Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oh my бог!

I don't think I've ever felt more American than I did this past week. It's not because it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And it wasn't because I stick out like a sore thumb around these parts as being significantly not Georgian. Nope, it's all because I had the most American evening in my entire life.

It started in pretty typical Georgian flair- the sisters decided we were going to the movies so off we went, without checking the movie times or what was playing. (because why would you plan ahead when you could just GO?) We arrived at the movie theater and had to wait around for over an hour to watch what we thought was a Russian-dubbed version of that really bad shark movie. You know, that one that recently came out. It's about the group of college kids on vacation who find trouble and have to run around while hardly wearing any clothes. Basically, it's I Know What You Did Last Summer, except with sharks instead of a psycho killer. I figured I would just roll with it because that type of movie isn't really dialogue-heavy anyway (a scream in English is a scream in Russian is a scream in Georgian, etc., etc.) It turned out that the movie was actually The Hangover II. Don't know how that mix-up happened, but I was still in the 'I'll roll with it, sure thing' mood. It was still in Russian, though. And even though it was dubbed in Russian and I was the only one who laughed when Mike Tyson made an appearance (because I was the only one who knew who Mike Tyson is), I felt oddly American. I think what really did it for me was the coke. You see, I don't drink coke. I'm not a huge fan of soda in general and coke leaves an overly sweet and vaguely metallic taste in my mouth. But you know, I was just so thirsty and my host sister had bought the thing for me that I just went with it. And sitting there with my popcorn and coke, I just felt American.

And the American tour of Tbilisi didn't stop there. After the movie the sisters took me to McDonald's. For some reason instead of walking to the McDonald's, their dad picked us up in his large SUV and drove us the two block's to McDonald's- if that isn't American, I don't know what is. And looking around at the McDonald's clientele, I couldn't help but notice the overwhelming amount amount of American logos on t-shirts and jeans and handbags. And if a t-shirt didn't have a logo on it, it would have something in English.

It seemed so strange, almost too American. It funny, you don't realize just how America is portrayed through TV and movies until you see people trying to imitate that. When most Americans look at shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen and The Kardashians we realize that it is more fantasy than reality TV. The percentage of people who live like that is very small. But that rationale really gets lost in translation when these images are broadcast all over the world. When a young Georgian sees these images what else are they to think other than, "Wow, that's how Americans live." And unless people actually go to America and see for themselves that we are not how our television represents us, it is pretty hard to crack the veneer of their image of America.

P.S.-The title of this post is one of the Great Moments in Dubbing History. In the Hangover there's one point where one of the characters does a very slow and shocked, "Oh. My. God." For some reason the Russian dubbers decided to say, "Oh. My." in English, but then just said the Russian word for God [pronounced bog]. I was the only one in the theater who seemed to find that incongruity hilarious...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

If You Ever See an On-Coming Georgian Wedding- DUCK. AND. COVER.

So I wasn't in Georgia more than half an hour and I got invited to a Georgian wedding! I had been expecting to go to a Georgian wedding last June. It was my fluent English-speaking host cousin's wedding. I had helped her with a bunch of her English classes at the university and we got along really well, but I didn't get an invite to her wedding... But hey, that's cool. I'm not bitter... much. (No seriously, I'm not bitter. I think it may have been a culture confusion mix-up. I never received a formal invite, but that's because Georgia doesn't have a formal mail system. So everything is done by phone. And I'm still not sure if it's common custom that I am part of the family, therefore I am obviously invited. Or I was snubbed. I'm not bitter, just confused.)

The wedding was for my host father's nephew. I was told it was on the 8th, but no one really gave me an exact time. First it was at 12, then it was at 3, then it was at 2. Then it was 1 o'clock and I was told we were going. Thankfully I had the foresight to get dressed early because I know how these Georgians are kind of liberal with their times. And as it turned out, all of the times I was given were correct. And how can this be? you ask. Well, apparently a Georgian wedding is a multifaceted event (or at least, this wedding was multi-faceted). So here's the run down...

