Archives for category: Ex-Pat Life

I had managed to avoid the Tbilisi real estate market for a good long time by starting off living with host families, and then moving in with S, who had already found an apartment. When S moved back to America, though, I decided to reduce the length of my commute and had my first foray into House Hunters: Tbilisi. And then my landlord turned out to be a stupidhead, so I had to find another apartment and move again. And then she also turned out to be terrible, so I moved again. I sincerely hope I’m done. (This is a partial explanation for my recent stretches of minimal posts; I’ve been busy packing and unpacking). But now that I have some practice in this field, I feel qualified to give a little advice on the topic. Firstly, though, I recommend trying to circumvent a traditional apartment search if it’s at all possible–ask friends if they know anyone with an empty apartment. A referral will generally result in a better, more respectful living situation.

Step 1: Make a good Georgian friend.
Unless your Georgian is nearly perfect you’ll need help. Many landlords are initially apprehensive about renting to a foreigner*, though most come around quickly once you meet in person. Some will also try to take advantage of a “rich” foreigner and increase their asking price. Having a Georgian make initial phone contact will smooth over many of those problems, and they are generally better aware of which questions to ask and what might be a red flag. (Shout-out to my amazing boss, who was fantastic in this role)

*This being said, there are a minority of landlords who have had positive experiences with foreigners in the past, and generally prefer to rent to us since, as a rule, we pay our rent on time.

Step 2: Brush up on your apartment vocabulary.
Angela has written a fantastic House Hunting post, complete with a vocabulary list, so I’m not going to duplicate her efforts (her post is rather centered on the central neighborhoods, though, and I live out in the suburbs, so some things are a little different). One note, though, she translates “ბუნებრივი აირი” as fireplace, and while it might mean that, too, in my experience it’s usually used to mean “natural gas” (its direct translation). In an apartment listing, this usually means that the apartment has a gas-powered hot water heater. Things like heat, hot water, refrigerator and washing machine access aren’t givens, so make sure you consider which “basics” are important to you, and check on them in any apartments you visit. You can look for either a furnished or unfurnished apartment–both are widely available.

Step 3: Hustle.
Use your new vocabulary when scouring the classifieds for apartment listings. In my experience, had the most extensive listings, but that site is exclusively in Georgian. Some friends have found good places using and I’ve also heard recommendations for (which has an English version, but is rumored to be pricier), but I didn’t find any listings on those sites that met my criteria. There’s also an English-language Facebook group for apartment hunting (Flatshare in Tbilisi), that may be fruitful, particularly for short-term stays, or apartments in the city center. Once you find a potential place listed, it’s important to call (or get your Georgian to call) ASAP. Good places go lightning fast. Schedule a time to see the place as soon as you can. If you have any questions about the listing, you can ask them now. When looking at the place, take into account all sorts of things–condition of the apartment, what furniture is provided if it’s “furnished”, the situation with bills and internet, etc.

Step 4: Make an Agreement
If you’ve found a place you like, you also have to make sure that the owner likes you, and that they are willing to rent to you. Then, you can try to bargain on some specifics–you might be able to get a discount if you pay multiple months up-front, maybe you can negotiate which currency you’ll pay in, or you can ask for more furniture or appliances to be provided, or you might be able to buy them for a discount in the rent. In theory, everything’s negotiable, though that doesn’t mean your landlord will want to negotiate. This is all personal preference. Then you need to decide if you need/want a lease, or another type of legal agreement. Many landlords will be unwilling to give you one (if there’s a legal document, they’ll have to pay income tax on the rent). To be honest, it isn’t the norm to have a lease, and they’re fairly unenforceable, so this is a matter of personal preference and risk tolerance. Keep in mind, though, that depending on your situation, a formal lease may be required for immigration or employment purposes. My longest-term apartment, with a lovely landlady, had no written agreement. The place where I had a written agreement, I was tossed out after a month and a half. If you choose to have a formal agreement, it can be done quickly and relatively cheaply at a notary’s office.

Step 5: Move in.

