Metro Revisited; Georgia’s culture shock

On second thought, the Tbilisi Metro isn’t quite as bad as the New York City subway.

People here in Georgia have been very subtly telling me that I need to be more positive about their country. It seems that this, in itself, is a cultural phenomenon.

See, in America, most people have the following attitude towards negativity in America: hey, jack, if you don’t like it, gtfo, don’t come back, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out. Americans don’t really like other people coming to our country – we generally look at tourists with annoyance and contempt, and immigrants are even worse. This is because Americans think that America is the best country in the whole world – some think the only country in the whole world – and that because they had the good fortune of being born in the best country in the whole world, they’re the best people in the whole world. After all, if they weren’t the best people in the world, then God wouldn’t have made them be born in America – he would have had them born in France or Afghanistan or, god forbid, Mexico, or one of the other countries that Americans are constantly looking down their nose at – in other words, all of them.

My father’s father’s parents came to America from Slovenia, which at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Yugoslavia, and now is finally its own country. Slovenia was recently in the World Cup, in the same group as the US, and I was rooting for Slovenia to advance out of group play, and for this to happen, it would have been helpful for the US to score as few points as possible. Thus I was rooting for the two underdogs – Slovenia and Algeria – and against the favorites, the US and England. Someone on my facebook literally asked me why I hated America so much. Because I was rooting against the US world cup team, someone assumed that I hated America – and I’m sure, if given the opportunity, he would gladly have dropped me off at the Canadian border and told me not to darken the US of A’s doorstep anymore with my America-hating, pro-Slovenian attitude. This, over a sports game that nobody in America even cared about two years ago.

Needless to say, I found this attitude one of the many annoying things about living in America, and it’s been getting worse rather than better for most of my adult life. 9/11 ushered in this sort of neo-McCarthyist, us-versus-them attitude, in which any criticism of anything about America was seen as a victory for the terrorists and met with an invitation to leave. It didn’t help that people kept threatening to leave America if a politician from an opposing party got elected.

Getting back to my point, in Georgia, things are different. Sure, I’ve received some comments to the effect of “well nobody forced you to come here” but for the most part, Georgians seem surprised and/or perplexed by any criticism of their country at all. Many Georgians think that my detailing negative as well as positive experiences on this blog is indicative of some kind of psychological problem. Many Georgians suggest that I simply do not understand Georgia well enough, and when I achieve this enlightenment – which will come after a year or so – I will realize that actually there are absolutely no problems in Georgia whatsoever, and I will look back upon the bad experiences that I had and laugh at myself for having been so naive.

See, Georgians also think that Georgia is the best country in the world, but Georgians love their country in a much more sincere way than Americans do. In America, it seems that people cling to the idea that America is the best country on earth to console themselves for living such shitty lives. Life in America is incredibly difficult and stressful for the majority of people – people are losing their jobs and houses, people are getting cut off from medical insurance when they need it most, and on top of that real wages have been steadily decreasing for over a generation as the cost of living has gone up, and Americans get less vacation than citizens of almost any other Western country. Americans are, on average, in loads of debt that they have no real way of getting out of within a reasonable amount of time. The American dream involves paying off a student loan and a mortgage and car payments and all this other stuff that no one can afford anymore. American life is full of hopelessness and struggle, and Americans seem to reflexively hate anyone who might take away what little we have left.

On the other hand, in Georgia, there are real problems but there’s also a sense of well-being that I’ve rarely ever felt in America. People are happy if they have a good family and a decent job. Obviously that’s starting to change – divorce rates are skyrocketing and I imagine soon Georgian family values will go the same way American ones did in the last generation or two – but as for now, Georgians seem happy to be alive and in Georgia. They seem to honestly think that Georgian food is the best food in the world, that the Georgian landscape is the most beautiful landscape in the world, etc.

So I’d say that in America, people are pretty used to negativity, whereas in Georgia, it’s somewhat shocking, especially when aired publicly. I think it’s not considered normal to be publicly unhappy, which is why when I post something mildly negative about some minor aspect of my day, people react in a way that to me seems disproportionate.

