What to expect when visiting Georgia for any purpose? What are the top things to know about the country and people there? Georgia has become an attractive destination for visitors from all around the globe lately for various reasons. No matter how long you are going to stay in Georgia, there are things you should be aware of. In the following article we will provide you an insight to Georgia and Georgians from the prospects of personal experience.
Georgia is a country that implements the value of diversity. Everything is diverse there: weather, landscape, people, culture, religion – everything that creates the character of the country. Knowing the very specifications of the country will help you understand, adapt and communicate with it better to experience your stay there at its best.
Yes, as freaky as it sounds, Georgian boys (Bichi) used to kidnap a girl (gogo) to marry her! In most cases, girls did not even know the future husband. Because of Georgian mentality, once the kidnapper took the girl home they were believed to be a family. It was a shame for a girl and her family to refuse the “proposal”, so she stayed and started “dating” and getting to know her new husband.
The police did not take any action against this, moreover it was legal if the girl did not ask for punishment.
Many families which were created by kidnapping are still together and their kids listen to the story with mouth open.
Sakartvelo, not Georgia
Georgia is a western version of the original name of the country -Sakartvelo. That literally translates as a place of Kartvelian tribes. If you ask Georgian who he is, he will probably answer “Kartveli”, so “Sakartvelo” means a place of Kartvelians (Georgians).
There are many versions of this name. Some of them are believed to be from the bible. However, whatever the truth is, Georgians are proud to call themselves “Kartveli”.
It is interesting that some Lietuva officially refers to Georgia as Sakartvelo.
Different Regions – Different Cultures in Georgia
It is widely known that Georgia has an unique location.From the caucasus mountains to the black Sea Georgia is combined with stunning landscapes, cities and towns with rich history and culture. All of that would never be so interesting if not individual regions of Georgia.
There are 11 regions on the whole territory of Georgia. Each of them has its own cultural characteristics including specific dishes, method of cooking, history, architecture etc.
For example cheese – there are quite a lot native cheeses in the country – Imeretian cheese, which is basically a soft, white cheese is made in the region of Imereti, while Guda cheese – a sheep cheese is made in Tusheti, Kakheti region.
Even traditional clothing is different in regions. Some of them are tough, focused on comfort, ease for accidental fights (especially in mountainous regions) , while others are more delicate and exquisite.
Georgian Kingdoms – Insight in History
Cultural diversity is understandable as these regions used to be independent kingdoms before XI century (Kathetian Kingdom-nowadays Kakheti region, Kartli Kingdom etc.). Even after that Georgia always struggled with domestic and foreign wars and “games of thrones”. Every region wanted to keep its identity and influence the rest, however, the individual scent of every region is still obvious as soon as you start exploring the country. As we said, Georgia always had to fight for its liberty and territorial integrity – even now, almost 20% of its territory is occupied by a “friendly northern neighbour”.
The official state language in Georgia is Georgian. Georgian is one of the oldest languages in the world.It was named the 4th hardest language to learn by foreigners. Georgian (Kartvelian) is part of the Kartvelian language family, connected to other languages spoken in the region like Laz and Svan but not a part of any other families.
The Georgian language has at least 18 dialects. This is not over – there are three different languages spoken in Sakartvelo – Abkhazian, Svan and Megrelian. Those languages are typical for the specific regions and differ from Georgian. Not everyone knows them – just those who are from the region or have folks there.
Fun fact about Georgian language and the surnames is that, You can tell which region a person is from by their surname: for example surnames like Kakulia, Gabunia etc. are from Samegrelo (ending with “ia”)
So if you marry a Megrelian or Svan are ready to learn both Georgian and regional language.
Georgia has adopted many foreign words because of its historic background : Arabic and Turkish especially.
Some words you might need to get around the country:
- Hello – Gamarjoba;
- Thank you – Madloba;
- Goddbye – Nakhvamdis, kargad ikavi;
- Yes/No – Ki/Ara
- Mr/Mrs – Batono/Kalbatono;
Georgian Language – Three Alphabets
There are not many languages which have their own script, however, Georgia has three instead of one: Mkhedruli, used in daily life, and the older Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri, used especially for the writings in the Orthodox Church.
These scripts are unique and valuable not only for Georgia but for the world – Georgian scripts are part of UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
As history tells us, King Parnavazi created Asomtavruli (first edition os Georgian script) in the 3rd century BC.
Karveli people are very proud of their cultural heritage – Saqartvelo managed to keep their alphabets, in both education and the bureaucracy during Soviet era.
Supra: A pure Georgian feast
A Supra (Georgian: სუფრა) is a traditional Georgian feast and a very important part of Georgian social culture. Do not mix it with a westernt party, and it is yet so much more than an occasional dinner. Supra is a diverse mixture of components that come together to form an outstanding cultural gathering. The whole process is well-organised making a traditional Supra one of the most exciting adventures you can experience in the country!
Supra has main role players such as Tamada (toastmaster), a wine-guy who ensures that the glasses are full of wine during the feast, person who serves Mtsvadi – Georgian traditional barbeque, younger people serving other meals and taking care of guests and of course – honorable guests.
Georgian Supra is a multi-course meal, so do not expect a classic three course dinner. The table will be full of food when you arrive, and the flow of meals keeps coming until the very last minute. Everything that comes to the table stays there and is refilled every once in a while. First comes cold dishes -Georgian appetizers, then the hot courses – for example Chakapuli- hot soup with greens and lamb (the hot courses are warmed up later) and of course Georgian sweets,fruits and homemade cakes. Do not forget about the enormous amount of Georgian wine, which in most cases is homemade.