First, the family of the groom all met at his house for some light toasting. There were a couple of champagne glasses that made the rounds for all the people in the groom's family. When it was a person's turn to toast they were given one of the glasses, made their toast, and the toaster, groom and groomsmen all drank. So basically it all sounded like an elaborate rouse to get the groom drunk (but that's just my take on the matter). And the groom and a couple of his groomsmen were wearing traditional Georgian dress. It basically looks like a Cossack, but without the hat. (Here's just a picture of the traditional outfit I found on google), but the bride was wearing a very modern white dress.

From there everyone piled into their cars and we drove to the bride's house where her family has been doing the same thing. Now this is the thing you should take away from this blog: If you ever see an on-coming Georgian wedding- DUCK! AND! COVER! (It's in the title. I can't emphasize this point enough, people!) When they all pile into their cars it's basically a giant race to catch up to the limo, and the limo drives like it's a race to get to the wedding first. Everyone is bobbing and weaving through traffic, cars are slipping between each other, driving on the wrong side of the road. It's madness. And I was in the car with the guy videotaping the whole shebang. So not only were we bobbing and weaving, we were also skidding 180s around corners so he could get footage of the whole car procession. At one point we drove right up alongside the limo nearly taking off the side mirrors of both cars!

So after we picked up the bride we went to the church. And this was one of the odd parts. We spent a good half hour milling around the church, which is very easy to do because Georgian Orthodox churches don't have any pews. If you've ever seen a Russian Orthodox church it's basically the same aesthetic- no pews, frescoes of saints and Jesus, candle holders, icons. At one point I thought the wedding began because I heard the wedding march, but it just turned out to be someone's ringtone on their cell phone. Finally the priest showed up and the wedding commenced. And maybe I could have appreciated it more if I spoke fluent Georgian, but I don't, therefore the entire hour of the priest chanting was kind of lost on me. But it seemed that I wasn't alone because throughout the ceremony people kept on walking around the church, chatting with each other. At any given point during the ceremony half the wedding party was outside in the church courtyard. And a couple of times my host sister asked if I wanted to go sit down outside. All in all, everyone seemed a wee bit underwhelmed by the whole ceremony. Not a tear was shed.

After the church ceremony we piled into the cars again and began the mad dash to what I assumed was the party (and I was starving by this time, so I sincerely hoped it was the party). And we pulled up to a big restaurant-looking building. Once again we milled around in the big marble lobby for a bit. Pictures were taken by all. My host sister told me it would be a ceremony with dancing, which I assumed to mean party. But it was, in fact, another ceremony. We were all brought into this very, very pink room with some large mirrors on the walls (that all of the women flocked to and checked their makeup). There was a little stage in the middle of the room with a podium to the back of it. A woman, wearing what looked like a waitress outfit of a plain white button-down and a black skirt, turned on a very loud rendition of the wedding march and the bride and groom walked in arm-in-arm. They stepped up on the podium where the waitress-looking woman said a few words and the bride and groom signed their marriage contract. This whole ceremony felt so contrived. It looked more like some drive-by Vegas wedding than an actual ceremony. And yet people were getting tear eyed! After they signed their contract the woman switched the CD player to some corny overly romantic song and the bride and groom had their first dance as one of the bridesmaids went up to a second level of the room and sprinkled large silver confetti on them. Now I thought that this was maybe a little thing that the restaurant did and from there we would go into the room where the party would be. But nope, this was the whole purpose of this stop.

So back in the cars we all piled and off to Sameba Cathedral (here's the wiki page for it). This is the big cathedral in Tbilisi. And I must say, it is quite impressive. Just walking up to it is amazing. The marble walkway from the entrance gates up to the church steps is simply gorgeous. It almost makes you feel like you're walking on water. And there are gardens, which I only saw a small portion of. I would love to go back some time just to spend a leisurely afternoon and really enjoy it. And also take plenty of pictures. Being there really made me wish that I had a nice camera.