Turkish Airlines Aircraft
 By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an unfortunate fact of geography that Georgia and America are quite far away from one another.  This necessitates the frequent use of airplanes in order to see my family and then get back to work.   Due to some negative experiences and very good reasons, I’m not the biggest fan of planes in the first place, but I view them as a necessary evil that I have to deal with in order to make things work.  As such, I’ve figured out a few strategies to make my life a little less miserable.  Between Tbilisi and home, I usually need three separate flights and roughly 36 hours–this trip is not for the faint of heart.  Before I get into specifics, allow me to share with you some of my advice (which has been hard-won) on flying in general:

  1. Bring snacks.  Seriously, did you not notice the bit where I said this takes about 36 hours?  I know they technically provide food on the plane, but who knows if it’ll be something you like.  Also, they serve the food at weird times and you’re likely to have some very long layovers, where food is not provided.  My favorite thing to bring when I’m departing Georgia is churchkhela, while my favorite leaving the US is hummus.  I recommend something with a little bit of nutritional value, and maybe even some protein.
  2. Moisturize!  Bring lotions, chap stick, conditioner, all that sort of stuff.  It’s dry on a plane, and I always feel less zombified when I land when I haven’t accidentally dessicated myself on the way there.
  3. Hydrate.  Drink water–see above.
  4. Bring clean clothes–it can really perk you up to clean off and change clothes during a layover.

Here are some other suggestions for long flights and layovers: How to Survive a Ten-Hour Flight Like a LadySleeping in Airports, Best Airports for a Long Layover

Now, for the Georgia-specifics.  If you’re planning on making the trip between Georgia and the US on one ticket, you have three major options–Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, or LOT Polish Airlines.  All three of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance (though getting mileage credit from LOT hasn’t been easy), and all three of their flights to and from Georgia arrive and depart at ungodly hours, though Turkish occasionally has an afternoon option.  (If you want to buy separate tickets to Europe and then to Georgia, you may also have the option to fly to Batumi or Kutaisi, and can fly regional carriers like Wizz, Pegasus, or AeroSvit.  This can save money, but it can add hassle depending on your final destination.)  Many Asian and Middle Eastern airlines also fly to Tbilisi, but they’re often impractical for flights from the West,(I’ve never flown them) and I’m trying to keep this post at a somewhat reasonable length.

Turkish Airlines–layover in Istanbul Ataturk Airport

In my opinion, Turkish is the way to go.  It’s more comfortable, the flight attendants and other staff are pleasant, and their  free baggage allowance is the most generous.  They offer the best selection of in-flight food and entertainment.  Ataturk Airport has lots of duty-free browsing opportunities and a decent food court.  The Greenport Cafe in the terminal has wireless.  If your layover is long enough, it’s easy to access the major tourist sites by public transportation.   If your long layover falls in lucky hours, Turkish Airlines offers free city tours.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to take advantage of this service.  NB: There’s a very good chance you need a visa to enter Turkey, and word on the street is that the procedure is changing, so make sure you look that up before you fly!

Lufthansa–layover in Munich Airport

Service on Lufthansa is normal–nothing special, but nothing missing.  They have more flights that are code-shared with American companies, so if that’s a consideration in your ticketing, you’re likely to wind up flying them.  Munich airport isn’t too bad–it’s fairly spacious, and you can pay for a shower or nap pod. Last I was there, there was supposedly free WiFi, but I couldn’t figure it out.  For a really comfortable layover, go through immigration and into the Kempinski hotel next door.  You can buy an hourly pass to the spa (last I was there 15 Euro/hour–same as for a nap pod or in-terminal shower).  They have comfy chaise longues to catch some sleep, showers with fancy products, and free fruit, tea. and water  In the airport but outside the terminal there’s a little grocery store, which is more budget-friendly than any of the restaurants or kiosks inside the terminal, though still not cheap.  Apparently it’s relatively easy to get into the city center, as well, though I haven’t tried.

