Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Better Know A Georgia, Part Stupid Internet List. Or: You know you've been coming to this blog too long when...

Usually I really hate these "You know you're ______ when" lists, but I found this randomly on Facebook, posted by some expat or other (hence the Tbilisi-specificness of it, since expats mostly live in the capital), and thought it was amusing. I also thought it would be pertinent as a Better Know A Georgia entry, because while, obviously, Georgians and volunteers would understand the jokes immediately (although, really, "jokes" is giving even an amusing version of this sort of list too much credit), most of you will not, and as such I get an opportunity to explain things, while subtly mocking the merely-amusing-ness of the "jokes"! Hooray! Let's begin:

You can distinguish between Kazbegi and Argo in a blind taste test.
Kazbegi and Argo are Georgian beers. They taste the same. Hence, the joke is that you have been here too long if you can taste the microscopic difference between them. See? This is fun.
You recoil in horror if somebody punctures a khinkali.
Khinkali is sort of like Chinese dumplings, served piping hot. You are supposed to pick them up by the "knob" of the dumpling with your fingers, and put them into your mouth whole. But I'm more of a puncturer.
You find nothing romantic in candle lighting.
See, because if you have candles lit, that means there is no electricity.
You never go anywhere without a small flashlight.
This is true. I carry my crank flashlight with me everywhere. Usually, I go home from work after dark, and the streetlights on my street UNTIL RECENTLY were never turned on. So, the first night, I ended up inching my way along in pitch blackness, triangulating my position by my distance from the tops of the trees on either side of the street, which were barely visible against the starlight, and also trying to figure out whether I was in immediate danger from any of the 50 barking dogs I could hear but not see. Since that night, I've carried my flashlight everywhere. But, a couple weeks ago, they started turning the streetlights on. Here's a personal addition to the list: you know you've been in Georgia too long when you find yourself sincerely grateful that streetlights are turned on.
You consider amoebic dysentery to be a weight loss strategy.
I know a volunteer who has lost 30 pounds due to different stomach ailments.
You actually believe that Borjomi water has curative properties.
Also curative: spending time in Bakhmaro, a mountain town in Guria, which apparently has a "healing mixture" of mountain and sea air.
You think you can get a cheaper fare if the taxi driver doesn't notice your accent.
You do need to project a certain air of native-ness with taxi drivers, or they'll overcharge the hell out of you, since most Georgian taxis are "freelance" and not metered. Thus, you need to either agree on a fare before you get into the cab, or try to pay him what you feel is appropriate at the end of the journey without asking his opinion, and hope that he doesn't lock the car doors and drive you to Russia. A good technique for cheaper fares: when negotiating with the driver, say, "I know that's too much," and slam the door. He will, almost without fail, drive five feet, stop, open the passenger door, and ask for less money.
You don't mind eating dinner or showering in complete darkness.
I haven't showered in complete darkness, but I have showered by candlelight. You never shower more quickly than when it's (1) below zero, (2) you're naked in a room with no heat source but the hot water, (3) your glasses are several feet away and the room is covered in water, and (4) you have no idea whether too much steam extinguishes a candle. I spent the entire maybe two minute shower envisioning having to stand naked and shivering in the dark until the sun came up.
You get annoyed if the waiter doesn't change your plate every 5 minutes, or doesn't take empty bottles off the table within 30 seconds.
They like clean plates here. At supras, your place includes a plate on top of a plate, so that partway through, a hostess can take the top plate, leaving you with a clean one. I never want to make the hostess do more work, so usually I tell them I'm ok with continuing to eat off the top plate, even though it has a couple chicken bones on it. This confuses everyone.
You can't drink a glass of wine without a toast even when dining alone.
It, literally, was kind of weird to sip wine with my family when I was in London. Georgians do not sip alcoholic beverages. Ever. You wait for a toast, and then down the entire thing. Occasionally, if there is a mini-supra at my office, and I'm trying to do work, I will accept a glass of wine, but sip it at my desk instead of downing it at the table with everyone else. They don't like it when I do this.
You are not taken aback when a complete stranger at a supra kisses you and professes that you are his best friend.
I have lost track of the number of times this has happened.
You appoint someone tamada even when dining with foreigners.
Volunteers do this when we're eating Georgian food and celebrating an occasion. It seems weird not to.
A few shots of chacha don't even give you a buzz.
Tchatcha is the Georgian word for homemade vodka. As I mentioned in my supra post, it nearly always tastes like pure jet fuel. I think even Georgian men accept this, so it's not culturally insensitive to say it.
You're at an expensive restaurant and don't even notice the guy at the next table yelling into his cell phone.
Georgians answer their cell phones whenever, wherever, and conduct phone conversations by yelling. To be fair, Americans do this too. I read a story recently that the official announcement-making-woman for the London Underground got fired after joking on the PA system, "To our American friends, yes, you probably are talking too loud."
You have grown used to the picture quality of pirated DVDs.
Pirated movie files, more accurately.
You find sit-down toilets uncomfortable.

