Thanksgiving in Georgia

A late “happy Thanksgiving” to all my American readers. You might not realize this, but the cretins in the rest of the world don’t celebrate that holiday, so I didn’t have a proper Thanksgiving. I found that it’s actually quite sad to be away from that sort of thing. It’s not so much that Thanksgiving is the greatest thing in the world (though it’s pretty good), but it’s another American cultural artifact that I have taken for granted. It’s easy to forget that we as Americans are a distinct ethnic group with our own peculiarities, and missing Thanksgiving was a reminder of that.

Fortunately, there was a Georgian holiday the day after Thanksgiving: Saint George’s Day. It’s not clear to me how big of a deal the day is. We had a day off at school, but on the other hand it is celebrated twice a year. Whatever. What’s important is that I was invited to a supra in the tiny village of Anaga (with the host family of an American friend of mine there).

supra is a big feast, not unlike a Thanksgiving meal, except that they are held pretty frequently. Usually the people sit at a long table, and the table is piled with food (and I mean open plates of food are literally stacked on top of each other, which is annoying). The cuisine selection seems to include everything which is available at the time: whatever fruits are in season, beans, several different kinds of meat, and a variety of cakes and candies.

And, of course, there is wine. Georgians love wine. Or perhaps I should say that Georgian men love wine, since I haven’t seen any Georgian women drink more than a single glass. Indeed, at some supras I have been to, all the men sit at one end of the table and get drunk and rowdy, while the women sit at the other end and stay relatively quiet. The vibe at such an event is as weird as it sounds.

last supper supra

A typical Georgian supra

A strange thing about the supra (strange from an American perspective, at least), is that the drinking is completely ritualized. Rather than having everyone take sips when they want and refill their glasses when they need to, everyone drinks at the same time and gets refilled at the same time. The intervals of drinking are dictated by the tamada, or toastmaster. One man (or woman, if it’s one of the all-lady supras I’ve heard about) does all the toasting for the event, and he will give a toast every ten minutes or so, at which time everyone drinks (usually about two thirds of a glass). The toasts generally cover a standard range of topics: a toast to peace, a toast to dead friends and family, a toast to parents, to children, to siblings, to Georgia, to the head of the Georgian church, to Tbilisi, to the hosts of the party, to some other guest of honor, and the like. Note that you drink after every one of these, so you can generally expect to drink, depending on how much you drink at each toast, between 5 and 12 glasses of wine at a supra. The wine is homemade, and despiting being fairly sweet (which I like), it will get you wasted.

Anyway, ten or so glasses of wine into this supra, I was asked to give a toast. The following is fairly accurate transcription of my extemporaneous bilingual toast. In brackets are translations, which I did not say, of the Georgian (and by the way, the feast was held on Saturday, the day after Saint George’s Day):

Gushin Sakartweloshi aris Giorgis dghe, ho? Aba, gushin’s gushin Americashi aris Madlobtsdghe [Yesterday in Georgia it is George’s day, yes? Well, yesterday’s yesterday in America it is Thanksday]. We eat turkey and cranberry sauce, which is a bit like katami da brotseuli [chicken and pomegranate, which was being served]. In some families, they go around the table and have everyone say what they’re thankful for. I think this is a dumb practice, but nevertheless I find it appropriate today. So I’ll say what I’m thankful for: being invited to this feast with all of you. Tkweni sakhli lamazia, da katsebi, kalebi, baushwebi, kargia [Your house is beautiful, and the men, the women, the children, they are good.] This is all very nice. So I say cheers to you, my friends in Anaga. Tkwen, chemi megobarebi Anagashi, gaumarjos.

Racial Insensitivity…in Georgia?!

Here in Georgia they have their own version of “Dancing with the Stars.” It seems to be pretty popular. As with many such competition shows, I don’t care much for it, but this week’s episode featured a performance which really warmed my heart.

That’s right, he danced to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in blackface. Of course, it’s not enough merely to apply the shoe polish and do a minstrel soft-shoe. No, he even wields a spear as he surprises a woman with a Victorian dress and parasol. Lawdy, dis sho am good!

