One of the many quirks of the Georgian expat life is that we have to make our own holidays out of whatever we can scrounge up here in the central Caucasus region. So far Halloween and Thanksgiving have come and gone without much notice in Georgia, but we expats have stirred it up real good.
Some of my friends decided to throw a Thanksgiving party at my house on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They decided to make it a potluck dinner and open the event to anyone on facebook. This led to something like 30 “yes” and 15 “maybe” RSVPs on facebook alone – and out of all of these RSVPs, no one was offering to bring turkey. The group had basically given up on having turkey for Thanksgiving, so I decided that I can’t possibly not have enough connections in Georgia to get a turkey here. I began asking around.
Like the ever-elusive ginger, people kept telling me that turkey was available, that they had seen it in one place or another, yet each place I went was devoid of turkey, or “ინდაური” (indauri) as they say in Georgian. As a side note, I wonder about the etymology of that word. The name “turkey” is attached to the bird because the settlers who found it thought that it was related to a kind of bird that they imported from Turkey. “Indauri” just reminds me of “Indians” (and the “-uri” suffix indicates origin so the word could mean “a thing from Inda”) which of course is what the people who lived in the place where turkeys come from were erroneously called by those same quirky Europeans.
Anyway, I finally made it to Goodwill – a Walmart-like store in Didi Dighomi that is the go-to place of last resort for imported or hard-to-find products – early Thanksgiving afternoon. I walked in and happened to overhear a man speaking to his daughter in English. I asked him if he happened to know if Goodwill had turkeys, and if so, where. He said that he didn’t know. As I walked away, he called me back over to offer me some help: he told me that he had a spare turkey in his freezer that he could part with if I couldn’t find one at Goodwill.
I asked some of the Goodwill employees if there was any turkey, but all they had was, apparently, some kind of turkey sausage. That just wasn’t going to do, so I went back to the kind gentleman, who proceeded to drive me to his house – an enormous house north near the US embassy with high walls around the property and a trampoline on the front yard – and go inside to get this turkey. I spoke to his daughter about the relative merits of Georgian and various other international foods, and we agreed that the best thing, food-wise, about being outside of the US is definitely Kinder chocolates. Finally, this dude emerges from his house carrying a Butterball turkey and a loaf of Wonder Bread Texas Toast, both of which he kindly bequeathed upon me totally free of charge before driving me back to the main road where I picked up the marshutka back to Gldani.
So I basically spent that night defrosting the turkey and hanging out around the house with an American friend of mine. On Friday I did some prep and some more shopping, but since the party was meant to be a potluck and I’d already acquired the key Thanksgiving element, I left most of the work up to other people. Friday night I went out and got drunk and made a number of extremely poor decisions that I probably won’t be talking about on this blog, but by Saturday I was tired, hungover, and not exactly in the best mood I’ve ever been in. One more round of shopping on Saturday morning, and I came home to clean up myself and my room before the first guests arrived.
From an outside perspective, the party was a huge success. There were at least 60 people in the house, we had a turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and apple pie, not to mention Georgian dishes like khinkali and khatchapuri and some other stuffed breads. We had a bunch of soups and stews. We had a big cake and some other snacks. We had three metric tons of booze (wine, vodka, and chacha). People seemed to be having a good time, to my knowledge nothing was broken, damaged, or stolen, and no one got wasted or did anything stupid.
However, my roommate definitely experienced the mixed blessing of hosting a large number of TLG volunteers at once. From my Halloween party and my birthday party, I know very well that these things can get crowded and expensive and while some people show gratitude and make contributions, most don’t. Everyone in TLG is living on a fairly small stipend, and I totally understand the tendency to want to treat our house parties like a catered TLG event, but we really don’t have the resources to do those very often, which is why I’m still somewhat fatigued from doing two in a row almost a month ago.