Not uncomfortable yet, just weird, if it's been a while. I'm also becoming quite proud of my Turkish toilet form. I'd show you, but, you know, you're...over there. Where you are.
You think you speak Georgian fluently.
If I ever once think this, I need to not only leave Georgia, but seek medical care, because something bad will have apparently happened to my brain. I do, however, sometimes think that my Georgian is better than it is. For instance, I get annoyed when I am in Tbilisi and I say something to someone -- a waitress, say -- and they answer me in perfect English. I think, "what, you think your English is better than my Georgian?" Of course, it is. But it pisses me off that they THINK it.
You can't put a proper sentence together in your native language.
I can't put a proper sentence together in ANY languages now. Some people speak several languages fluently. I speak zero.
You automatically bring your own toilet paper when you go to the bathroom.
You get burned enough times, it becomes a reflex. You don't really want to hear more about this.
It is no longer surprising that the only decision made at a meeting is the time and venue for the next meeting.
I wish our meetings were this productive. If I tried to obtain this information at a meeting, I would be met with the question, "Why do we need to have another meeting?" Now, I do not mean to rag on my coworkers. They are motivated and (often) hardworking (at least as often, for instance, as I am). But, today, I was trying to tell them that they didn't have to wait for an suggestions from a woman in Tbilisi to start asking townspeople what they wanted from our organization. I said, "Don't wait two days for her response. Just go out and do it." They asked me, "Why?" I said, "So you're not sitting around for two days not doing anything." The response: "What's wrong with that?"
You no longer wonder how someone who earns $400.00 per month can drive a Mercedes.
Answer: because it's the frame of a Mercedes on the body of a 1976 Soviet Lada.
You honk your horn at people because they are in your way as you drive down the sidewalk.
I would probably be doing this if we were allowed to drive. I have, for instance, been IN a vehicle that drove onto the sidewalk to avoid two stopped cars that had just hit each other.
Other foreigners seem foreign to you.
It took maybe two weeks in this country before we started looking at the tourists who occasionally visit Gori, where we were, with an expression of superiority.
You consider McDonald's a treat.
You ask how much people are making and expect to hear an answer.
I don't, myself, do this. Because anything more than "zero" beats my salary. Also, when you live in a small town in an economically struggling region, you don't ask what people do, because they might not do anything, and that would make you feel awkward. At least, it would make ME feel awkward, because I am an American. The recipient of the question probably wouldn't feel awkward at all, but would instead start telling me about the job he had back in Soviet days.
You ask fellow foreigners the all-important question "How long have you been here?" in order to be able to properly categorize them.
In the case of the new G8s, I will KNOW how long they've been here. I'm looking forward to perfecting the inflection of my dismissive, "Pff. Wait until February."
Smoking is one of the dinner courses.
We were just recently discussing this. Nobody could think of a volunteer who had ever smoked in America -- no matter how long ago they'd quit -- who did not resume smoking here. If there are G8s reading this: if you have ever been a smoker, you will be a smoker again when you get here. It is inevitable. Prepare yourself mentally.
Georgians stop you on the street to ask for directions.
I don't know if other volunteers ever get asked for directions, but I'm told I could pass for Georgian, so perhaps that is why it happens to me with relative frequency. Just like when waitresses speak to me in English, it really pisses me off if the directions-asker decides my Georgian isn't that good and moves on. "WAIT," I think. "DAMMIT I COULD HAVE HELPED YOU IF YOU'D WAITED TEN SECONDS FOR ME TO COMPOSE THE SENTENCE IN MY MIND."
You get homesick for Georgian food when away from Georgia.
This will probably be true.
The word "salad" first brings to mind mayonnaise.
Mayonnaise on anything doesn't even really bother me anymore. Salad. Pizza. Hot dogs. Whatever.
You don't notice your gastrointestinal problems anymore.
It's not that you don't NOTICE them. You just start planning around them naturally.
You give a 10% tip only if the waiter has been really exceptional.
As far as my understanding goes, tipping here is 100% optional unless it's added into your bill automatically. If it isn't already in the bill, we only tip if doing so makes a more even number. I am going to come back to America, totally forget about this at a restaurant, walk out on a $100 bill, and get beaten to death by seven enraged waiters.
You change into slippers and wash your hands as soon as you walk into your apartment.
I change into my "home sweatshirt" and sometimes my slippers, but I wear my slippers out to the toilet, which you're not supposed to do. But, I mean, come on. I'm not gonna go upstairs to put my shoes BACK ON. The changing thing is more critical in the summer, when it's disgustingly hot out, and you don't want to get one more second's worth of sweat on your work clothes. So you put on a t shirt and shorts, and you wear that same t shirt and shorts whenever you're home. It's a nice little system. Note: only Americans do this. Georgian people never, ever, ever wear shorts.
You know more than 20 Tamunas, 30 Ninos and 60 Giorgis.