LOT Polish Airlines–layover in Warsaw

Tickets on Polish are usually cheapest, so I’ve flown them with the highest frequency.  Unfortunately, they’re my least favorite.  The service has a strong surly streak, and despite the fact that they fly Dreamliners, the in-flight entertainment is pathetic.  The ladies in their Tbilisi office are fantastic though, and hold my personal award for Best Customer Service in Georgia.  I should also point out that they are actively trying to become “the best airline in Europe”, and every flight I’ve taken with them has been less unpleasant than it’s predecessor.  So, that’s something.  Though Warsaw Airport effectively killed any desire I once had to visit Poland, it does have some amenities.  The terminal is pretty small, so shopping and eating options are limited.  The “relaxation room” is relatively comfortable, and hasn’t been too crowded while I’ve been there.  There is also a free shower, but you have to supply all your own stuff.  Free WiFi is available for 30 minutes (tied to your boarding pass), so choose carefully.  There are public buses to the city center, though I haven’t used them.

Bon Voyage!

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a holiday that is a big deal in Georgia although it’s little-known in the US.  Personally, I had never heard of it until I attended a women’s college.  It was kind of a big deal there, but in an entirely different way.  In grad school, we generally celebrated, but in a very Russianist way.  It was an East European Studies program, after all.  Usually the guys in seminar would provide some sort of baked goods or flowers–very nice (and generally made me feel rather guilty about having forgotten Defender Of the Fatherland Day entirely).  Turns out that was just a light warm-up for March 8 in Georgia.  Georgian Mother’s Day is March 3, so the beginning of March can start to go to one’s head (even non-mothers are congratulated on Mother’s Day, because, hey–we’ve got potential!).  Women’s Day is basically a big Leslie Knopean Galentine’s Day, except you go out for dinner rather than breakfast.  The two occasions when I have celebrated traditionally have involved going out to party with all the female colleagues.  When I lived in Kakheti, we had a supra at a co-worker’s house, and this year our department went to a restaurant to eat, drink, and dance together.  One of my colleagues made a point of insisting that we ignore men entirely, which is a bit hard when they are strutting about doing comedy versions of Georgian dances.  Last year some friends and I took Women’s Day a different direction and went to a feminist meeting, where they had some truly excellent cake.  Regardless of the celebration style Facebook was buzzing with images like those above and links to cool stories about women, and everyone was messaging, texting, or calling their favorite women to send them good thoughts.  I’m not a fan of all the attention, but I certainly appreciate the cash bonus and the opportunity to spend time with my colleagues in a different setting.


I often have amusing anecdotes from my life here in Tbilisi, but I usually don’t share them on my blog because they could be misconstrued as making fun of people, which is definitely not my intention.  A big part of why I love it here is because the people are fantastic–and their amusing antics are a large part of it (I also think many of the humorous moments are purposeful).

But today I have an amusing and bizarre story that I just have to share.  I was running all over the city today–breakfast with the girls, errands, and private lessons all in disparate parts of the city.  Due to one of my errands, I was in a part of the city that I don’t frequent, and from there I had to go to the suburbs for a private lesson with my friend’s kids.  I go there once or twice a week, so I know my way to their house from many corners of the city, but since I was travelling from a new place, I had to search for the correct marshrutka to take me there.  I got on the appropriate marshrutka with little fuss, and it was empty enough that I was able to get a seat, look out the window, and quietly mind my own business.  It wasn’t long before this marshrutka began to trace a familiar route, and I was in a familiar part of town on my way to my friend’s house.  Everything was going according to plan.

And then the marshrutka stopped.  This isn’t particularly odd in and of itself–I assumed someone had flagged the driver down, or he was stuck in the snow, or pulled over by a cop, or something….  The driver got out of the vehicle and walked around it slowly, so I assumed he suspected something was wrong with the car–maybe a flat tire?  I was a bit worried about being late, but basically considered the situation normal.  Then the driver started lobbing snowballs at his windshield, so I looked around at the other passengers to see what they thought, only to discover that I was alone.  I decided to wait it out for a bit.  I’ve seen plenty of odd ways of cleaning the windshield in Georgia, so I wasn’t too suspicious.  As I suspected, a few snowballs later the driver returned, and we set off down the expected route–and continued going right through the light where we should have turned to my friend’s house.  So I sat up a little bit straighter and began looking around confusedly (probably appearing a little like a curious meerkat).  At this point the driver noticed me and asked which micro-region (section of the suburb) I was going to, to which I replied (very eloquently):

“Ummm…I dunno.  It’s over there”
::waving vaguely towards the right::

“The third?  The fourth?”