For Georgian families it is a shame not to have a blooming table set for the guests and they always think you have not had enough, so will keep persuading you to taste some more of everything. They change plates to freshen you up and start eating from a clean one.
What is Supra about?
Georgian supra is not just about eating. It is the Gerogian character at a table : hosts take care of their gusts, showing them respect and welcoming to the family. It is a process of communication, bonding relations, sharing values. The etiquette of Supra shows Georgian values very well : the order of toasts, the music, stories told at the table etc.
If you want to experience and enjoy your stay in Georgia to the fullest, attend Supras in every region of Georgia to make sure you have the whole picture in front of you.
Georgian Supra is famous for its role players, among which Tamada is the leading one. Tamada or toastmaster is always a male, most honored person on the table who is chosen by the head of the family. He is the one keeping the Supra going.
Tamada is responsible for suggesting toasts to the guests, managing the situation at the table, keeping a friendly and cheerful atmosphere during the feast.
Georgian Supra is a celebration of life, maybe that is why most of the toasts suggested by Tamada are expressing gratefulness and praise towards everything they’ve got.
The general etiquette of toasts is that Tamada starts a very interesting speech about the things he wants to praise, which takes a few minutes, after that the guests are welcome to express their thoughts and drink the toast.
The role of Tamada is remarkable. There are men who train themselves, learn poems, become good speakers and people honor them by inviting them to be Tamada on their Supra. A good Tamada can create an unforgettable Georgian feast.
Georgian Cuisine — Things to Know
The great Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, once said :“Every Georgian dish is a poem”. The type of food served varies from region to region.
It is a fact that Georgian cuisine is diverse and a real adventure of flavors. However, there are recipes and dishes that are unknown to the public.
One of the most famous dishes in Georgia is Kubdari from a mountainous region — Svaneti.
Kubdari is bread with meat stuffed with a mixture of spices. Svans are believed to have very special spices and marijuana included. Yes, that green grass.
Marijuana, or hemp, traditionally had a wide usage. Folks used it for oil, rope and a spice for foods like kubdari and Svanetian khachapuri. However, when it was cultivated for other purposes (smoking) and the government subsequently toughened up its drug policy, marijuana was removed from the recipe and kept away from the kitchen.
Walnuts and spices is a mixture you can’t run from when tasting Georgian food. You can find it in Satsivi — a cold dish with chicken/turkey and a liquid mixture of walnuts and spices, in eggplant roll — Nigvziani Badrijani, with meat etc. So get ready for a walnut overdose.
Dreaded salads are not Georgian!!! The past decades have been crucial for Georgia.Soviet Union came to Georgian kitchens as well and forced Georgian housekeepers to boil the vegetables, chop them, mix with mayo and call it a salad.
Nowadays Georgian cuisine is recovering from that harmful “traditional dishes”, modern chefs are doing their best to renovate and bring those old, forgotten Georgian recipes back to everyday life.
Religion and Faith Through the Centuries
Roughly 80% of Georgia’s population identify themselves as orthodox Christians. There are many cathedrals all around the country. The diversity of the population reflects the religious atmosphere as well. For example, in Tbilisi, on one street you can find orthodox church, Armenian Apostolic cathedral, synagogue and mosque all next to each other.
Orthodoxy has been a state religion in most parts of Georgia since the 4th century thanks to St.Nino. The history of St. Nino coming to Georgia is precious for every orthodox Georgian. However, Christianity was not spread all at once and of course there was a faith to different gods in people before the 4th century and after that too.
is quite fascinating and full of stories to tell. It was believed that everything had its own guardian spirit and there were evil spirits as well.
Barbale, solar goddess
Barbale is a goddess of the Sun and fertility. According to the folk beliefs, she ensures good harvests as well as fertility for both people and livestock. Many celebrations, songs, poems and rituals used to be dedicated to her.
One of the folk poems and a song based on it is still famous and read to kids.
Did you know that some diseases such as measles, smallpox, scarlet fever and common cold were (and sometimes still are) called Batonebi? Folks believed that Batonebi were tiny supernatural beings who chose a family in a village to visit and brought the disease.It was thought that they liked color red, music, dances, flowers and sweet treats.If one did not satisfy their needs and wishes they would get angry and cause a fatal result, otherwise the illness would pass quickly and painlessly. The family sang, played music and set a table with sweets for these artificial creatures.
Ali — The Evil Spirit!
Evil spirits in Georgian mythology are called Ali. These evil creatures are believed to usually harm the pregnant, infants, and solo travelers. They are believed to have spooky faces and devil eyes and can be presented both as female and male. So be careful when traveling alone.
Georgian society in 90s
The90’s for Georgian was quite bitter-sweet. Besides the fact that the country became independent, they had to deal with the civil war, mass poverty, no transportation etc.
However, there are some insights every person from the 90s would recall as a significance of that period.
Group TV Watching
Electricity was off in the whole country and people used to use alternative ways to have access to it. Like taking the car engine off and using it to generate electricity. Back then not many families owned a TV, so the ones in neighborhood who did, managed a social TV session on the balcony, at home or outside. Neighbors gathered all together, some brought whatever they could find at home and shared with others. After the TV session was over everyone got back to their lives.
In the 90s when the country was collapsing, there was not much to think about fashion, so the young generation had to think outside a box and create something beautiful for themselves. Jeans were popular and new for them as it was forbidden fruit in the Soviet Union. It is believed that 90s hipster fashion is coming back these days.
We can write about Georgia endlessly. The culture here is so deep and marvelous, you can never get enough of it. Even in modern, dizzled life you can feel the welcoming hospitality of people, see the history through the architecture. This country is an open book, you just need to know how to read Georgian.