My Ongoing Training as Tamada (Toastmaster)
For those of you who don’t already know, who are new to my blog, or just too lazy to read all my other scrawl, a Supra is basically a Georgian feast, or literally ‘table cloth’. It’s a time for friends and family to gather around together, eat and copious amounts of food and drink, and to toast to all things. It may be a small and less formal affair, or may be a full blown supra for hundreds of people, with a selection of cold dishes, followed by warm food, and then something sweet, but always there will be a designated ‘tamada’ or ‘toastmaster’. Its no mean feat to be a Tamada, because you are the person who sets the precident for the feast, who tells the stories, sings the songs, performs the poems, and who sets the amount of drinking, and decides the penalties for not drinking, for not paying attention, or for leaving early. At large supras, the Tamada will often have an assistant or ‘alaverdi’ or there may even be a few of these.
There are special rules for attending supra. Only men should stand for toasts, glasses should not be empty, and toasts to each other are never given with beer (unless you are from the mountains and this is special or homemade beer). Usually, only enemies are toasted with beer! There is a routine for each speech and for the order, and if you are toasted to, then you should always wait until others have finished toasting you, before you ask Tamada if you can make a speech or toast in reply. When you clink your glasses, you say ‘gamarjos’, but to one person, you will say ‘gagimarjos’. Supras are great fun, but can be tedious when they are not from the heart or when the focus is on you as the guest and you are the only one told to ‘chame, chame’, or ‘eat, eat’. But a good and proper supra is a really magical experience, and when you know the people around you, it takes on a very different sense.
And so, I have been to countless supras now, and now I am getting to know more Georgian, and more Georgian people, I am finding that I am starting to be asked to be Tamada or to give my own little toasts, which is especially daunting as a Brit who always hated speaking up in class, or making presentations, and who feels uncomfortable at having attention drawn to myself, especially in social situations. But I am getting a bit more practiced now, and I know that the people who have invited me a still fairly forgiving for my clumsy and culturally bizarre ways.
One of the things that I still find difficult, is that at supra, you only take a sip of your drink when a toast is given, but at no other time inbetween. This is becoming increasingly difficult when the quality of wine has improved and is really good quality. It has also been really nice to be in the company of Westerners again this week, and was nice to be able to sit and to sip wine as and when I liked (probably why I became drunk quicker!). And it was funny to explain to my guests that usually you only drink when a toast is given. It was also funny to realise that I would only drink my wine when a toast was given and not before, so I seem to have slowly adapted my habits and social norms.
Anyway, I learnt a new toast this week. It is a toast to God, or effectively ‘God is great’, and you raise your glass to the heavens and say ‘didiba upals’ or ‘upals didiba’. I whether I will remember this after a glass or two, remains to be seen, so if I am at supra with you over the next few months, then please forgive me if I am still rubbish at this, because I am after all, a toastmaster in training still!
The Everyday Frustrations and Quirks of Living in Georgia
I really feel that I have made some giant leaps in my adaptation to Georgian culture recently, and on the whole I really love my life here and have very few complaints. In fact, I have actually swapped some giant frustrations about life in the UK, and replaced them with relatively trivial things that I find amusing because I am laughing at myself for even being bothered by them in comparison to the stress of life in Britain.
For example, this week I needed to pay some money into my bank account. In Britain this is a really, really simple process, but in Georgia, it seems to be a big task still, not just because of the language barrier, and because I don’t know all the social etiquette and practical things involved with banking in Georgia, but because things are just so complicated at first. Just take the issue of queuing, something that Brits are renowned for being good at. In England, you join the back of the orderly queue and you wait your turn until someone serves you. Not so in Georgia! In Georgia, everyone huddles around around the counter, as close as you can possibly get, and whoever gets to the free space first, gets served. In Britain, people are served one at a time until the process is complete. In Georgia, the cashier or banker serves several people at once, whilst simultaneously conversing with them all about different things. People behind them peer over the shoulders, ask questions even though the banker is clearly busy, and make tutting noises and make occasional exclamations of ‘owey’ or ‘euph’. I haven’t yet mastered this noise and the hand gestures that go with it, but I am getting a lot of practice, especially from the 12th grade students when I make any suggestion of doing some work. In Britain, once you reach the front of the queue, you generally say ‘goodmorning (substitute as appropriate), I would like to pay some money into my bank account please’, the cashier takes said money, and hey presto, it goes into your account, you say ‘thank you very much for your kind service’, and you leave, being sure to pass on the correct side of the person behind you, who is patiently waiting there turn, at a set distance, behind a mark on the floor, and in a civilised manner. In Georgia, this is not so. First, you discover that after 30minutes of waiting in a group of people, and having at last made your way to the front, that you are in the wrong place, and have to go to another counter with the same member of staff first. Initially she tells you that you can only pay money in if you have your passport, but after you practice your ‘euph’ noise and hand gesture, she realises that actually she can help you after all, like you have passed some bank teller’s initiation test.
You follow her to another counter, passing through a bunch of people waiting for another teller, who all tut at you and complain, even though they are in an entirely different ‘queue’, and she does exactly the same thing that she could have done at the last counter, and gives you your receipt for moneys paid in. I actually have yet to check my bank balance (because I am afraid of what I will find), but I probably should do so, just to make sure that the money was paid in.
But, the most infuriating thing here, especially as a Brit, is the lack of personal space and personal boundaries. Just as in life at home, where people share rooms and everyone knows everything, the same seems to go for banking matters. When I type my pin number in, I always have to do so in full view of everyone, and no one even averts their eyes. If I am at the cash point (ATM for you Americans), people stand right behind me and want to look over my shoulder. And at the desk at the bank, everyone looks at the other person’s private details and no one seems to get annoyed at this. Its just weird!