I don’t know. There are so many nuances and contradictions, and I admit that this is something I haven’t quite figured out yet. I think it’s a combination of what I’ve mentioned so far, though – a sort of general social agreement in Georgia not to be negative coupled with a genuine belief on the part of Georgians that everything in Georgia is about as close to perfect as you’re going to get – that causes people to react with astonishment to complaints that I consider minor and commonplace. Even when I go out of my way to say that it is not Georgia that I have a problem with – like in my post on Sighnaghi when I said that I have had allergies in America too, or in my post on the Metro in which I clearly stated that I did not like riding the NYC subway either – Georgians still seem shocked that I would complain in public and rush to diagnose me with culture shock or depression or something else to explain my breach of social etiquette.

Now, I’m obviously not the average American, but I think that my general disposition and propensity to complain about things on the internet is pretty much on par with the cultural expectations in America. Most Americans who read my blog are reassured that Georgia is a normal place and don’t take statements like “the subway is crowded” or “some people here smoke cigarettes” as a sign of mental illness. So I think in this case, what is happening is that the little piece of American culture – or, more properly, American internet culture – that I am bringing to Georgia is giving the people here a bit of culture shock. They don’t really know how to negotiate the social situation of a very American person writing in English in a primarily Western milieu, and coming to my blog is like visiting a tiny piece of New York where I am the native and they are strangers.

Which brings me back around to the original point of this post, which is that I want to say some nice things about the Tbilisi Metro in comparison to the New York subway. Call it an exercise in the power of positive thinking.

At first, the Tbilisi Metro seems a lot like the NYC subway. As I said, you have this weird phenomenon of people treating you like furniture, and that always gets under my skin in a way that few other things can. But I’ve now taken the Metro several more times, and it’s really not as bad as the NYC subway. First of all, it’s fast. Tbilisi is a smaller city than NY, obviously, but there’s pretty much no such thing as a multi-transfer, hour-plus Metro ride in Tbilisi. There’s no L train that stops running every weekend to be replaced by a long, slow shuttle bus ride. There’s no unannounced service changes, no delays, no off-peak 30 minute waiting periods, basically no bullshit. There’s no yearly fare hike coupled with worsening service, no rerouting, no skip-stop service, no trains unexpectedly taking you to Brooklyn when you want to go downtown, no trains going express for no apparent reason, no trains going local for six miles causing it to take you two hours to get downtown from Washington Heights.

The thing about the NYC MTA is that if you stay in NY long enough, it almost feels like the MTA is out to get you. It makes people late, stressed, angry, and lost on a regular basis. The Tbilisi Metro doesn’t do any of these things.

But by far the best part about the Tbilisi Metro in comparison to the NYC subway is that while the NYC subway is always full of asshole New Yorkers who are rude, belligerent, and inhuman almost as a rule, in Tbilisi, there’s only one asshole New Yorker on the whole system at any given time, and let’s just say that he and I have a close personal relationship. The Tbilisi metro is fast, it’s rarely as crowded as the NYC subway, it runs more often, it has express escalators, the seats are more comfortable, and it feels much safer than the subway. I still don’t like taking subways or metros in general, but I can suck it up for 20 minutes if I need to get downtown.

Anyway. One last observation about the Metro: sometimes, there are lots of panhandlers, and sometimes, there are none. Panhandlers are often young children, which is sad and depressing. The other day I saw a little girl who wanted money – she couldn’t have been older than seven – go up to a group of young teenagers and wrap her arms around each of their legs, one by one, trying to get them to give her money. Apparently the leg-grabbing method is popular among young Georgian beggars and some Westerners have trouble dislodging the children once they’ve become attached.

Anyway, I’ve somehow managed to end on a down note, yet again. Sorry. Maybe I do have a psychological problem!


Video: Ani Difranco, Subdivision

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Metro Revisited; Georgia’s culture shock

  1. T says:

    hahaaa NZ, yes darling u do and it is the typical case of hypochondria 🙂 do not worry I’m living with one like u long enough to smell your kind from distance 🙂 it has it’s own attractive flavor in it 🙂 i was reading this article and all this “positive” parts by which u did try to please us felt like someone was standing next to u with gun in your had 🙂 but thanks for the effort anyway 🙂

    • panoptical says:

      You leave me the strangest comments…

      • A says:

        Funny, I do not think that your criticism of anything is a psychological problem or hypochondria, but I do see T’s point on one thing… I can actually agree that while reading this article I wondered if someone were holding a gun to your head watching you type.
        Maybe I’m the one with the psychological problem.