“No, I don’t think so…over there…Jussec”

So  I called my friend and asked her which micro-region she lived in, and she confirmed that it was neither the third nor the fourth.  I know exactly where she lives, but I have no idea what the address is.  Addresses aren’t such a big thing in Georgia.  I don’t even know the name of the major street near her house.   After a minute of confusion, since she knows I know where she lives, she realized why I might be calling, and told me to just give my phone to the marshrutka driver.  After a brief exchange between the two, the driver returned my phone and turned around with the apology “Sorry, I thought it was just me.  We’ll go straight there”.  So, I got a direct ride to my friend’s house.   She very charmingly greeted me by saying “What was going on?  Why are you confusing people?”

Yup, that’s what I often do as a foreigner in Tbilisi–confuse people.

It was a few weeks ago now that Polly posted her challenge to other ex-pat bloggers to write their open advice letters to future ex-pats in their city.  I’m a little (OK, a lot) slow on the update here, but I like the idea a lot, and was discussing it with a friend last weekend.

Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi at Tbilisoba 2013

Have no expectations; make no assumptions.  Just because the store says “Open”, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to go in and do your shopping.  Just because chicken is on the menu, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to have chicken for dinner.  Just because it’s a national holiday, it doesn’t mean you’ll have the day off work (or anyone will know whether or not you have the day off work in advance).  Just because there’s a box that says “Post”, it doesn’t mean there’s a functioning postal system.  Check your expectations at the door, and learn to go with the flow.  I’m told it builds character.  A little spontaneity can be great fun, and Georgia is designed for spontaneity.  It’s part of adapting to the culture.

Learn a little Georgian.  All it takes is a “Gamarjobat. Rogora khart?” to have Georgians impressed with your linguistic skills.  Anything beyond that, and you’ll be told you speak fluently.  No one really expects foreigners to speak Georgian, but they’re very proud of their language, and love it when you make an effort.  It will also make your life infinitely easier if you at least learn the alphabet and can sound out signs.  Besides, Georgian really is fascinating, and is worth it as an intellectual exercise alone.

Everyone knows everyone. This country is a gigantic village, and gossip is the national sport. (Yes, ex-pats, too!)  Georgia’s population is in the 4 million range (counting can be tricky what with Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and family and friendship ties are strong, so the country is very closely tied together.  This means news travels fast–faux pas and failed relationships are fodder for conversation, particularly when it relates to foreigners.  And amongst ourselves, we foreigners are really no exception, and our community is also small.  (I heard a story about Foreigner A who was telling Foreigner B about a friend’s neighbor’s new fling…who turned out to be Foreigner B!) There are no secrets.  The interconnectedness also means that it’s hard to avoid a certain person if things have gone south.  On the bright side, you’ll always know what’s going on, people will always be looking out for you and chances will be good you’ll run into a friend at pretty much any social occasion (or walking down the street).

Tbilisi TV Tower at Dusk (June 2010)

Tbilisi TV Tower at Dusk (June 2010)

Everything happens on Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t work the way it does back home.  While you’re working on adapting to a foreign culture, you don’t necessarily think about the differences in online culture–I sure didn’t.  But Georgian Facebook culture is very different than American Facebook culture (or at least my cohort’s Facebook culture).  In Georgia, it’s totally normal to become Facebook friends with someone after one meeting, and being Facebook friends with co-workers or teachers is absolutely the norm (it’s also normal to be real-life friends with these people).  It’s generally OK to be on Facebook in the office, as long as you do some work, too.  In fact, being on Facebook could well be part of your job–most businesses don’t have their own websites, but rather spread information through their Facebook pages.  As a matter of fact, when I was writing my post about the elections I noticed that none of the candidates seemed to have official websites–everything was hosted on Facebook.  Georgia’s general enthusiasm for life also carries over into Facebook enthusiasm–as I understand it, if you see something you vaguely like on Facebook, you should click the “Like” button (unlike what I’m used to, where that is saved for a higher level of interest and approval).  So, don’t be surprised if a Georgian colleague adds you on Facebook, and then likes all your photos–that means you’ve made it!

