My first and last ride on the Georgia Metro

New rule: Neal will not ride the Metro in Tbilisi anymore.

So, many of you who may be reading this haven’t known me for very long, but I have been struggling with the New York City public transit system for literally half my life, and it hasn’t worked out well for me.  One of the principal motivators for me to leave New York was that I didn’t want to have to take the subway anymore (or NYC buses, which are their own special kind of torture).  I don’t want to go too deeply into the reasons for this because I fully intended to leave this particular stress behind and have it be part of my old life, but I suppose I should at the very least describe my experience in the Tbilisi metro, because it might be of interest to those of you who will be coming to Georgia, and because I never intend to ride the Tbilisi metro ever again, ever, for any reason.

Imagine, readers, that you are standing somewhere, just minding your own business, and suddenly someone decides that they want to stand where you are standing and so they walk up to you and literally make bodily contact with you without looking at you or acknowledging your presence or humanity for even a split second, and just stand in such a way that they are now touching you very closely.  You look around and notice that there were plenty of other places that they could have stood.  Imagine that you are not the type who likes making public displays of affection, and now a complete stranger is standing closer to you than you will even let your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse stand while in public.  You can feel their body moving as they shift their balance from one leg to the other.  You can smell their hair product, their body odor, their perfume or cologne, and perhaps their breath, and yet they are literally behaving as though you were just a wall that they happened to lean against.

Now if this scenario doesn’t bother you even a little bit, congratulations.  You’ll do just fine in Metro systems around the world.  However, if the thought of having this experience over and over again, several times a day, for fifteen years, seems like it might drive you a little fucking crazy, then welcome to my world.

And now we come to some similarities and differences between New York and Georgia.  In New York, people actually usually smell okay.  Maybe one in thirty or forty people smells unacceptably strongly – and usually it’s a perfume or cologne or body spray smell.  Maybe one in a hundred people smells like body odor or dirt or sweat.  And there are of course the occasional homeless people, but they tend not to do the leaning on you thing.

In Georgia, though, body odor is much more acceptable.  People seem to shower less, and I’m not sure if they even have antiperspirant.  About one in every five Georgian guys that I encounter on the street smells very strongly of body odor.  Pack those guys into a train, and it’s a bit much.  Although the ventilation system on the Georgian metro is, frankly, phenomenal, especially compared with NYC.

Also, in NYC, there are some people who are pretty intimidating.  They either have crazy eyes, or they have ripped out muscles the size of my head, or they have gang tattoos (I don’t know actually know gang tattoos from a hole in a wall, but I basically just assume that anyone with a tattoo on their neck might be a maniac and that’s served me pretty well), but the point is, there are lots of people in NYC who set off my survival fight or flight alarm bells.  In Georgia, there’s none of that.  Even the bigger dudes seem pretty mild-mannered.  And there aren’t that many big dudes.  I don’t think I’ve seen a single dude who looks like he works out – I’m told working out isn’t done in Georgia – and no one looks particularly aggressive or angry or whatever.  Georgians seem to just be relatively peaceful, minding-their-own-business types, compared to New Yorkers.

But anyway, there’s one significant similarity between New York and Georgia, which is that in both places, people will literally just fucking stand right up next to you on the subway, touching you, and not acknowledging you, perhaps expecting you to move, or else just not caring that you are there.  They will do this whether the train is crowded or not.  Today this happened to me on a car where there were twenty people packed in around me, and when I finally managed to free myself I had enough room on the other end of the car that I could have spun around with my arms out and not touched anyone.

I don’t know what kind of weird herd instinct causes people to behave this way, and frankly I don’t care.  I want no part of it.  I’ve ridden the Metro in several places – Philly, Chicago, Boston, Toronto – and none of those places were as bad as New York and Tbilisi.  Toronto stands out as being particularly civilized, as everyone there goes out of their way to be polite and respectful to their fellow human beings, but I’m assuming that’s because the CIA has been secretly breeding Canadians for docility or something.

So, the Tbilisi Metro.  It costs 40 tetri per trip – that’s about 21 cents US – it’s very deep, it comes very often, it runs very fast, it has very strong air conditioning, and the people on it are about as rude as New Yorkers, which is to say, shockingly and inhumanly rude.  Which is surprising considering how nice Georgians are in other circumstances.  Georgian men are more likely to give up their seats for women, though, then New York men are.  I guess that’s what comes from living in such an intensely patriarchal society.  And there doesn’t appear to be any smoking on the Metro.  That would be good news for me if I were ever going to take the Metro again.

In similar news, Rage Against the Machine ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more:

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10 Responses to My first and last ride on the Georgia Metro

  1. ---> says:

    Congratulations on your first cultural shock. 🙂

    Please remember, in Georgia in general (and apparently in NY’s subway) there no particular concept of of Western privacy, especially physical privacy. So not expect that people will maintain some distance from you just because they do not know you – they simply are not aware of such concept. If you are living in Georgia, you have to either live with that or leave the country.

    Lack of privacy is manifesting in different ways, you just saw one. Next time take a look how closely people are standing behind each other in a line. Particularly – ATM line. There will be more coming. 😉

    But, in general, I hope you’ll enjoy your stay there. Once you understand how and why things work that particular way living with it would be easier.