    • loe says:

      umm, what does it have to do with hypochondria?

  2. Connie says:

    I’m American, and I can categorically state that this is true: Georgian food is the best food in the world! On my first 7 day visit, I gained 8 lbs and it was worth every single ounce & every single day at the gym I had to spend upon my return to the States.

    • See, Neil, why cant you be like her? 😀 everyone would love u 🙂 😀

      P.S. i have not been in any metro aside from the one in Tbilisi, so i can’t really argue or agree with you about this 🙂 .

  3. Tamara says:

    “Panhandlers are often young children, which is sad and depressing. ”
    :((((((((((((((((((
    You are actually lucky not to live in downtown Tbilisi. Take Vake district for example – you will see panhandlers (mostly women with infants or children on their own) on every corner and street crossing.
    The situation with homeless children and children from vulnerable families in modern Georgia reminds me of an endless Charles Dickens novel that can gradually “evolve” into Burgess’s dystopian fiction.
    Partly due to the weakness of social protection agencies in Georgia, that don’t have enough resources or capacity to handle the problem complex as this, child protection is not that institutionalized as in Western Europe or the USA. Plus there’s practically no work at the community level, no permanent housing options for the victims of violence and trafficking (only limited temporary housing options), no large scale social or psychological rehabilitation activities to reach out to vulnerable women and children and so on. It’s not that nothing is done, there is some very slow progress (unsurprisingly due to international pressure and funding) but compared to the attention that other policy issues receive, this one is an unlucky exception. And that’s really strange because Georgians usually go bananas for children. It’s my humble opinion that as long as the subject does not get enough media coverage, and is not an immediate political issue (in other words nothing in the subject line can be tagged with “Russia/ns”:)) government=>media=>people put up with the status quo without major objections. Which is really sad, the fruit of our ignorance can be really bitter and hard to deal with once this generation of children grows up.

  4. Katie says:

    I think sometimes you may conflate NYC’s culture of pervasive negativity with flyover country’s sometimes less-than-progressive politics and therefore see all of America as bitter and hate-filled. This is something I feel like I see a lot in native or native-ish New Yorkers. My own experience has been that, even in NYC, people are often kinder than you’d expect, and patriots are not limited to loonies stirred up by the media and idiot politicians.

    I think the issue at hand for both Americans and Georgians is that whenever a blanket critique is made of your nation, the vehemence of your response corresponds with how deep a part of your identity your nationality is, and consequently how insecure you feel when your identity is threatened.

    • panoptical says:

      I love that you call it “flyover country.”

      I know there are literally millions of very nice people in America, but it seems like the loudest voices are always the ones complaining about foreigners and terrorists and various other incarnations of The Other.

      • Victoria says:

        Another key difference, which you also note and have noted previously, is that whereas American internal-criticism is internal, your criticism of Georgia is still external, because you are an American, even if you are living within Georgia. That does not make you more or less a perfectly acceptable commentator on Georgia, particularly as you say, to a Westerner to a Western audience. But I do wonder to what degree part of the sense of cultural positivity you’ve quoted doesn’t also spring from defending Georgia from the critique of the “outside” and is thus a distortion. I must say I was never at all a very large patriot, but the minute I set foot into France and was surrounded by all sides by criticism for being an American, I immediately became much more patriotic. In a sense, the blog is almost like that, as you say. It is a microcosm of the Western world in both writer and audience, so I wonder if the reaction isn’t less a “Georgian” thing and more a human nature thing.

        I don’t pretend these are new insights, merely just me thinking aloud.

  5. pasumonok says:

    i love metro! it is quicker than anything else, it is cool in the summer and it is warm in the winter, the seats are more comfortable and it is safe! 5 years ago, it was not safe for a young girl to travel in metro alone, after 10 p.m. Now, they have police officers on every station.
    u can read in metro. can u read in marshrutka? me neither.
    sometimes kids sing or dance to get money. u have to either 1. ignore them 2. collect all the 5 tetris in a jar and than occasionally fill ur pockets with them and give them out–i do it and it solves the problem 4 me.
    one of the kids hugged my leg in front of a rustaveli movie theater. it took all of my professorial skills (i am psychologist) to convince her to let go. it’s not their fault but i hate being blackmailed like that.