So, for this event, since it was a potluck, most of the people who showed up who were our friends did contribute significantly, but the people that we knew less well seemed to, as a trend, contribute less significantly. My roommate was keeping track of all this, and this is what he has told me, but I think he’s probably right. It’s not like we didn’t have enough food – we actually ended up with quite an excess of both food and beverage – but it seems like a disproportionate amount of that food came from a very small subset of our guests.
But anyway, the turkey was absolutely amazing – cooked by our friend and neighbor and fellow TLGer – with some kind of black pepper and pomegranate glaze, which was awesome. My roommate’s mashed potatoes were also exceptionally good. And I decided to defy three decades of habitual avoidance of cooked apple products and try the apple pie baked by the girl whose idea this whole Thanksgiving thing was in the first place, and said apple pie was really quite incredibly good. So, ultimately, Thanksgiving came through in a big way.
The social interactions between our Georgian and American guests were interesting. At the beginning of the party, it seemed like the most outgoing Georgians, who mingled the most with Americans, were the ones with the least English. They seemed to really want to practice conversation. They also seemed to really enjoy the party. One of them kept telling me how different it was from Georgian parties, and how everything seemed so much freer. I imagine there was novelty in having women smoking outside, people drinking without toasting first, a large amount of racial diversity, and probably various other aspects of the party that I can’t even notice because they seem so normal to me, but which must seem very odd to a Georgian.
The Georgians with better English seemed to mingle less, although I admit I was avoiding them because one of them brought a friend who had insulted me several times in comments to my prior blog entries and I really didn’t want to get into it with her.
It was also very obvious that a lot of the TLG people had already developed strong reactions to the presence of Georgian men. Later on in the party a number of additional Georgian men showed up and there was this odd dynamic where the TLG guys would try to protect the TLG girls from the Georgian men by being a little bit hostile and standoffish – not saying everyone did this, but some did – and a number of the TLG women were clearly already very tired of interacting with Georgian men and not really willing to give new ones a chance. It’s an attitude that I totally understand, but that also saddens me.
And not to keep beating the same drum, but the gender situation is very different here than in the US. Men and women here seem fairly happy with the way they relate to each other – many Georgian women go so far as to say that they refuse to believe that there could possibly be sexual discrimination or harassment in Georgia, and many more claim that they personally have never seen or experienced any even if maybe it does happen in some unusual circumstances. And if Georgian women either don’t see, or refuse to admit to seeing, any problem in Georgian gender relations, then how can Georgian men be expected to know that some women might find their manners or behavior insulting or upsetting? So on the one hand, I get it when western women come to see Georgian men as so ignorant that it’s not worth their time to even interact with them socially, but I’m also sad because I don’t think that every Georgian man is the same, and even the ones who are ignorant are ignorant because of circumstance, not malice, and it’s a shame that so many people are writing off an entire population because of this problem.
And arguably since we at TLG are part of a cultural exchange, we do bear some responsibility for teaching Western manners and social etiquette to Georgians. I would never advocate that a person quietly submit themselves to behavior that they were uncomfortable with, but if a Georgian man knows enough English to understand the sentence “that is not acceptable in our culture” or something like it, we should be using that sentence to educate him if he does something that offends us, rather than simply blowing him off and leaving him to wonder why Americans are so unfriendly. Of course, some men don’t understand “no” in any language, and they need to be dealt with differently, but I don’t think that was what was going on at this party.
In the end, though, there was too much going on with sixty or more people in the house for me to keep track of everyone and every social interaction. I think at the peak of the party I didn’t even know half the people there anyway. I spent most of my time huddled in small groups of friends, talking and catching up with them and trying to avoid the cigar smoke and the dance party and any other unwelcome guests that somehow made their way into my house. So, for what it was worth, I had a good time seeing people, and I’m glad we got to have a Thanksgiving dinner and a cultural exchange, even if both were occasionally rocky or imperfect.
It’s funny because when I woke up after the party I thought “that party was awesome!” and then after cleaning up I thought “that party was lame!” and now my opinion has somewhat evened out, partly due to leftover apple pie, which just shows the changeable and subjective nature of opinion. In any case, that party was a party that I will not soon forget.