Vake is not Tbilisi, and Tbilisi is not Georgia. Foreigners tend to congregate in a few neighborhoods of Tbilisi, and Vake, the upscale district, is one of the favorites.  I’ve long been a Vake-hater, but I have to admit it’s now starting to grow on me.  (So many places with good coffee!)  But Vake is far from representative–it’s wealthier, more Westernized, and is the hub of consumer goods (coffee!),  Most Georgians aren’t like the Vakelebi.  Though the difference is stark between Vake and other neighborhoods of Tbilisi, there’s also a world of difference between almost anywhere in Tbilisi and most of the rest of the country.  Personally, I prefer other neighborhoods of Tbilisi, and the rest of the country is full of charm.  Get out of Vake and explore!

Once you’re in, you’re in–try not to abuse the lovely Georgians’ kindness.  Georgians are wonderful and hospitable, and once you’re one of “their people”, most of them will drop everything to help you.  Don’t let the power go to your head and abuse their kindness. You’ll never be able to reciprocate in kind (just TRY beating a Georgian man to paying in a restaurant.  All of a sudden they become incredibly sneaky and develop lightning-fast reflexes).  I really recommend, though, that you try to repay them by being as good and helpful a friend as you can.  Help them practice their English if they’re interested, bake them cookies (no, wait, don’t–that’s my move!), share your foreign goods, or help them out in other ways.  You’ll feel less guilty, and have better friendships for it.

Metekhi Church and Presidential Palace in foreground, Greater Caucasus in background (May 2013)

Metekhi Church and Presidential Palace in foreground, Greater Caucasus in background (May 2013)

It takes a certain kind of person to be an ex-pat in Tbilisi, and generally people either hate Georgia and leave ASAP or have to tear themselves away (or don’t manage to tear themselves away and subsequently stay forever).  Georgia is a pretty great place to live–as you can see, most of my advice is for dealing with Georgian’s kindness and enthusiasm.  Not bad problems to have, really.

Well, this is CookiesandtheCaucasus.  Last week I finally baked up a batch of cookies to encourage my students to stop by and practice speaking.  That didn’t really work, but the cookies were a big hit, and some of my co-workers asked for the recipe.  So, I updated my old standby to make it easier for my Georgian colleagues to follow (ie…metric) and added some notes on ingredients.  I hope this is helpful for others trying to bake American things in Georgia.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (Em’s adaptation)


  • 170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 6 grams salt
  • 5 grams baking soda[1]
  • 227 grams unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 200 grams packed brown sugar[2]
  • 115 grams white sugar
  • 15 ml vanilla extract[3]
  • 2 eggs
  • 180 grams oatmeal
  • 365 grams semisweet chocolate chips (2 regular size dark chocolate bars of your choice, roughly chopped)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (If you have one of the glorified Easy-Bake Ovens so popular in Georgia, I highly recommend an oven thermometer). Rub a bit of butter on the baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla in large bowl until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy.

Gradually beat in flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir in oats and then chocolate chips. Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks (or a colander turned upside down)  to cool completely.



[1] Georgian baking soda is chemically the same as American baking soda, but it seems to work differently. I’ve been told you need to activate it with vinegar..

[2] American brown sugar isn’t readily available in Georgia (I’ve heard rumors they have it at Ozzy’s in Dighomi and some baking place in Vake).  You can substitute in regular white sugar, or German brown sugar (at most of the big supermarkets), though it won’t taste exactly the same.  German brown sugar is better than white sugar.

[3] American vanilla extract is liquid, not powder.  It’s no problem to use the powdered vanilla, but you’ll need to compensate with slightly less flour or more butter.