  6. A_I says:

    I would not say that critics and especially critics in internet is something very new (at least you are not the first one). Though some group of people just has difficulties to accept it. While being happy and optimistic are positive things, they are not very helpful in solving societal problems.

    Just do not take comments personally. There are a lot of Georgians who has negative attitude towards some trends in a society and they too get to know that they are mentally ill, public enemies, people like them supported KGB and killed Jesus etc. Trolling is popular here 🙂

  7. lila says:

    Hey, I really enjoy reading your posts ^^ but consider, that the beggars all around the metro are gipsy, not Georgian.

  8. username says:

    lol..i dont know if uve already heard this expression but “mevasebi” 😀
    no! not because of your attempt to show positive attitude and try to think of good things about georgian metro :D.
    i just mevasebi 😀

    ive been reading your posts the whoole day..pretty interesting.
    sounds weird, though
    yeah.. you are a little piece of new york here, in gldani (even a neighbor maybe)
    and comparing of what i thought of US having lived there and of georgia, after that
    to what you think of america after having lived here
    (even im not sure I got the idea of what i just said)
    whatever

    just mevasebi and welcome and good luck 😀

    • panoptical says:

      Thanks!

      • ---> says:

        Neil is growing his fun base and glory.

        See, not only TLG girls are getting marriage proposals. If a Georgian girl says ‘mevasebi’ well…

        • panoptical says:

          Wait, what? What does “mevasebi” mean?

        • ---> says:

          It is a street jargon expression, (originally came from vake/vera districts) means ‘I like you’ when one wants also to show hmmm… sexual attraction towards the addressee.

          Term is mostly used by teens and young adults (before age 30) and not used by adults during intelligent conversation.

          Within the playground of gender roles (which you’ve already talked) this expression is pretty much maximum girls dare say to boys to express their feelings.

          NOTE: Well, it WAS this way in my teen/student period. Because I am not living there for 16 years I have no idea if any changes have happened or if the word now has new meanings. Locals will correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. Passerby says:

    Hey dear Neil,

    I’m a Georgian living in New York – and wanted to offer my perspective, for whatever it’s worth.

    While the MTA can be a pain in the ass and is plagued with many problems, you forget a few things: it runs 24 hours a day (Tbilisi metro doesn’t), and it covers a much, much larger area (Tbilisi metro has 2 lines with 22 stations, New York subway has 24 lines with more than 400 (!) stations). Yeah it can be slow/unreliable/etc. – but most days, it isn’t, and I love and appreciate it for what it is – one of the only comprehensive public transit systems in the U.S., one that allows me to not have a car and travel the city daily, from the Bronx to Manhattan to Brooklyn and back, one end to another, for just over $2 a ride.

    You know, you do come off as a bit pessimistic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it seems you fail to account for something basic that should have been covered during your training, not matter how brief it may have been – the idea of cultural relativism. For example, no doubt you’ve heard or perhaps experienced the arcane system of interpersonal relationships in Japan – the notion of “saving face”, etc. While you may not agree with it, you would be wise to tread gently while there. Same thing in Georgia – in many ways, it is a very “Middle Eastern” culture, meaning, for example, that directly pointing out flaws can be considered very rude. By bemoaning American’s dogmatism you unwittingly engage in it yourself, by failing to account for basic cultural differences and then wondering why your criticism and strong opinions are so ill-received.

    Your intentions are undoubtedly commendable, and your reactions are sincere. Some of your observations, no matter how unflattering, may be true. Others come across to me as complaints of a spoiled child (sorry, but I’m being honest). Unless you make a greater effort to understand the culture and its nuances, especially when it comes to expressing opinions and criticism, you should expect your opinions to be misunderstood or treated as rude…

    Best of luck to you and I wish you all the best on your adventure.

    • panoptical says:

      This comment barely made it through moderation. I find your tone obnoxious and condescending, and it annoys me to no end that the main point of your comment is that I need to understand Georgia better, as if 1. that isn’t exactly what I’m trying to do and 2. I didn’t complain in this very post that I was tired of people telling me that I just need to understand Georgia better.

