AS TWO DRUNKEN ROMANTICS that love our travel, we both knew the moment we came to Georgia that our lives would never be the same again. Love at first sight would be the obvious trope. Since then, one of us has written a Master’s thesis about Georgia, while the other returns with such frequency that he is known in one village as “Blue Eyed Irish Klemens.” Naturally, we believe that the beautiful country of Georgia demands a lot more respect and attention on the world stage.
Both of us have lived in Georgia on four occasions and we have immersed ourselves in both the local and expat scenes. Throughout these experiences, we couldn’t help but notice the rather worrying habit that American expats in the country had of being overly critical on trivial, petty reasons; we’ve surmised that this could only be a result of their delusional understanding of what they’re getting themselves involved with. Thus, we suggest five small yet key things to consider for future American expats so that we don’t need to suffer overhearing the same story again in Canudos Bar.
1. Georgia doesn’t need saving.
Yes, Georgia was occupied by the Soviet Union and since then has had mixed fortunes economically but, hard as it may be to believe, it doesn’t need saving from a recently-graduated American. This is a country that has dealt with poverty, occupation, civil war, and the health of effects of Adjaruli khachapuri for centuries. As a country with a distinct identity, wedged between three of the largest empires in the history of the world, perhaps it ought to be you listening to Georgians about the resilience and strength in the face of adversity.
2. Georgian men are like all other men: good and bad.
Recently, a blogger noted that she couldn’t find any handsome Georgian men and that Georgian women are “appalled” by their male compatriots. It is a common occurrence to hear American expats, both female and male, lament “those sexist Giorgis and Zazas are nothing but ugly rapists”. This is despite the amazing rates of sexual harassment and pervasive rape culture that permeates throughout American culture, with skyrocketing obesity levels a permanent issue. It would be absurd to judge someone who speaks out against sexual harassment and/or assault, but making claims that “Georgian men are just naturally sexist” is both highly disrespectful and orientalist. Sexual harassment and rape culture is a transnational issue that is highly problematic and placing the blame on national characteristics just clouds the issue.
3. Look somewhere else for Your Soviet experience.
From a superficial glance, you’re going to find Lada cars throughout Georgia, Kommunalka apartments on the outskirts of its cities, and useless Soviet junk on the Dry Bridge of Tbilisi and think, “Wow, how Soviet!” Wrong! Unlike many lazily clichéd travel writers that love to begin their articles by noting the Soviet qualities of Georgia, Georgia isn’t lost in some post-Soviet abyss. This is a country full of young, dynamic, and interesting people looking to create music, art, cinema, and other mediums of art. Please, go listen to Gacha or არა and watch Levan Koguashvili or Nana Jorjadze as proof that this a country littered with exciting artists who aren’t lost in the past.
4. Coming to Work in Georgia? Expect the same treatment as everyone else.
Yes, you’ve no doubt worked very hard to finish that double major in Early History/Sociology and you want some adventure, so why not go teach English in the distant land of the Republic of Georgia? Sure, the changing economic situation and closer integration with the West demands that Georgians learn more English so if you hustle hard, work hard on your lesson planning, and do all those things teachers everywhere are expected to do then you may just make enough to live comfortably. It would be a decent accomplishment if you achieve any more than that financially though. Really, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you deserve much more than that. There are already plenty of people working in the same jobs market, along with numerous native Georgians teaching at a high standard. Being a native speaker really doesn’t hold much currency.
5. Looking for organic/gluten free/ fair trade/vegan avocados? Go somewhere else
Listen, we empathize with the desire to be healthy and take of oneself. As one of us is a vegetarian traveler, we can be pretty high maintenance while traveling in a lot of countries. However, come on! Don’t get into a mood about Georgian supermarkets not having your favorite strain of avocados. Sure it might be a great source of B2 (Riboflavin) or whatever is keeping you up at night but you might have to make some augmentations to your shopping list while there. Georgia is importing more foods with greater diversity but the fact remains that a large percentage of people continue to grow their own vegetables and maybe you should just chill. On the plus side, a lot of these are actually organic! Smiles!