These are very common Georgian names. There aren't that many Georgian names, it seems. During training, my host mother told me, "it's big Giorgi's birthday today." I thought she meant fat Giorgi, down the street, as opposed to skinny Giorgi, my host brother, or little Giorgi, my host cousin. Turns out she meant my host brother, and I was late to his birthday supra. I felt really bad. But, as you can tell, it wasn't my fault.
Your sister writes to you about the best prime rib she's ever had and you can't remember what it looks or tastes like.
What is prime rib?
You catch yourself whistling indoors and feel guilty.
I whistle sometimes. Nobody looks at me funny or says anything, but I always wonder if secretly they think I'm doing something repugnant. If you have insight to shed on this, please let me know.
You never smile in public when you're alone.
You don't smile at men, anyway. You can still smile and nod at women, if they're not too old, or kids. Men will just stare at you blankly if you don't know them but do the American smile-nod thing. Which is weird, because "in public" is the operative phrase here. Ref: the earlier mention of complete strangers kissing you at supras and declaring you to be their best friend.
You are no longer surprised when your taxi driver tells you that in Soviet times he worked as a rocket scientist.
This doesn't happen to me very often, but last week I was in a cab in Tbilisi and the driver spent the entire time telling me Georgia was going down the tubes and that he missed the Soviets because he used to have a job in a refrigerator factory and the kids these days are terrible and what's with their baggy pants and their music etc etc etc. It puts you in an awkward position, having to defend a person's own country while he insults it. "No, Georgia is improving! The economy is doing very well! I know a lot of motivated kids!"
You consider holding a supra to celebrate the purchase of a new TV set.
I'd consider holding a supra if our current TV set suddenly got a new channel.
You specify "no gas" when asking for mineral water.
I don't understand the sparkling water thing. At all. Why is it preferable? Getting those bubbles down your throat is like work. Why do I want to work when I'm drinking a glass of water?
You think a bus with 200 people on it is "empty".
And then you are shown just how empty it is when the driver of the bus/marshutka stops to let fifty more people on.
You walk down the street holding hands with your buddy.
I mean, I don't do this, but Georgians do.
You start believing that you can blend into a large crowd of Georgians.
Until I pull my bright blue iPod out of my expensive American backpack.
You answer "ho" even when speaking English to non-Georgian friends.
"Ho" means "yeah." I can see how this might cause potential problems down the road.
You swear at a taxi driver for stopping at a red light even when there's nobody coming.
I think I did this, at least in the back of my mind, in America.
You notice that your wallet has been stolen and your first thought is that, come to think of it, the guy behind you on the bus sort of looked Armenian.
Georgia and Armenia do not like each other. I've been told that the Georgian word for "hell" is actually the name of a village in Armenia. This would be really funny if it was true, but I do not know whether it is. Very funny, that is, with the requisite caveat that xenophobia is totally lame etc etc etc.
You take foreign guests around Gori and feel compelled to point out that Stalin really liked small children.
I'm looking forward to taking guests to the Stalin Museum. Which, if you are new-ish to this blog, is located on Stalin Street in Gori, at one end of Stalin Park, at the opposite end of which is a large statue of Stalin in front of City Hall, which is one of maybe seven Stalin statues in Gori.
You order food at most restaurants without looking at the menu.
I mean, they all serve the same thing.
You answer your phone "Allo?" even when outside of Georgia (or 'gisment').
"Gisment" means, I think, "I'm listening to you." "Allo" is, I think, just a theft from English that means nothing in Georgian, which is interesting. Although I could be totally wrong about that. If you know the person who is calling, another acceptable salutation is, "Batono!" which means, "Sir!" I favor this last one. I might bring "Batono!" back to America.
You tell others your phone number in two-digit sequences: i.e. ninety-nine, seventeen, forty-three.
Georgian phone numbers have a three digit code and then six numbers. They give those numbers to you this way. It is really, really hard to process phone numbers this way, especially in a foreign language, when you're used to the American way. I mean, you'd confuse someone in America if you recited a phone number in anything other than the proper "DA-DA-DA (pause) DA dum (pause) DA dum" inflection, let alone in number combinations.
You try to bargain over the price of tomatoes while in a grocery store back home.
I still suck at bargaining. I was at a bazaar over the weekend, at a stand selling undershirts. The woman offered them to me for four lari each. I didn't think to bargain, and decided to go look around for other stands because I thought the sizes she had might be too big. But she thought I was trying to do the taxicab pretend-to-leave thing, so she said, "OK OK OK, three fifty." I'm at the bargain-by-accident stage.
You feel self-indulgent and pampered checking into a flight during the daytime.
Wouldn't know. Haven't done it in nine months. And I felt pampered and indulgent checking into a flight at all, when I went to London. "You mean I get a seat entirely to myself?"
You end English sentences with "ra".
"Ra" means "what," and is a common slang-y sentence ending. I try to talk slang-ily sometimes, often to derision from my coworkers. But I stick with it, what.
You turn off your car engine at stoplights to save fuel.