      Maybe I would understand Georgia better if I didn’t have to find all this shit out for myself. I am one of the first foreigners to come here and keep a detailed blog about the experiences I have and the lessons that I am learning the hard way, which means that there is literally no other source of information out there on how an American ought to comport himself or herself while in Georgia with respect to these cultural nuances that *I* mentioned in the part of this blog entry that you obviously didn’t bother reading before telling me that I needed to understand the cultural nuances.

      So instead of coming on my blog and calling me a spoiled child, not to mention talking to me like a six-year-old, why don’t you answer me this question: how exactly was I supposed to know that many Georgians consider complaining a bizarre and socially unacceptable behavior? And where do you get off coming and lecturing me about needing to learn more about Georgian culture on a post in which I am informing other Americans about Georgian culture so they will not make the same mistakes? I am making a real effort to improve intercultural understanding and people like you who come and take a giant shit all over that effort just so that you can feel superior about your advanced cultural understanding need to either grow the fuck up or take your passive-aggressive dick-measuring contest to someone else’s blog.

      Oh, and thanks for “reminding” me that the MTA runs 24 hours a day, somehow after living in New York for three decades that little piece of trivia had slipped my mind.

      • Mark says:

        I am coming to Georgia in January to participate in the TLG program and I have become a regular and devoted reader of your this blog. I think you are a gifted writer and I sincerely appreciate all the hard work you are doing to detail your experiences in Georgia. As you point out there is very little relevant information available for a soon-to-be American expat preparing to move to a part of the world that for so many years was shut off to the west. Aside from your personal insights, one of the elements of your blog that I find most valuable is the responses to your posts.
        By being able to read these responses I feel like I’m listening in to a lively conversation taking place in a bar or coffee shop in Tbilisi. Through this process of listening I am able to get a broad perspective of the culture and issues discussed, from a variety of perspectives, both American and Georgian. As I understand it this is one of your primary goals for creating the blog. So it was especially interesting for me to hear from Passerby, a Georgian living in New York, commenting on the thoughts of a New Yorker living in Georgia – nice juxtaposition of perspective.
        Unfortunately your response to Passerby was way over the top. I can only speculate as to the cause of your hyper-sensitivity and defensiveness; perhaps the recent local media attention your blog has generated has left you feeling like you’re in the hot seat, or perhaps the numbers of rude and thoughtless comments you’ve referred to in previous posts are simply taking their toll. Whatever the case may be you need to take a breath and lighten up a bit.
        I found Passerby’s comments regarding cultural relativism to be helpful and I appreciated the advice to consider that Georgian culture has a distinctly middle-eastern component and try to act accordingly. Further, while I might have put it a bit more delicately, I found Passerby’s criticism regarding you coming across at times as being a bit childish to be a reflection of my own previously unvoiced thoughts. Quite frankly you made Passerby’s point when in your response you pointed out that his comments “barely made it through moderation”. You came across as an immature dictator who was threatening to quash any critical or displeasing speech. I found this especially annoying when as far as I can tell Passerby’s comments did not reasonably meet any of the criteria for moderation as put forth in your “Comments Policy Explicated” post from last week. I note that it took you only 63 minutes to respond to Passerby. Perhaps you should take your own advice as presented in the above referenced post and “wait a day, read the post you are responding to again, and then decide for yourself whether you think the thing you were going to say is really an appropriate response for a mature adult”.

        • panoptical says:

          Well said.

        • panoptical says:

          I mean, I agree with you, I did overreact. What I should have done was left the comment in moderation until I calmed down, and then refuted the parts I disagreed with calmly.

          Partially for the sake of argument, though, I’ll explain why I felt that the comment skirted the borderline of being published – to me, it violated the first two guidelines:

          “1. Please read and understand what you are replying to. ”

          First, I said this: “I don’t know. There are so many nuances and contradictions, and I admit that this is something I haven’t quite figured out yet. I think it’s a combination of what I’ve mentioned so far, though – a sort of general social agreement in Georgia not to be negative coupled with a genuine belief on the part of Georgians that everything in Georgia is about as close to perfect as you’re going to get – that causes people to react with astonishment to complaints that I consider minor and commonplace. Even when I go out of my way to say that it is not Georgia that I have a problem with – like in my post on Sighnaghi when I said that I have had allergies in America too, or in my post on the Metro in which I clearly stated that I did not like riding the NYC subway either – Georgians still seem shocked that I would complain in public and rush to diagnose me with culture shock or depression or something else to explain my breach of social etiquette.”