    Best of lack.


    • ---> says:

      >Best of lack.
      Yaah, that was funny. Luck, of course.


    • panoptical says:

      Yeah, so, I don’t think it really counts as “cultural shock” if what I’m complaining about is something that is exactly the same as where I spent the last 28 years of my life, but nice try.

      The only difference between lines in New York and lines in Georgia is that in Georgia they say “in a line” and in New York they say “on a line.” Other than that, it’s pretty much every man for himself.


      • ---> says:

        > in Georgia they say “in a line” and in New York they say “on a
        > line.”

        Thanks for the correction. No seriously. I still need to correct my English from time to time despite living in States for 12 years. However… as NY, Bay Are does not really counts as America.

        Honestly, it is pleasure to read you about the country where I was born and spent 22 years of my live. Observation from outside is very interesting because it can spot many details locals are not aware of.

        Neil I assume that you will be staying in Georgia for several month at least. Based on what I read in You are very good observer. I want to ask you a favor – could you find/identify at least one thing from a positive side locals (Georgians I mean) could do better than anyone in the world you’ve seen or experienced?

        I mean that there is a wide perception/stereotypes (which are in most cases based on reality) what some nations/people are good at:

        Americans are hard working and innovative, they do not take ‘no/can’t be done’ as an answer and they do overcome obstacles.

        Germans are very process oriented and organized.

        Chinese work 24/7.

        Swiss invented time and banks.

        And so on… I think you understand what I mean. So I would appreciate if you can find out and tell your audience at least one quality why one want to go to Georgia or deal with locals.

        Thanks in advance.


  2. David says:

    I agree with —> (Irakli I guess?) the concept of privacy and “my space” is, well, at least understood differently.
    People don’t build walls around them there.
    Touching someone is not perceived as dramatically as in western countries. In Georgia, it’s mostly just touching and nothing more. Just by touching you in Metro, no one thinks to intimidate/insult you, unless it really had explicitly sexual character 🙂
    So, I guess you overreacted on that.
    Even I overreacted! When I returned to Georgia after living abroad for 8 years, even I felt uncomfortable in similar situations; even in bank, I was talking to the bank guy about my account and the next person on line just came and was listening 🙂 Not because he was interested in my financial state but just because people mostly neglect the western way of holding the line 🙂

    Metro itself is pretty fine considering the price and, I heard, they improved/repaired it.

    Even so, I am also not fond of riding Metro anywhere. I lived in Germany and after that NYC metro was a real shock! It is an insult of human beings to ride in such a dirty, noisy and uncomfortable system, when the city’s budget is many times the budget of Georgia, and it is considered the “capital of world” etc by many people. In comparison with NYC, Tbilisi metro is much comfortable 🙂 Although I love Metro of Washington DC: nice, clean and much less noisy.

    About the smell: that’s because Metro is mostly for poor people who count every Tetri and fight for everyday bread.

    And what is the most important: you will not meet real maniacs etc in Tbilisi Metro and anywhere in Georgia. For sure! I have never heard of such case and if someone told you that,
    s/he just wanted to scare you 🙂

    So, I wish you to have good time there, a lot of good experiences and memories, and no bad experiences. After spending some time, I am sure you will love my people,
    as well as they will love you, show you all their warmth and hospitality.
    Thank you for being there and doing your job.
    You take part in writing the new history, really 🙂


    • panoptical says:

      Thanks! I don’t know when you rode the NYC subway, but they have updated some of the cars in recent years so they are now quite comfortable assuming you can get a seat. Although you’re right, the Tbilisi metro has those padded seats that are actually at human width, which is kind of impressive. Since I wrote this post I’ve ridden the Metro four more times – I was never good at following rules 🙂


      • David says:

        My first experience in NYC: Jun-2005. Columbus square in the corner of Central Park. All these beautiful shiny skyscrapers around, everything is nice and more or less clean… Then I entered the Metro through those dirty cages and the experiences started flooding me 🙂

        I am sure, after spending some time in Georgia, all the problems you told above will not seem so bad, even the traffic will seem good 🙂

        Whether or not so, Georgian people (unless they really dislike you due to some reason) will treat you with respect and hospitality… at least what they mean under “respect and hospitality” (which might differ from what you mean under these terms).

        Keep us posted, most importantly about the teaching experiences.

        Good luck and thanks again.


  3. pasumonok says:

    my hubby and i visited NYC last year for new year’s. we both thought that the subway was very interesting. no really. it is one of the oldest subways in the world! and it looks that way! and people were different. and it all looked like some kind of a sub-culture. the last video we made was of a family singing in NY subway.
    as for tbilisi metro…i like getting where i need to get fast and not depending on weather or traffic conditions. the 2nd line that i use is much less crowded, there’s always a sit and it’s safe.
    i also think that it feels nice in summer–cause ut butt gets glued to marshrutka seats from the end of may till beginning of september. and it’s warm in the winter. u’ll see how important that is when it gets colder.
    and overall, it doesn’t stink. just the people 🙂


  4. Mastroiani says:

    Dude, how can you say New Yorkers are rude? We are the nicest people in the world!


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