Thanksgiving in Georgia

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.

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12 Responses to Thanksgiving in Georgia

  1. Victoria Wheeler says:

    Small comment of little importance: Kinder chocolates are TOTALLY available in the US. I would have cried after Germany if not.

  2. You’re lucky to have a proper Thanksgiving supra! Here in England I was kidnapped by my lovely (American) Byzantine lecturer, and helped to cook a feast, but we could only manage duck due to oven size and time-frame!

    Do they have butternut squash in Tbilisi (in Populi/Goodwill; I assume not natively)? When I return I’d love to start cooking winter soups to keep me warm! I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to a Georgian winter or not!

    As for the male/female situation – it doesn’t strike me as all that different from Italy! I taught at a summer camp in Liguria, and despite our best efforts to encourage the kids to all work together, the girls ended up doing all the cooking and cleaning (from the age of 12!) while the boys lolled about playing football. Georgia hasn’t struck me as more extreme than Italy yet (with the exception of the virginity taboo), but I’m still learning.

    How did you end up meeting so many Georgians, btw?

    • panoptical says:

      Most of the Georgians I know personally are either my coworkers or students. I teach some adults who are really excellent guests as well as hosts (three of the Georgians who were at Thanksgiving were part of the group who took me out for a traditional supra that other time) and so I actually have a large network of Georgian friends and acquaintances. You can add to that some TLG staff, and some people I’ve met online through this blog, and people that my roommate and friends introduce me to, and that adds up to a party that was about a third Georgian people.

      • Good to know! One of my Tbilisi Goals in my highly inorganic, intensely structured Plan to Develop a Social Life (the drawbacks of not being affiliated with a programme – no built-in network) is to meet more Georgians!

  3. ---> says:

    > However, my roommate definitely experienced the mixed blessing of
    > hosting a large number of TLG volunteers at once.

    Steve did not like that someone ate his cereal and did not pay for it. 😉

    Why did not you get a fresh turkey from bazaar? You could get whole, plucked and ready to cook for 30 GEL.

  4. Nicely done on the Thanksgiving. As for turkeys, we got plenty running around here. You’re welcome to have a few if you a bring a pistol, a knife to chop the head off and a liter of vodka for the entertainment value of it all. I for one hate the buggers. It’s not that they’ve ever charged me during a morning jog, but they certainly make one of the most demonic, hellish noises I’ve ever heard. Seriously disturbing stuff that “gobble gobble” is!

  5. milica says:

    Hi Neal,
    I have found this blog through an Italian website that has recently joint their Balkans and Caucasian sections. Coming from Belgrade, Serbia, I am usually interested just in the Balkans one.
    Your blog has been a very nice read, and the whole Georgian situation has partially destroyed a theory of mine about female rights improvement (to my defense, it was my leftish husband who thought of it first).
    For five years now, I have been living in Bari, Italy, and to my surprise, in I have found a gender situation in south Italy to be one generation delayed compared to the Serbian one. Italy being one of the G8 countries, and Serbia being one of the poorest countries in Europe, this revelation was quite a shock.
    So, the theory was that the female rights improvement came as one of the positive aspects of the communist heritage, just like “free” education or “free“medical assistance.
    Thinking about the first post-war years of our communist regime, it made sense. During the WW2 a female political organization was formed. After the war there was a pressure on women to take part, even if any political activism was badly viewed by more traditional men. There used to be a famous TV show that dealt with the phenomenon (a husband hangs himself at the end because his honor was ruined by wife’s political activity), but I am struggling to remember the title (it was a long time ago and a short googling did not help).
    Immediately after the WW2, all the girls had to be sent to school. Not that before there were not any (on the contrary, at the beginning of the last century Serbian women were among the first female students at some European universities), but the regime was rather violent, and parents of out-of-school girls were facing serious problems. A great deal of those girls was good at school and ended up going to college. All of them worked (meaning they had to work both in office and at home because house cleaning was still mainly considered a female chore). One became a prime minister of Yugoslavia, which was the greatest function in the country at the time. Unfortunately, bad sexually discriminating jokes accusing her of being actually a male were rather popular. Downsides like this one were all that I used to note on the gender relations in Serbia (and ex Yugoslavia) before coming to Italy. I imagined western and G8 countries to be further down the road to an ideal gender equality. Stupid me, huh?
    My mom was born in 1948 and she was the first one in her family to graduate from college. She was a pharmacist. I do not know a single woman of her generation in Serbia that was a housewife.
    In south Italy, on the other hand, this generation of women were either housewives or teachers (I did meet few exceptions, like maybe two), which was considered a legitimate occupation for a woman (this can be compared to a pre-war Yugoslavia).
    So, I am rather confused now after reading about Georgian gender situation. How did it escape a violent “gender equalization” during communism? How come the USSR era is often referred to as traditionally patriarchal in a lot of comments? This is really interesting.
    Maybe because we in ex Yugoslavia had a strong partisan and communist movement locally, while in Georgia it is called “occupation” several times in the comments on this blog. This was also confusing. Was Stalin an exception, for example put there to seem that there were communist Georgians, while most might have been against communism? Did the parents of out-of-school girls have any problems?
    Neal, keep up the good work and sorry for a huuuuuuuuuge post.
    Finally, I wish you all the best in Georgia with a line that I connect instinctivly to your last name. It should be quite common in Slovenia, but in other countries of ex Yugoslavia we ignorants usually associate it with one of the greatest Slovenian poets and one of the most popular poems for children in ex Yugoslavia
    Ciciban, Ciciban, dober dan!
    (Ciciban just being a name of a kid in the poem, and “dober dan” “good day”)

  6. Pingback: Thanksgiving « ბაყაყი წყალში ყიყინებს

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