          And the reply contained this:

          “…directly pointing out flaws can be considered very rude. By bemoaning American’s dogmatism you unwittingly engage in it yourself, by failing to account for basic cultural differences and then wondering why your criticism and strong opinions are so ill-received.

          Your intentions are undoubtedly commendable, and your reactions are sincere. Some of your observations, no matter how unflattering, may be true. Others come across to me as complaints of a spoiled child (sorry, but I’m being honest). Unless you make a greater effort to understand the culture and its nuances, especially when it comes to expressing opinions and criticism, you should expect your opinions to be misunderstood or treated as rude… ”

          In my interpretation, this comment seems to either disregard or misunderstand what I said. I said that I was trying to understand this aspect of Georgian culture, and the response was… that I should try to understand this aspect of Georgian culture. The only thing this part of the comment really added to what I said was calling me a spoiled child and implying that I have no understanding of the idea that cultures are different and also implying that I am not really trying to understand Georgia at all.

          “2. Back up your statements with some kind of argument or evidence. ”

          This is another one that I find hugely frustrating. He says that I don’t account for “cultural relativism,” but I don’t think “cultural relativism” means what he thinks it means. Cultural relativism is the idea that a person should be judged based on the moral standards of his or her own culture, rather than on the moral standards of some outside observer. First of all, I don’t believe that I’ve condemned any Georgian, other than those who sexually harass or beat women, and last I checked no Georgian will admit to believing that it is right and good to beat, grope, or rape women. Second of all, the idea of cultural relativism is controversial – not everyone agrees with it, and in fact I believe most people find it to be a profoundly cowardly doctrine.

          So, if Passerby had given me some example of what he meant by the statement “you fail to account for something basic that should have been covered during your training, not matter how brief it may have been – the idea of cultural relativism” – and by example, I mean, something that I had done that demonstrated a failure to take cultural relativism into account – then I could have understood what he was really trying to say and possibly even either agreed or disagreed with him based on the merits of his argument. As it is, he simply gives examples of cultural differences – but again, the *whole point* of this blog is to explore and elucidate cultural differences, so surely he’s not suggesting that I’m failing to account for those, and if he is, then we’re back to point 1.

          And, again, I don’t know what complaints I have made that justify the label “spoiled child” – it’s just an insult without an example.

          Now, you, on the other hand, provided a great example of me coming across as an immature dictator, although, I should point out that this is an ongoing argument in the blogosphere when it comes to comment moderation – sure, I “dictate” what goes on in my blog, which would necessarily be true no matter what my decisions were, because I am the only person who moderates this blog and thus have absolute authority over it regardless of whether I allow all comments, no comments, or just comments that I feel like allowing. However, the implied comparison to an actual dictator, by which I mean someone who imprisons dissidents, is obviously an exaggeration – I have no power nor desire to restrict anyone’s speech in any other venue besides this one, or to punish people who disagree with or dislike me.

          In any case, this comment has gone long, and now it’s time for me to thank you for commenting, and as I said to Passerby below, I will try to do better in the future.

        • Mark says:

          I appreciate you taking the time to post a reply. I don’t have the time to craft as thoughtful and lengthy response as you did – But let me simply say this – In my opinion your postings are taking on an entirely heated, reactionary, and defensive posture that I think is detracting from the overall congeniality of the dialogue and quite frankly casting you in a less than flattering light.

          I truly mean no offense but it’s like you’re the pot calling the kettle black – you accuse Passerby of talking to you like you were a six year old yet you launch into a lengthy point by point defense of your comments that in my opinion rather condescendingly relies, at least in part, on pointing out the technical philosophical definition of cultural relativism. Additionally, when I first read your comments I was somewhat taken aback by your “grow the fuck up or take your passive-aggressive dick-measuring contest” comment. I’m a guy who’s served in the military and lived in Chicago, NY, and LA – salty language in no way offends – in fact I regularly and liberally season my non published dialogue with such language. But really? It seems that your response violated the spirit, if not the letter, of your own standards for moderation. For what it’s worth….