One of the challenges of moving to a new place is always finding new services: a doctor you like, a cheap dry cleaner, a place to get your haircut where you won’t leave looking like this, etc.  Living abroad you can sometimes avoid the first two: many people I know here keep their primary GPs back home, and dry cleaners can be avoided by judiciously choosing what to pack.  It’s a bit harder to avoid needing a haircut, though, particularly if you have a job that requires looking somewhat nice.  Getting a haircut with a new person, much less in a foreign language is always stressful–hair does grow back, but not necessarily immediately.  I was rather apprehensive about getting my hair cut here for the first time, so I reached out to some fellow foreigners for help.  I’ve been pleased with the results (and low prices!) so far, but I should note that my hair is more or less the same texture as most Georgians’, and the cut I’m going for is a popular one among Georgian women.  This may be far more difficult for people with more diverse hair-styling needs.  Here are some tips in case you find yourself in need of a trim in Tbilisi.

1) Haircuts in Georgia have names.  If you can figure out the name of the haircut you want, you’re golden.  Georgian friends may be able to help with this.  For example, long layers is called an “Italianka”.  This resulted in an amusing conversation in which I kept insisting that, no I’m American…please cut my hair in long layers!

2)Pictures are your friend–beauty magazines tell me this is good practice in America, as well.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and I certainly don’t know a thousand haircut-related words in Georgian.

3) I do know a few haircut-related words, though.  Here’s a mini-glossary to help you get things headed in the right direction:

  • თმა (tma) = hair
  • ვარცხნილობა (vartskhniloba) = hairstyle
  • ხაზები (khazebi)= layers (literally, lines)
  • ფერი (peri)= color
  • ბოლო (bolo)= end
  • ცოტა (tsota)= a little bit
  • გრძელი (grdzeli)= long
  • მოკლე (mokle)=short
  • შეჭრა (shedjra)=cut.  You may hear this root used in either verb or noun forms
  • დაბანა (dabana)= wash (likewise)
  • გამშრალება (gamshraleba)* = (blow) dry (likewise)

If you need a particular recommendation, my friends and I have had good experiences with the “Image Academy” (training center) of the Natali salons, who are the hairstylists for some Imedi TV shows.  Because your hair is cut by students, it takes a long time but the teacher ensures the quality, and it’s only 4 lari for a cut.  Usually one of the students speaks a little bit of English, too.  They’re located near the Philharmonic on Melikishvili Street.

I am not a spontaneous person by nature.  I like to plan.  I usually am armed with a Plan A and a Plan B.  Georgia has made me a bit more flexible–as a mental survival mechanism, I usually have Plans A, B, C, and D in my head, and I try not to get my heart set on Plan A too, too much.  Georgia, on the other hand, is a country that embraces spontaneity.  Ask any foreigner living here about the frustrations of planning an event, or even meeting up with a friend.  It can drive you crazy.  As my mother and my roommate often remind me, learning to let go of my plans builds character and flexibility.  And though it’s hard for me, I am learning (and I’m going to have SO MUCH character soon).  Last weekend, I had a major breakthrough in my spontaneity, and my totally spontaneous weekend was awesome.

I had been invited to visit a friend’s village that weekend for a village festival, but I honestly wasn’t very interested in going to what I thought would be a very large supra where I would be force-fed a lot of khachapuri and treated as a novelty, so when I woke up to horrible allergies in the city, I decided that a trip to the village (with all the possible allergens there) was just not my cup of tea that day.  Besides, I’m taking an online class, and I had homework.  Right after my friends departed to the village, I received an exciting instant message–Cat was being spontaneous, and would be passing through town that evening: was I around?
I was very glad I’d decided to stay home, and spent the day getting work done so I’d have some flexibility once Cat arrived.

