“If one tried to describe Georgia using one single word, the right word would definitely be hospitality”.
– John Steinbeck
People usually choose countries to visit according to their interests; some are fascinated by mountains, some by remote villages, some by arts and architecture, some by delicious cuisine and great wine or by song and dance traditions. Meanwhile, some are attracted by beautiful women while some dream to snapshot a cow.
What makes us return to a country, to fall in love with it and even to call it our second home? I strongly believe it is its people and their rituals of hospitality that you experience during your visit.
As we succumb to globalisation, tourism is the best area in which to preserve such traditions of hospitality which have become an integral part of our identity. It again reminds me of Steinbeck and his Russian Journal. What seems very natural for us could be exotic for you.
Steinbeck and Robert Capa, his photographer, visited many houses and at each one they are offered food – which of course was impossible to refuse. After they were completely stuffed, the manager of a farm asks them to stop by his home for a bite; “only a token bite, as a courtesy”. “We were beginning to believe that Russia’s (that was general name for all the Soviet Union republics) secret weapon, towards guests was food. . . . It was the vision of the table that nearly killed us. It was fourteen feet long, and it was loaded with food, and there were about twenty guests. I think it was the only meal or dinner we ever attended where fried chicken was an hors d’oeuvres”.
It is very difficult to achieve this delicate balance between keeping your traditions when at the same time adopting new habits. Since then, I guess we have learnt (at least a little bit) how not to kill our guests with the vision of the table.
Although we try to better adjust our traditions to the traditions of our visitors, learning a little of the basics of Georgian culture and general etiquette will help you to avoid awkward moments during your visit:
Do shake hands when meeting someone for the first time. Georgians are hospitable and big-hearted, but do not puzzle them with a big hug or a kiss when meeting for the first time.
Do not greet Georgians with any Russian words, their language is Georgian. If you greet them in their own language it will impress and delight them.
Do expect to be treated like royalty as hospitality is very important for Georgians, however do not get overexcited.
Do bring chocolate or a bottle of wine when visiting a Georgian home. Do not expect gifts to be opened when received, some elaborately wrapped presents are better admired unopened.
Do not take off your shoes when entering the house unless you are asked to do so. Embarrassed, your Georgian host will rush to buy you alternative indoor footwear.
Do try all the dishes and always finish your plate if you want to be invited again.
Do expect to be offered second and even third helpings, by accepting them you will please your host, though may well upset your stomach.
Do not expect Georgians to turn off their mobile phones either at the business meeting nor at a friendly dinner, it is not out of disrespect, it is just a habit.
Do expect lively conversations during the meal. When discussing a topic Georgians are not afraid to express their emotions, voices may become raised and hand gestures increased.