          As I said earlier lighten up!

        • panoptical says:

          I’m sorry if it came off as condescending, but unfortunately the reason my explanation relied on pointing out the definition of “cultural relativism” is that Passerby misused the term and you supported that misuse. If neither of you actually understand what Passerby actually said to me, that explains at least a little bit of why we have such different reactions to his comment. I’m just trying to clear up a misunderstanding. And trying to mystify the term by calling its one and only definition “technical” and “philosophical” is a little bit dishonest and anti-intellectual – especially for an English teacher- don’t you think?

        • Mark says:

          Dishonest – not even a bit. And I reject the notion that I’ve sacrificed my intellectual integrity as an English teacher by tacitly acknowledging the fact that most people do not use the English language as precisely as you or I might wish.

          Regarding your assertion that I was somehow “mystifying” the term cultural relativism by labeling it as technical and philosophical; I think it’s worth noting that the idea of cultural relativism is one that falls within the purview of philosophical inquiry, versus for example physics, and given, as you rightly pointed out, the term has a very precise meaning, it’s fair to label the term technical, much like one could say piton is the precise or technical term mountaineers use to describe a spike that holds a climbing rope. So I emphatically stand by my characterization of cultural relativism as a technical philosophical term.

          I’m reminded of the oft repeated advice that warns against giving unsolicited advice , especially to strangers, and ironically note that by violating that maxim I’ve wound up embroiled in the same sort of energy sapping, time wasting, defensive dialogue that I was attempting, in a spirit of intellectual camaraderie, to help steer you away from.

        • panoptical says:

          In other words, when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you 🙂

        • Mark says:

          I like Lou Mannheim’s* expansion upon Nietzsche’s famous words. He says “Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

          *A character played by Hal Holbrook in the first Wall Street.

          http://media.entertonement.com/embed/OpenEntPlayer.swfLooking Into the Abyss sound clip  Wall Street sound clips

        • Mark says:

          I like Lou Mannheim’s* expansion upon Nietzsche’s famous words. He says “Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”

          *A character played by Hal Holbrook in the first Wall Street.

        • ---> says:

          Neil,

          Excellent exchange opinions with Mark – I trully enjoyed reading this.

          I want to focus on one thing, this I think deserves a separate post. Let me quote you:

          > general social agreement in Georgia not to be
          > negative coupled with a genuine belief on the
          > part of Georgians that everything in Georgia
          > is about as close to perfect

          You would be surprised… I don’t know if you’ve already noticed this or not, but what Georgians are telling to each other and to foreigners about the same subject is totally different. I’ll touch this later, but let me start with another topic:

          You are absolutely right – it is not socially acceptable to be _publicly_ (this is very important) negative or bring one’s problem to others, especially if you do not know them. This is the reason why there are no 12-step programs in Georgia – one should not take their problems and discuss them in public with ordinary people, otherwise they would ‘loose face’. Discussion of problems are reserved to the audience of closed circle of trusted family members and relatives or (in lesser degree) – trained professionals in this field and only in case if family/relatives can not fix the problem.

          This thing – ‘what people would thing about me’ (substitute ‘me’ to family/relatives/boss/etc) is very important notion in society and dictates pretty much everyone’s social actions. Expressions ‘if you don’t care about yourself you should at least care what would people will think about our family’ every teenager (especially girls) have heard number of times. Because country and people are so cross-connected one’s actions can take toll to that person’s family and relatives. This is the reality.

          Secondly – about criticism. You would be surprised how Georgians trash their country (both literally and figuratively) when they interact with each other. Expressions ‘God please tell me what did I or my ancestors did wrong to be born in this country!’, ‘I’m counting days when I can leave this country so I can spit back to all you – stinky ones’, ‘it is a sad thing – being born once and in Georgia’ is repeated again and again in local social media networks – just ask someone to tell you what is going on http://www.forum. ge and you’ll get an idea.

