with local cheese.
Food in America: I found them too spicy. Actually I have not changed my eating habits here, and missed some very much: Tkemali, Churchkhela (“Georgian Snickers”), Khinkali and Khachapuri. One day I can cook them and you compare which one is better: Pizza or Khachapuri.
4. Hospitality: even unknown people are happy to see foreigner and invite them in their homes. It’s great pleasure for Georgian to host a tourist and share opinion about culture, politics, etc. The guest is always in the center of attention. Family members give him/her the best sit, the best room, the best meals; he’s served in the best way. Sometimes it may seem very nice; in other cases it may become annoying. Here is Chris’s experience:
As we passed one house, a Georgian man waived to us and motioned for us to come over. He pointed to grape vines hanging over his back patio area and motioned once again for us to come into his back yard. He called his son over and proceeded to cut down a bushel of grapes for each of us. We could only manage a simple gmadlopt! (Thank you!) but could not do anything else by smile and wave. He did the same and we headed back to the hotel to share our little adventure and eat some amazing grapes.
In the USA I have not visited an American family yet, so I’ll write about this topic later. If you have any story to share, please feel free.
5. Drinking habits: in Georgia people enjoy drinking, mainly – wine, more rarely – or vodka, sometimes beer, home-made liquor, etc. It’s very uncommon if a Georgian family does not offer a drink to the guest, especially if he’s considered as honorable guest. We say that Guest come from God and we should do our best with him/her. In Georgia you will frequently hear that our traditional feast is an Academy. It is an occasion place where people demonstrate different kinds of skills: toasts, conversations about different topics, singing, etc. Here dialogue of generations takes place. People get pleasure and exchange useful information. Offering drinks, a Georgian demonstrates respect to the guest. There is no age restriction about drinking in my country, and it was very uncommon for me when a cashier asked for my ID before I got my beer.
Now I see that we have different cultures. American society is more responsible for work, rules, study than Georgian one. But personal relations, family bonds are stronger to us. We have extended understanding of family and we are very supportive to each other. We care our family obligations more than about social responsibility. Do you think that it’s good? What’s the bad side of such kind of order?
P.S. Chris, I hope your worst days in Georgia are back, and you’ll have brighter posts in the future. I hope that your relations with students and other colleagues will improve and you’ll see whole beauty of Georgian nature.
Good luck 🙂
And you, my reader, have you ever head international experience? Have you ever volunteered abroad or participated in the exchange program? If yes, what would be your advice? How a newcomer should behave in the new environment? What would be effective strategy for communication and adaptation in the new community? Have you ever head troubles? How have you overcome them?