So…I went to Prom on Tuesday night.  Actually, I didn’t know that I was going to Prom until I was there (besting my “spur-of-the-moment” decision to attend my Junior Prom in high school because I found a pretty dress for only $7 the weekend before).  Thankfully, it had been a hot day and I happened to be wearing a sundress.  This stroke of luck kept me from being TOO under-dressed.  My first inkling that perhaps the “banquet” (ბანკეტი bank’et’i) I was attending was a bit more of an event than an end-of-the-year awards ceremony was seeing my colleagues, who were all wearing cocktail dresses and had their hair in formal up-dos. Our school director was looking very elegant in a floor-length evening dress.   Clearly something was up.  While the teachers were waiting for the (now former) students to arrive, I chatted with one of the teachers who speaks English well.  She let the cat out of the bag that I was, in fact, attending a Georgian prom, and she and I had an interesting discussion of graduation and the surrounding events  (such as prom and banket’i) in Georgia and America.

In order for me to compare and contrast Georgian bank’et’i and American prom, come take a stroll down memory lane with me to my high-school days of the early 2000s.  I attended a stereotypically All-American high school in a small town in the Midwest.  (The first few episodes of Glee will give you an idea of what my high school was like, but then they strayed further into fiction).  Our town had just one high school, and most peoples’ parents had attended it together years ago (albeit in a different building).  Football was a big deal, although our team wasn’t particularly good—we were quite strong in Speech and Debate, Cross-Country, Swimming, and Volleyball, though.  The high school housed grades 9-12, and there were roughly 1200 students.  As I recall, at graduation my class had a bit less than 300 students.  Prom was held in the esteem that it is in teen movies.  The Junior and Senior classes had one big dance together—the Junior student council did the planning, and the seniors got to enjoy their hard work.  (It turns out that this isn’t the norm, though it seems like a perfectly sensible arrangement to me).  “Grand March,” the promenade portion of prom, was held in the school’s theater to often sold-out crowds, and was broadcast on local television.  The dance itself was held in the cafeteria, which the student council had decorated: as I recall, my Junior Prom was titled “Beneath the Milky Twilight” and Senior Prom was “Cruise-In to Paradise”.  At the dance itself, the DJ played mostly pop songs with a few older songs “from our childhood” and some “party dances” like Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Macarena thrown in.  The dancers were overwhelmingly girls, jumping up and down in a loose circle, while the guys lingered around the snacks and the punch bowl, and occasionally joined the dancing (generally when dragged by the girls).  Alcohol was, of course, strictly forbidden, and there were police officers with breathalyzers at the doors to enforce this law.  Teachers attended as chaperones, making sure that a certain level of propriety was maintained.  Although my description doesn’t sound like much fun I remember enjoying myself both years, though I was under no illusions that Prom would live up to the hype of “The Most Important Night of My Life”.

I am definitely older and probably wiser now, and attended my Georgian school’s bank’et’i as a teacher/observer, so some of the differences I note are clearly because I experienced the festivities from a different point of view, but others show a difference in the way Georgians and Americans celebrate major events and the way teenagers are treated.

Bank’et’i started off stereotypically Georgian—though it was allegedly supposed to begin at 8, nothing happened until 9:30.  The party kicked off with the students and their head teacher processing into the room to the dulcet (?) tones of “Party Rock Anthem”.  Although I knew that the graduating class wasn’t particularly large, I didn’t realize exactly how small a group they were until it only took 30 seconds for them all to make their dramatic entrance.  There were only 15-20 of them—mostly boys.  The hall was arranged with three tables: one next to each wall, with a wide open space for dancing at the front and in the center.  One table was for the graduates, one for their mothers (there were no fathers present), and one for the teachers.  The mothers had prepared a full-fledged supra for the evening.  And no supra is complete without wine.  I know that teenagers are allowed to drink in Georgia, but it still surprised me how non-chalant everyone was about students and teachers drinking together at an official school event.  When the students hit the dance floor, it was the boys who were most eager to cut a rug—and since they outnumbered the girls, they came to the teachers’ table looking for dance partners.  The teachers gladly joined in, particularly on old pop favorites and traditional Georgian dances (they were less enthusiastic about some contemporary pop music—their faces revealed that “Sexy and I Know It” is unlikely to become a smash hit with the older generation of Georgians).  Kids, parents, and teachers danced, drank, and celebrated together.  I was surprised at the level of social interaction between teachers and students and the lack of social distance between them–used as I am to the  division between work and fun, and the taboo against adults and children dancing or drinking together, I was initially uncomfortable being asked to dance by teenaged students from my school.  Clearly, though, this is perfectly acceptable in Georgia, and it does make a nice endpoint to their school experience–spending time with the people they have relied on for the last twelve years: their classmates, their parents, and their teachers.  Though I felt strange and awkward attending my Georgian school’s bank’et’i, I also felt strange and awkward at my own Prom (I was, after all, a teenager at the time),  In the end, my Georgian school’s “Prom” was a fun, fond farewell to the graduates…and the addition of khachapuri didn’t hurt, either!

(Sorry for the lack of awkward prom photos.  I hope I hadn’t gotten your hopes up too much.  I forgot my camera on Tuesday night, and the pictures of me from my prom have disappeared…and it doesn’t seem quite fair to post photos of my prom and potentially embarrass my friends if I’m not there, too).