          HOWEVER, if a foreigner will criticize locals for the same thing they are screaming at every corner, all of them will all come to Georgia’s and each others defense. In other words criticizing Georgia is reserved only for locals and foreigners should not do it because ‘they do not understand our culture and traditions’.

  10. Passerby says:

    Damn. I’m really sorry – I really didn’t mean to come off as condescending.

    How are you supposed to learn? The same way people did before there were blogs and internet – by listening, observing, asking questions. Does this sound condescending too? To me, your so-called elucidations on Georgian culture “so Americans understand it better” (this post included) sound mostly disdainful and superior – yet you probably don’t indend for your writing to come off as such.

    I have no “advanced cultural understanding” – I came to the US clueless at the age 15, and it was hard work to understand and accept the cultural differences. I merely thought I was offering the benefit of my experience, but instead you viewed it as a “dick-measuring contest” .

    Mostly, I’m really sorry that my comment agitated you so much as you to make you feel so persecuted and misunderstood. I really do wish you the best and positive experiences.

    p.s. New Yorkers are some of the nicest Americans in this country. Another disagreement there.

    • panoptical says:

      You’re right, I don’t intend to come off as disdainful of Georgian culture. If you point out specific examples I will try to do better in the future.

      As far as the agitation, it’s not just you, I’ve kind of been building it up over the course of a couple of comments that have dismissed my complaints as “childish.” I’m willing to call a truce, and I’ll say that I’m sorry that you ended up in the line of fire, but would you do me a favor – honestly – and tell me which complaints exactly you found to be childish? I’m not challenging you, I just want to understand why people keep saying that.

      • Passerby says:

        Neil,

        I’d like to offer a more thoughtful reply another day, short on time today. I have to ask you something though – seeing you supported a Slovenian team during the World Cup – why do you hate the US so much???

        (That was a joke. Best wishes.)

  11. geoskeptic says:

    One thing I’ve observed that as long as the person criticizing Georgia and Georgians is a local it’s more or less ok. He/she might still get rude and aggressive reactions but it’s not as harsh as in case of the person being a foreigner.

    I’ve seen how people moan about how miserable life in Georgia is, that the country is going straight down the toilet, that it’s a shame that they have to spend their lives in this sh*tty place, etc.. but as soon as they see some “other” people criticize their country they suddenly get angry, proud Georgians and pretty defensive.

    I’m sure you’ve read about nationalism in Georgia which is still pretty strong. My personal experience is that an average Georgian is a patriotic, nationalistic and a religious/conservative/traditional person. Unfortunately some (probably many) Georgians are openly xenophobic and racist (most of them would not admit that), some others are secretly so. While this is not a static state and I can see more and more younger people leaning towards more liberal and cosmopolitan ideas. So absolutely don’t be surprised and try not to get offended : ) I’ve got so much sh*t thrown at me in different discussions about homosexuality, patriotism, religion, politics, traditions, gender relations, sex, etc just for expressing liberal and “un-Georgian” views. My friendly advice is to do what I do – treat rudeness with irony and try not to get affected in a negative way. I’d be a mental wreck if I’d treated all the rude comments and personal attacks I’ve received seriously during my cyber debates.

    • you remind me of myself 😀 though I can’t always offer cynicism as an answer to typical traditional religious demagogy , because i get really upset. when that happens i close my eyes and imagine i live somewhere in the desert with no Georgians around 😀
      it helps 😀

  12. geoskeptic says:

    By the way I HATE collective transport in Tbilisi!
    I haven’t used metro for a long time and it’s probably gotten better but marshutkas and busses suck! they drive like crazy, packed, stinky, honking all the time and there are never any maps or timetables. so you just have to ask someone and stand there and wait never being able to know exactly how long a trip from A to B will take.

  13. Rich says:

    I think the last poster basically got it right. Georgians are very proud of their culture, and are very defensive if outsiders criticise it. Even if you are Georgian, criticising certain features of this nationalistic, traditional and “Asiatic” society is guaranteed to get you some very harsh responses. However, Georgians often claim to aspire to be “European” and “rejoinging the West”so in that context they better accept criticism of society, also from westerners! Besides, since many liberal and cosmopolitan Georgians also experience the same treatment that you are recieving, you should not take it too seriously! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s