EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the confusion generated by this entry over the last month, I am adding this introduction to clarify what is meant in this post.
When we got to Georgia in early September, we were given some information by the TLG staff. That information is summarized in the first part of this entry – the part that starts with “At orientation, the TLG staff gave us a bunch of info about dating and gender relations in Georgia.” and ends with “So that’s the situation we were presented with upon arrival in the country.” That information is not my opinion, nor is it based on my observation. It is simply what we were told when we got here.
The second part of this entry – the part that begins with “According to the Georgians that I have spoken to since,” – summarizes the information that I gathered between the time that I left TLG orientation and the time that I wrote this entry. This is based on talking to a much wider sample of Georgian people as well as on my own personal observations.
The purpose of presenting two different accounts of Georgian culture in this entry is to draw a contrast between what TLG told us to expect and what I am experiencing myself as a resident of Tbilisi. I am well aware – as is clear from this entry – that not every Georgian marches in lock step, that TLG exaggerated some things, that there is a generation gap, that cities are different than villages, and that you personally probably have numerous anecdotes that run counter to the generalizations presented here.
With that in mind, please enjoy the infamous Sex in Georgia blog post.
– Neal (not Neil) Zupancic, 9 Nov. 2010
Georgia has decided to import 10,000 english teachers in the coming years to teach English to every Georgian student. Most of these 10,000 teachers are in their twenties. Many are just coming from college. Many will be here for a year. Let’s just say that with this demographic, one can reasonably expect sex and dating to be on people’s minds.
At orientation, the TLG staff gave us a bunch of info about dating and gender relations in Georgia. The breakdown is familiar: men are expected to be sexually experienced when they get married and women are expected to be virgins. Of course, this system cannot work without some third factor, because how are men to get experience when women are not allowed to have sex? So there must exist – or so we can theorize – some group of women who are violating the traditional rules. Speculation as to who this group might be is rampant, but to the mind of the Georgian man, Western women seem like a reasonable set of candidates.
“Dating” in Georgia is vanishingly rare. Instead, there is courtship. A man and a woman get together, they date for about two months, and then the expectation is that the man will either “do the right thing” or stop fooling around and move on. In theory every woman has a “patroni,” or male guardian, whose job it is to make sure that the men in these women’s lives “do the right thing” – in other words, propose marriage within an acceptable period of time, or leave the woman alone.
It is considered strange for men and women to be friends. In general, a group of colleagues can hang out together – even a mixed-gender group – but a man and a woman cannot hang out alone together in a platonic capacity. If a man and a woman are seen alone together in public it is presumed that they are on the road to marriage.
The female TLG volunteers were warned how to act with Georgian men. According to TLG, Western women will have to field marriage proposals unless they are, or say they are, engaged or married. Female volunteers were encouraged to procure a cheap ring and wear it on the ring finger to ward off proposals of marriage. Apparently, Georgian men do not understand the concept of a single woman who is not interested in marrying the first random stranger to approach her, and can become insistent and/or dangerous if not rejected properly – and properly generally means adamantly, unequivocally, and in a group of friends who will back up the refusal. Western women were warned not to travel alone. According to the Georgians, “bridenapping” is no longer practiced, but better safe than sorry. “Bridenapping” was the practice of kidnapping a young woman and forcing her to spend a night in the household of a particular man, after which the woman was assumed to have had sex even if no sex occurred, and was thus no longer marriage material, and thus was essentially forced to marry the man who had kidnapped her.
The male TLG volunteers were warned how to act with Georgian women. Our warning consisted of the following message, repeated many times: do not have sex with any Georgian woman who you do not plan to marry. If you do, you might have an angry patroni – a father, or brother – backed up by an army of uncles and cousins who will wish to do you harm.
So that’s the situation we were presented with upon arrival in the country.
According to the Georgians that I have spoken to since, pre- and extra-marital sex does happen. Although no Georgian I have met will admit to actually having extramarital sex, I am told that 70% of Georgian men cheat on their wives, and to many this is considered normal. I have also met very few Georgians who have admitted to having had premarital sex. On the other hand, according to one Georgian, there exist hotels that can be used for pre- or extra-marital sex, and there are prostitutes, although prostitution exists in a sort of quasi-legal state that even Georgian law enforcement personnel couldn’t explain to me. So basically, what I am saying is that there is sex going on, but in a super down-low hush-hush sort of way.
So, what happens when you throw a bunch of Western, English-speaking, modern liberated 20-somethings into the mix? In my group there were 92 of us, and maybe ten or fifteen of those were over 30.
Some people paired off right away. Some people became couples, other people had a few random hookups, others had a few random drunken hookups. But basically, what you had was essentially what you would expect from having a dorm situation for seven to ten days in which a bunch of young people were thrown together and warned to stay the heck away from the local population. Some did, some didn’t. There were incidents. I heard of at least two cases that could have turned really ugly if not for a little bit of luck, and as a result the TLG women were told over and over again to beware of the Georgian men in the neighborhood. So, women, if you are coming here, be very careful about going out and drinking in Georgia. Go in groups, preferably with guys that you trust. Seriously.
I’d say the most striking thing about this situation is the fact that the women who come to Georgia with TLG are basically seen by many men in Georgia – Georgians and TLG men included – as the only potential sexual outlet in the entire country. I can personally attest to the fact that I think that the idea of getting married just so you can have sex is totally crazy – in fact, I’m not so hot on marriage as an institution at all, but perhaps that topic is better left alone – but I think that most of the Western guys here are on the same page. Most of us understand that the Georgians take the whole sex/marriage thing seriously enough that we’re better off just not messing with it at all, which means that for many of us, unless we want to be celibate for our entire stay in Georgia, our only options are the women who came into the country with us.
Now, it’s a little different for those of us who live in Tbilisi. Tbilisi is an international city with lots of people from less “traditional” countries, and it’s the most Western city in the country which means there actually is at least some number of Georgian women who flout tradition and do whatever or whoever they want. I took part in a very illuminating game of “Never have I ever” last week in which I drank with at least one Georgian and one Ukrainian woman with active sex lives. So if I were so inclined, I could easily hang out at international bars and try to pick up women without risking the wrath of someone’s patroni. But the people who live in the more rural areas obviously have it harder.
But I think the point is this: if you are thinking of coming here for a long time, it’s not just the attitude of the Georgians you have to take into account. It’s also the attitude of the other TLGers. If you’re a woman, you have to be careful not only of overzealous Georgians who think all Western women are loose Paris Hilton types, but also of desperate TLG guys who are trying too hard because they are terrified of being forced into celibacy by the patroni system’s stranglehold on Georgian women. If you are a dude, you have to come to terms with the possibility that you might not get laid for a year and try to be a human being despite such earthshakingly bad news.
However, there is some good news in all of this. All of the TLG volunteers are asked to submit the results of recent STD tests, and failing one means you are not allowed into the country. These things are never 100%, and I am not encouraging unsafe sex – so bring condoms when you come here, for fuck’s sake! – but you are certainly much safer sleeping with other TLG volunteers than you would be with the general population at large.
Finally, a note about talking about sex in Georgia. The subject seems to be a lot more taboo than it is in the US. Even when you talk to Georgians about dating, they are generally taken aback by the idea that anyone would talk publicly about any kind of romantic interactions between men and women. It’s pretty strange.
On the other hand, my roommate and I went to a cafe the other day and this was on TV, so, go figure: