Georgian Family Words

Georgians have more words for family members than we do, and so it is very hard to follow when someone is describing their family or how they are related to someone. For instance, there are three different words for “aunt,” and their use depends on exactly how the aunt is related:

  • My father’s sister is my mamida.
  • My mother’s sister is my deida.
  • My uncle’s wife is my bitsola.

There is just one word for “uncle,” bidza. Not too bad so far, but there are also three words for “cousin,” depending on how the cousin is related (by blood in all cases):

  • My uncle’s child is my bidzashvili.
  • My father’s-side aunt’s child is my mamidashvili.
  • My mother’s-side aunt’s child is my deidashvili.

An odd consequence of this system is that the cousin-relation is not symmetric. That is, while in English it’s always true that I am the cousin of my cousin, this may not be the case in Georgian. Consider, for example, my (American) family. My mother has two brothers, each of whom has a child. Each of those three children (including myself) have two cousins on that side of the family. However, in Georgian we would say that I have two bidzashvilebi, while the two of them each have one bidzashvili and one mamidashvili. So in particular, I am not the bidzashvili of my bidzashvili.

Continue reading


The Names of Georgia

[For an updated and expanded version of this post, see The Names of Georgia (Reprise)]

Georgians do not call their country Georgia. They call it Sakartvelo (საქართველო), which is based on their name for their ethnic group, Kart.

So why do we call them Georgians? One theory is that the name was given to them because of their reverence for Saint George. This makes some sense — after all, their flag features the cross of Saint George, and many boys in my village are named George (Giorgi). Another theory is that the name comes straight from the Greek word for farmer, georgos (literally, earth-worker). This makes sense, since Georgians are now and always have been farmers, as opposed to the pastoral peoples of the Caucasus.

But these theories are both bullshit. Continue reading

Thailand, Cambodia, Qatar

I could give a complete run-down of all the details of my Thailand / Cambodia trip, but I’ve seen enough travel blogs to know that such a post would be boring. Instead, I’ll give a brief overview of Southeast Asia and then give the highlights of my itinerary.

thai car

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Southeast Asia consists of the stuff east of India and south of China. It can be conveniently divided into two parts: the islands — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, East Timor, and Singapore — and the mainland — Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. I don’t know nothin’ about the islands, so I’ll stick to talking about the mainland (though I don’t know much about that either).

east asia

Languages: Burmese is related to Tibetan, and ultimately to Chinese. Thai and Laotian are both members of the Tai language family, and are to some extent mutually intelligible. Vietnamese and Cambodian both belong to the Austro-Asiatic language family. Cambodian is by far the ugliest language I have ever heard. It has a very harsh start-stop pattern, with the result that all conversations between Cambodians sound like they are taking place over a bad cell connection. I didn’t hear all that much Thai, since everyone involved in tourism in Thailand speaks an unrefined but surprisingly fluent sort of English. This includes the young children who try to sell knick-knacks on the street. This showed me that I really need to step up my English-teaching game, since even the teenagers at my school can barely speak English. This may be because there’s no urgency for them to learn, whereas the Thais’ livelihoods depend on it.

Alphabets: The Burmese, Thai, and Cambodian scripts (yes, each country has its own script) are not alphabets; rather, they are abugidas, meaning that vowels are mostly indicated by diacritic markings on the consonants (alphabets like Greek mark vowels explicitly; abjads like Arabic and Hebrew mostly don’t mark them; and syllabaries like Japanese combine vowels and consonants into unique letters). They are distantly related to the scripts of India. I have no idea how to read any of them.


Khmer is the Cambodian word for Cambodian. “Khmer Rouge” just means “Red Cambodian,” but it sounds more exotic.

Vietnamese used to use a modified version of Chinese, but since French colonial times they have used the Latin alphabet.

Religion: Most people in mainland Southeast Asia are Buddhists, but in Vietnam they are Mahayana (the Buddhism of China, etc) and in the other countries they are Therevada (what used to be the Buddhism of India). This is because Vietnamese culture is mostly spillover from China, and Thai, Cambodian, and Burmese culture is mostly spillover from India (as we saw, their writing systems are evidence of this). In Cambodia, many of the old Angkor temples were originally dedicated to Vishnu, but were later converted to Buddhist temples.

History: I don’t know much that you don’t already know or can’t look up yourself.

Enough of that. Here’s where I went:

1) Flew from Tbilisi to Doha, Qatar (judging by what I could see from the window, a very ugly place), and then to Bangkok;

2) Immediately took a long, filthy train ride to Cambodia;

3) Spent a day looking at the Angkor temples, including the Indiana Jones-looking Ta Prahm;


Ta Prohm has been reclaimed by gigantic trees. I bet some people stupidly take this to be evidence of the futility of man’s labors.

4) Immediately took a long bus ride back to Bangkok;

5) Spent a few days screwing around in Bangkok;

6) Took a long bus ride down to the beach (Phuket and Ko Phi Phi);

7) Spent about a week screwing around on and by the beach;

8) Went back to Bangkok and took the same route back to Tbilisi.

The whole trip was about two weeks. Lots of fun, but very tiring.

I should add that on three of our four flights, we were on planes which gave each person their own personal TV screen. This may not be new to others, but it was new to me, and I was amazed.


This meant that instead of being bored, I was able to watch: The Day of the Jackal, The French Connection,  the first third of The Dark KnightThe Bourne Supremacy, the intro of The Bourne Identity, and maybe eight Simpsons episodes. If I ever go to that part of the world again, I’m definitely flying Qatar Airways.

This post brought to you in part by Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways: booking online is free and easy. When you think Qatar, think Qatar Airways.