News Flash: Temperatures Reach -95c in Tbilisi!

At least that is what the bus stop was telling me this morning!  I wasn’t convinced, but it was true it wasn’t exactly warm either, and I pretty much slid along the icy pavements all the way to school!  The nice thing about weather in Tbilisi is that no matter how cold or hot it is, it is ALWAYS sunny and blue skies!  Except, that is, for Easter when it rains and floods and hails for about three weeks, before it becomes summer seemingly overnight and becomes unbearably hot in the city, and everyone leaves for the countryside, leaving one or two lonely bodies and a a plague of locusts to rule the city for a month or so in absolute silence and solitude, rather akin to a post apocalyptic scene from ‘I am Legend:

I’m actually a fan of the winter, especially when the sky is blue, and I love the light in the winter and the rosy yellow-pink glow that it casts everywhere, especially first thing in the morning. The Sameba church looks especially beautiful with the sun rising behind it, and I am determined, that one day I will actually go up and take a photo of a sunrise behind the church, as it is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.  For now, I am still waiting to get the sensor cleaner for my camera, which was ordered about four months ago and I hope it will be in my hands and fix my camera any day now, having travelled all the way from America.  Then I can get back out and taking photos after going cold turkey without my camera, and resenting it intensely! For now, the camera on my phone will have to suffice, but it isn’t the same.

There is a definite cultural difference in waiting for a bus in Britain and waiting for a bus in Tbilisi.  I usually wait at least 15minutes in the cold because I always miss the bus I am aiming for (I aim for an earlier bus than the one I actually need because I am weird like that, and sometimes I get lucky and I get to school earlier than necessary, which gives ample coffee drinking time before the kids arrive!), so I have a lot of dead time at the bus stop every day, to observe and ponder on such things the quirks that distinguish Brits from Georgians (yes, I am still a Psychologist at heart and I love to people watch)! In Georgia, people stand there, in their dark attire, not smiling or talking to each other, and not paying any attention to personal space or knocking people over in their survival of the fittest attempts to barge their way onto their often overcrowded yellow bus to wherever.  Once they get on the bus, they just stop! Right in the doorway, even if there are others behind them also wanting to board the bus, and they look confused at any suggestion that they move so that others can get on too.  So you just have to push your way on, and fight your way to the swipe card machine, to pay your 50tetri, in case any of the brightly yellow coloured inspectors catch you without a ticket when you get off the bus.  I believe this ticket inspection goes back to Soviet times, when people without tickets were fiercely punished, and now Georgians are generally very law abiding in this respect, even though I have observed many foreigners who feel that it is their right to not purchase a ticket if they can do so without getting caught all for the sake of saving the equivalent of about 5 pence!  Like it is some game or challenge, and without thinking that their money actually goes towards paying for the running of the bus, fuel, and staff, and perhaps if everyone who used the bus purchased a ticket, then the bus company might actually consider putting on extra buses so that people didn’t need to pack into them so tightly.  Foreigners REALLY irritate me in this respect, and I would be furious if I was in my own country and foreigners just thought it was their right to crowd my bus free of charge, no matter what country I lived in.

Anyway, so people stand there in the bus shelter, shuffling around in the ice and snow, their breath obvious before them in the cold air, wrapped up warm, but always smartly dressed, high helled, or in their furs and tall boots, and men always in their jeans.  Nikoloz’s film is called ‘The Jeans Generation’ because it was not possible to buy jeans in Georgia during Soviet times, and after independence everyone wanted to buy jeans, like a sign of freedom.  Now almost everyone wears jeans, even teachers wear jeans to school, especially males.  It is like standard wear for guys, blue jeans, black boots, and black jacket.

In Britain, bus stops are generally different to this. In London we tend to wear black suits to the office, but in general we wear much more colourful clothes, and anything goes, punk hair styles, piercings, tattoos, different hair colours, and bright make up.  But we also do this funny thing when we are waiting for buses, or in fact waiting in line for anything (yes we also do this thing called ‘queuing’ or ‘waiting our turn’).  We make small talk, we smile or nod, or at least acknowledge or give eye contact to others.  We do things like talk about the weather, often stating the obvious: ‘isn’t it cold today’, ‘isn’t it wet today’, isn’t it hot today’.  To which the only possible reply in my opinion is ‘yes you numpty, it is, congratulations on your excellent powers of observation’, but which we somehow drag out in more meaningless small talk, just to pass the time and so that others think we are friendly and a jolly nice person!  That is why foreigners often see Brits as very friendly and warm, even though we are generally just being nice on a surface level, but thinking something completely different! And when people do not partake of this rather strange custom, or laugh at our jokes or sarcasm, we instantly brand them as a ‘bad person’ or exclaim that they are ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’, or whatever.  But no matter what the weather, we have an unwritten rule that amounts to our having to dislike and complain about the weather no matter what it is like.  If it is hot, then we must complain about it being too hot, if cold, it is too cold, and in short, we must NEVER be content with it, or agree to actually secretly be enjoying what ever weather it is.  To do so, would be socially unacceptable and will kill all conversation or look as if you are dissing the other person’s calculated and considered judgement of how the weather is.  I mean to say, that it is in no way acceptable to reply to the question ‘cold isn’t it’, with an exclamation of ‘well, that is because it is winter, it is supposed to be cold in the winter. What were you expecting? The Bahamas?’. Or to the question ‘isn’t it hot’, with an exclamation of ‘well, perhaps if you took off your three layers of clothes, hat, scarf, and waterproof then maybe you would be a little cooler in this 30c heat!’.