Cat came to town, and we got some dinner and ice cream, and we went to the welcome party for a friend’s new flatmate, while trying to figure out what to do the next day.  Cat had planned to go skiing, but wasn’t sure which resort to go to.  In the meantime, roomie S, who was already in the village, sent me a text message about the festival–our friend’s brother was designing his mask for the festivities, and there were horses–this festival seemed a bit more exciting than a regular supra; did Cat and I want to come and join?  It looked like there would be rain in Gudauri, so we decided: why not?

Sunday morning we made our way to the marshrutka station, from whence we made our way to the village, not far from my old home in Kakheti (incidentally, my friend’s mom attended the school I used to teach at in a town nearby–small country!).  Our friends were standing alongside the road to flag us down, and not long after we alighted from the marshrutka we saw the spectacle of the village festival:  the young men of the village were wearing masks and had adorned their clothes in strips of brightly colored rags.  They were menacing passers-by with whips and extorting money out of passing cars.  We asked our friend to explain this odd phenomenon.  The explanation seemed a bit incomplete, but here it is:  The festival is called Kvelieri (ყველიერი) which comes from the Georgian word for cheese. But there is no cheese involved in the festival.  It might be related to cows.  The guys in masks are called berikos (ბერიკო), which I have since learned means “little friar”.  The festival happens in the village of Patara Chailuri every year in February or March.

So, there we were, being chased by guys with whips and possibly celebrating cheese.  We weren’t really sure, but it was fun!  After not too long, we were ushered to our friend’s house to meet his family and have some lunch.  His mother is a very good cook, and the menu included a special type of kada (ქადა, Georgian sweet bread) made just for this festival which interestingly incorporated both onions and vanilla (and was really good.)

After our mini-supra, we went to the village square where the main celebrations were taking place.  There was a song-and-dance show put on by the local kids, a wrestling competition, and a very cool (and probably not very safe) gigantic swing fashioned from a tree trunk.  (The swing is recommended pre-supra)

After sampling the festivities, we returned to the house for more food and some rest.  Before we began our journey back to Tbilisi, we learned from an inside source that the berikos had made themselves nearly 500 lari over the course of the day!  Kvelieri was unlike anything else I’ve seen in Georgia–this place still has some surprises up its sleeve!

(Apologies for the lack of pictures: I hope to remedy my camera situation in the near future. If you’re a real-life friend, you should be able to see some tagged by the others on Facebook)

hey gogo

One of my favorite marshrutka entertainments is the Public Radio International podcast The World in Words.  I particularly like it while I’m on my way to teach, because it puts me in a language-y (or “linguistic”, if you’re against word coinage) frame of mind.   The October 1 edition about the Hobson-Jobson dictionary, a compendium of linguistic borrowings in the British holdings in India, made me think about word borrowings–not across languages as a whole, but among specific groups, such as ex-pats.  Around the same time, I stumbled across an old article from Mental Floss on words English doesn’t have but should (ZEG) which made me think of the strange linguistic borrowings and conglomerations that my friends and I (both foreigners in Georgia and English-speaking Georgians) start to invent and use.  Living in another place changes the way you speak, even in your mother tongue, so I’ve compiled a short list of Georgia Ex-pat-isms.  Please feel free to contribute anything that I’ve forgotten (or am perhaps not cool enough to be a party to) in the comments. Some of these poke fun at life in Georgia, and the difficulty of explaining our lives to those back home, while others fill a gap in the English language due to different cultural circumstances.

to get dajeki-ed: to be told by a very well-meaning Georgian to sit down, or “დაჯექი”.  This is not impolite in Georgian, but many foreigners find it quite annoying.
khachapuri hips: weight gain caused by eating too much Georgian food, in particular khachapuri
marsh: a shortened form of marsh(r)utka that I’ve only heard used by foreigners
to marsh(r)utka it: a casual verb form–to travel by marshrutka
modi man: the man in a florescent yellow vest assisting cars in parking and leaving their parking spots by telling the driver “Modi! Modi! Modi!” (მოდი! მოდი! მოდი!) (Come! Come! Come!)
Tbilisi tummy: the Georgian version of Montezuma’s revenge or Delhi belly. Happens to the best of us…

It’s not a new fusion vocabulary word, but I’ve noticed some foreigners using the vocative cases of bidjo ბიჭო (boy/guy/dude) and gogo გოგო (girl) to refer to their friends, or adding ra რა (what) to the end of things.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to stop myself from calling a friend from home “gogo” because she’ll have no idea what I mean.