The gentleman’s name is Otar Tatishvili. He is the celebrity of the duo (the professional dancer’s name is Mzia Orvelashvili), having starred in several Georgian sitcoms. Born in the Jewish ghetto of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he left for Georgia as a teenager because of pressure from his father to carry on the family tradition of becoming a cantor in the synagogue.

“…Wait, what?”

Georgian Consonants Again

Because I know you are all so interested, I’m going to write more about Georgian consonants. Last time I talked about some specific consonants. This time I will talk about Georgian consonant clusters.

They are large, frequent, and horrible. I hate them, especially when they come at the beginnings of words. The problem is not so much that I can’t say them as it is that I can’t hear them when other people say them. Because I am practically illiterate, this leaves me with a serious misunderstanding of many words.

A good example of this is the Georgian word for milk, rdze. You (the Anglophone reader) might read this word as erdzay, as if it rhymed with bird say. Sadly, this is not correct. The r is a flicking Spanish r, and there is no vowel in front of it. You might then think that it pronounced like rudzay, with a short, noncommittal u, but this is also incorrect. There really is no vowel in the word until the e. Because the three consonants are squished together so tightly, I can only ever hear the last one. This means that I incorrectly hear the word as zay. But the same also goes for the Georgian word for sun, mze. I cannot reliably distinguish between these two words, since in each case I can’t hear the initial consonants.

On the other hand, even in those cases where I can hear the consonants, I will still misinterpret them if they are unfamiliar. An example of this is the word tskhelia, which means “it is hot.” Recall that the kh here is a throaty Arabic (or Scottish) sound. I can hear it, but I can rarely interpret it correctly. Thus I thought that this word was strelia, and nobody could understand me when I said it.

Georgians like to point out that words in their language are spelled just as they sound. This no is consolation to me whatsoever because I have no goddamn idea how any word really sounds. There is the word for sheep, which I thought was zwari. In fact the word is tskhwari. More insultingly, there is the word for sea. I thought it was zwa, but perversely they managed to slip in the voiced kh: zghwa.

shavi zwa black sea

Why can’t they just call it the Black Sea?

It’s one thing to have consonants that are hard for foreigners to say. I get that. After all, we ourselves have both the voiced and unvoiced th. But the least they could do is have the common courtesy to isolate them from each other so that I could at least have a fighting shot at saying them right. Sure, we have words like strengths and bathes, but how often does anyone really say those?

The Family Dogs

I’m working on more interesting posts, but for now you’ll have to content yourselves with a report on my host family’s dogs.

First there is Bubu. She is a yellow, generic-looking dog. She is quite aggressive towards the other dogs when food is on the line, and she recently gave birth.

These puppies were around for a few days, and then they were gone. I have no idea where they are.

Bubu was the source of my first pun in Georgian. In the days leading up the birth of the puppies, Bubu had enormous nipples, as pregnant dogs do. One day I was browsing my Georgian-English dictionary and discovered by chance that the Georgian word for “bosom” is “dzudzu” (with “dzu” meaning “female”). Naturally, I referred to Bubu one night as “Dzudzu” The dinner party I was at found this amusing, but then again the dinner party consisted exclusively of drunk men. It’s worth noting that this joke is somewhat uncommon in that it permits a nearly exact translation directly into English – the name “Boo-boo” would become “Boob-boob.”

Next, there is a large hound of some sort. As far as I know, he does not have a name. Like many dogs in the village, he is used for hunting.

There are at least four other dogs in the village which look exactly like this one. I know this because I have seen them all together at once.

Finally, there is a puppy named Rambo. At first I thought that his name was Rainbow because of the way my host sister pronounced “Rambo,” but she clarified this by saying that Rambo is a boxer. I, in turn, explained to her, in broken Georgian, that although the guy who played Rambo did also play a boxer in another movie, Rambo was a gunner and not a boxer.

This little scamp was playing around while somebody was butchering a rabbit, which is why his face is covered in dried blood.