I realised today, just how much I miss such conversations, and I no longer have anyone here to talk to about the weather.  The only Brit I know is a bloke called Dave, and well, he’s from Scotland, and doesn’t really do small talk, usually because he is too busy and his mind is elsewhere (on the female variety), and perhaps Scot’s are just more hard core than the English, what with the whole William Wallace and Brave Heart and living on the moors in all weathers, wearing nothing but skirts and no underpants for all those generations.  I’m not dissing Scot’s either, before you have a go at me.  I’m part Scot myself , probably like most Brit’s.  I’m from several clans though: McAvoys and McDonalds mainly…you know the ones from Glencoe who got massacred after they spent centuries burning down churches and things and fighting with the Campbells.  I’m also Irish too, again, like most people!

Can’t exactly imagine Braveheart stood at a bus stop complaining about it being a wee bit cold today though, though at -95c he might.  But I bet he wasn’t as hardcore as Lewis Pugh, first person to swim at the North Pole, and first person to swim in a glacial lake on Mount Everest, highest mountain in the world!

So desperate am I to have small talk conversations about the weather, I have even tried to bring the topic of weather into the geography classroom.  It isn’t the same though and the kids just aren’t buying into it, they are non plussed, and just accept it for what it is.  When I say things like, ‘oh look it is snowing outside today’, they look at me as if to say ‘well, dur, of course it is snowing, it is winter for frigs sake! It snows every winter, that is what it is supposed to do’.

Last week, the Prime Minister of Georgia cancelled school all across Georgia due to the snow and icy conditions and so on.  Snow days, and in exchange we will make up the missed lessons with school on Saturdays.  I thought this would buy me an in with the Georgians, and especially with the kids….but still nothing.  It is just a fact of life, it snowed, they had snowball fights, and they moved on.  No complaints of it being too cold, or too wet or anything, it just is what it is, end of.

In my desperation today, I was corresponding with the local ladies from the Duke of Edinburgh International Award office in London, and I was so delighted when they started a conversation with me about the weather.  I was like an addict, absolutely lapping it up, and I now can’t wait for them to come and visit us for Oceans Project Georgia in March, so I can have further weather conversations! How sad is that!  But it made me realise one cultural quirk that Brits have.  We do LOVE to talk about the weather and we do love to pass the time of day chatting to random strangers, in shops, at bus stops, in queues for the toilet, whatever. When the opportunity for small talk arises, we take it.  We are a funny nation indeed, but I wonder where this culture and tradition came from and why it started? Where did it come from in society, is it from the upper echelons or is it from pickpockets who used such opportunities to their advantage? How did we start this tradition, and what the reason for it? Why do we still need it, and is it just something that is common to Brits, or do other countries in the world partake of such a thing?

I am trying to think about my travels to other countries, but I have always been travelling with Brits on the most part, or have been in British Commonwealth countries or countries where Brits have had a major impact on the culture and customs, so it is difficult to get an accurate assessment of whether small talk takes place.

When you look at the Georgian language, you can also really see this quirk and keen difference between Georgians and Brits.  Georgians don’t say please or thank you, and the same long sentence in English can be shortened to just one word with a changed ending in Georgian.  Georgians don’t waste their words, and they also do not have so many words for things that Brits have a zillion words for.  It isn’t a great example, but I will throw it in anyway.  In Georgian the word for car is ‘manqana’, and the word for lorry is ‘didi manqana’ which translates as ‘big car’.  In English we would say ‘I would like a glass of water please’, but Georgians would say ‘tskali minder’ which equates to ‘water want’.  Instead of saying ‘would you like a glass of water?’ Georgians say ‘tskali ginder’ with the intonation rising at the end of the statement to show that it is a question.  They also do not use articles or Capital letters.  They just don’t elaborate, and so, perhaps communication is much simpler in Georgian.  There are no airs and graces, no pleases or thank you’s, just ‘I want’ rather than ‘may I’ or ‘I would like’.  There is no justification or explanation needed, things are just as they are, and that it seems, extends to the weather too.  Snow is snow, and no conversation about it needs to be had.

But, whilst my students refuse to engage in small talk about the weather, they have produced some brilliant work about the seasons:

And about why we have seasons and how these are produced by the Earth being tilted on it’s axis and rotating around the sun:

P.S. It isn’t just mean who is aware of the funny quirks of the Brits.  One of my Oceans Ambassadors sent me this picture in the week with the question: “Is it true?”. Guess what my answer was!!


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
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