Finally we got to the party! As far as American wedding ceremonies go, I would say it was fairly similar. Except the songs were all in Georgian (except for one heavily Georgian-accented Spanish rendition of Shakira's 'This Time for Africa'), and the toasting was also in the Georgian style of no one drinks the wine unless there has been a toast made by the tamada (the 'toast master'). Oh and there was food. So much food. By the end of the night we were five layers deep in food because they just kept piling the serving plates on top of the last one- even though all the plates still had food on them! The food was very Georgian. And my host father's brother (I think that's who he was), kept piling food on my plate and he wouldn't let me pour my glass, even when I was pouring water! He would take the bottle out of my hand and our the rest himself, despite the fact that it was almost full anyway. That did start to bother me. I like to be a very hydrated individual (which is weird for Georgians because they never drink water), so I was refilling my water a lot. But he refused to let me do it myself!

Another difference with the songs was also that occasionally they would do a traditional song that required the traditional dancing, which I have only the vaguest idea of what to do. So I did not dare go out on the dance floor when I saw people's hands start doing the little twirly motions. The dance floor is also a dangerous place when they are doing the traditional dances- there is a lot of leaping and jumping involved. I'm not very well coordinated on a good day. But when there are people running and leaping around me, I know it'll end poorly for all parties involved.

A random cultural thing I noticed was that it doesn't seem improper for other women to wear to wear white! I saw the first woman in white and thought, "Oh, that's in poor taste." But then a couple other women were wearing white, too, so it must not be an issue.

Well, folks, that was my Georgian wedding experience! If you ever get a chance to go to a Georgian wedding definitely grab it. Just be well hydrated and maybe have a snack on hand.

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Semester, New Blog!

Well, okay, it's not a completely new blog. But it's got a new name! "How to Eat Khinkali: And Other Tidbits for the Georgian Traveler." What do you think? Sound good?

Well, I've finally arrived! It was quite the horrible trip to get here. All in all it took 32 hours of travel to get from Boston to Tbilisi. A majority of which was spent waiting around in airports. And after all of that I still didn't finish my book! Would you believe that!

And along with my new semester is a new host family. I was expecting to get an apartment in Tbilisi this semester, but it is really difficult to rent if you're only here for 4 months; I know that's the case in the U.S., but I kind of figured they might be a bit more lax about it here. Oh well. The new host fam is pretty cool. There's a 15 year old girl, Mari, who'll be my student at at school. And then there is an 18 year old girl, Irina, who is married! Jeez! She's married! And she's been married for a year!! When I told the two sisters I was 23 they gasped like I had one foot in the grave. Jeez. I forgot how much of a tipsy-turvy place Georgia can be. The new house is definitely a lot nicer than my old host family's house. This house was re-built 7 years ago. I would say the only drawback is that the shower is across the alley from the house. On the drive from the airport Mari was telling me that they live in an "Italian yard." I expected that to be a courtyard. But no, they live in an alley. Granted it's a very nice alley. They seem to know all of their neighbors very well and it's quiet because there aren't any cars driving by. But I would not call it an "Italian yard." Thankfully it's not a large "Italian yard" and the shower isn't far away. I don't quite know how to describe the shower room. It's not just for a shower. It's sort of like... a basement! Yes, it's like a basement across the street. And in this "basement" there is not only the shower but also a washing machine and a tread mill! Yes, that's right folks, a tread mill! Gone are the days of paying 30 lari a month to go use the tread mill at the Telavi Tennis Courts! A free tread mill!

My new place has some definite perks. Although living in Tbilisi definitely has a much different feel than Telavi.  The people here seem a lot more preoccupied with appearances. The same can be said of any big city, but I didn't expect the discrepancy to be so marked. Although, to be fair, I am basing this assumption on the wedding I attended last night (don't worry, I'm planning a whole other post about it!). And everyone gets tarted up for weddings (except me, evidently. I didn't bring any super wedding-worthy clothes. Oops). Perhaps I'll end up having to succumb to the Tbilisi fashion and get me a pair of 5 inch toothpick-thin stilletoes, a couple pounds of make-up, and a brightly colored shirt with excessive bows and frills.

Or not.

More to come! Stay tuned! It's a whole new semester with all new adventures!