Some place names change across languages.  An example that immediately comes to mind is the area of Vake known to foreigners as “UN Circle”  which is called “Round Garden” მრგვალი ბაღი mrgvali baghi in Georgian.

Another common cross-language word exchange is referring to the Georgian language as kartuli ქართული while speaking English (this is the Georgian name).  This actually really annoys me.  I briefly did this while speaking in Russian (rather than using the unpopular Russian form грузинский gruzinskij), and was called out for it.  As it was explained to me “We don’t like that that’s the Russian word, but it IS the Russian word, so go ahead and use it, otherwise you sound silly.”  I feel the same way about people who say kartuli in English, especially since “Georgian” doesn’t have the negative connotations that “gruzinskij” does.  My annoyance at this particular usage is compounded by the fact that it is primarily used by people who don’t actually speak “kartuli” very well, so it strikes me (and not just me) as pretentious.

Although I haven’t heard any ex-pats actually use it in conversation, I think I’m going to take Mental Floss’ advice and try to make zeg (ზეგ=the day after tomorrow) happen. This is the only Georgian word that I give my students blanket permission to use in class. (And Regina replies “Shut up, Em.  Stop trying to make zeg happen. It’s not going to happen)

Dear Daylight Savings,

I miss you!  I know I never really paid you any attention while you were a part of my life, and now I regret that. I apologize for my neglect. Of course I noticed the whole “Spring Forward” “Fall Back” thing.  Like most people, I rejoiced when I got an extra hour of sleep one fall Sunday, and struggled a few days when all of a sudden I had to get myself to work or school an hour earlier (I always found this particularly cruel when Spring Forward coincided with the end of Spring Break. Ouch).  I’m sorry that I only paid you any mind those two times a year.  Now that you’re gone, I really miss you.  My students tell me that getting rid of you in Georgia was one of the reforms of the Rose Revolution, and I just can’t understand how it’s a step towards modernization or Westernization to make me wake up in the dark.  By American standards, my alarm going off at 7:35 AM is getting to sleep in quite late. But nonetheless, I’ve been waking up and dragging myself to start my commute while it still isn’t fully bright out, which makes me not fully awake (and the worst of it is over…dawn is later than it used to be).

Case in point:

Length of day Solar noon
Date Sunrise Sunset This day Difference Time Altitude Distance
(million mi)
Jan 27, 2013 8:18 AM 6:10 PM 9h 52m 07s + 2m 06s 1:14 PM 29.9° 91.541
Jan 28, 2013 8:17 AM 6:11 PM 9h 54m 16s + 2m 08s 1:14 PM 30.2° 91.553
Jan 29, 2013 8:16 AM 6:12 PM 9h 56m 26s + 2m 10s 1:14 PM 30.5° 91.565
Jan 30, 2013 8:15 AM 6:14 PM 9h 58m 38s + 2m 12s 1:14 PM 30.7° 91.577
Jan 31, 2013 8:14 AM 6:15 PM 10h 00m 53s + 2m 14s 1:14 PM 31.0° 91.590
Feb 1, 2013 8:13 AM 6:16 PM 10h 03m 09s + 2m 16s 1:14 PM 31.3° 91.604
Feb 2, 2013 8:12 AM 6:17 PM 10h 05m 27s + 2m 18s 1:15 PM 31.6° 91.618

Chart from

The bright side is that there have been some lovely golden and hot pink sunrises spotlighting Mtatsminda.  But still…I’d feel much more awake if I were able to rise after the sun.  I am not a vampire.

P.S. I know (thanks to Wikipedia) that Daylight Savings Time is technically what we do in the summer so that it doesn’t get light so early in summer and stays light longer.  However Georgia seems to have gotten mixed up somewhere along the switching, because there have been some mornings when it feels like the sun is just never going to rise.)

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