They do this here. Does anyone know if this actually saves fuel?
You have ten different responses to the question, "Do you like Georgia?"
If you are speaking to a Georgian person, there is only one acceptable response: "Yes."
The lady in your local corner shop stops asking when you are going to get married.
This will never happen. Just yesterday, I was walking to work and a woman I don't recall meeting (although I'm sure I have) said hi to me on the street. She asked if I missed home. I said, cheerfully, "Hey, my home is here!" She said, "Great! So, when are you going to find a Georgian wife?" Tricked again.

Well, that took way too much time and probably broke a record for worst content/useful information ratio. Just what you've come to expect! You know you've been coming to this blog too long when [fill in funny end joke].


Brenden said...

I can answer the question of 'does turning off your engine at stoplights save gas?' - the answer is a definite NO. Mainly because your engine is working effectively, and you'll have to re-rev once you go through the start/stop cycle. It's a total fuel waster.

I think if you're waiting more than 5 - 10 minutes, you're better off turning off the car, but less than that, probably not.

As always, useless information is so much fun.

I read the list again, and wow, it does feel true now...

Anonymous said...

I just got your blog from "Linda" and I'm pretty impressed. 27 months is a long time. Hell, 17 months is a long time. and what the hell is a supra? Sounds like an old Toyota.

Well, I'm going to bed now. I'll keep checking in.