Sex in Georgia, Part II: Host family issues

First, a disclaimer. I’m not talking about sex to be perverse, offensive, or controversial. To me, sex is a part of life, necessary to continue life – like eating, drinking, or sleeping. It’s a biological function. Obviously it is one that is loaded down with taboo and tradition, but I am a notorious iconoclast when it comes to taboo and tradition, and I have personally chosen to discard any traditions that don’t actually improve my quality of life from a rational perspective. Anyway, if sex talk bothers you, read no further. Also, if you’re related to me, you might want to consider skipping this one…

*********************************

As I’ve said before, one of the biggest problems that TLG members have in Georgia is conflict with their host families. A major source of conflict is that the Georgian host families tend to expect TLG volunteers to behave like good Georgian children are supposed to behave. From what I understand, Georgian families were not briefed at all about the habits of Western 20-somethings, or about the aspects of American or Western culture that might lead to misunderstandings or conflicts.

Particularly – as I’ve said before – most TLG members are sexually active adults.

Before I say more, I need to make a digression so that people understand that I’m not being culturally insensitive. When I was brought up in New York City, I was not allowed to have sex in my parents’ house. They told me that when I became an adult and moved out, I could have sex, and until then, I had to respect their house by not having sex in it.

The first girl that I had sex with came from an even more conservative background. She was not even allowed to touch members of the opposite sex until she was married. No sex, no kissing, no hugs, no hand-holding. Not to mention that she wasn’t allowed to date outside of her religion. When her parents found out that I existed, there was a huge fight in her house.

So given that we weren’t allowed to have sex in my house, and I wasn’t even allowed to be in her house, we had to get creative. We had sex in the following places, just for example:
– My house, hoping we wouldn’t get caught (we did, and I caught hell for it)
– her house, hoping we wouldn’t get caught (we didn’t, because I hid in her closet)
– her neighbor’s house
– one of her best friends’ house
– one of my best friends’ house
– Battery Park
– the women’s bathroom in the World Financial Center
– the Brooklyn-bound platform of the Avenue H stop on the Brighton line

I’m told that in Georgia, cars, hotel rooms, and public parks are the big places for amorous young couples and/or cheating spouses to have sex, although I personally know of some Georgians who have let their friends use their apartments for sex also.

So basically, my experience growing up in New York isn’t all that different from what Georgians experience here, in terms of finding a place to have sexual activity, and Georgian parents aren’t necessarily more conservative or traditional than American parents. I’m not trying to be down on Georgia, here – I grew up with the same kinds of restrictions.

What I’m trying to say is that I absolutely do not expect Georgian host families to let TLG volunteers have sex in their houses. I understand that for many Georgian families, it would be a great shame to have a member of the opposite sex come to visit a member of the family at home, especially if they stayed the night. I understand that Georgian homes are often crowded and there often isn’t any privacy to be had anyway. I get it, and other TLG members get it too.

However.

I later dated a girl with much more liberal parents. They would let me sleep over the house any time I wanted. Their rationale was that it was better to have their daughter being sexually active in the privacy and safety of her own home than in a park or train station or public bathroom somewhere. My parents, for their part, had no complaints when I went to stay over a girl’s house. They weren’t concerned that their reputation would take a hit if I were out somewhere at night, they weren’t concerned with morality or virginity or whatever – they just warned me about safe sex, and let me go out into the world.

So the problem that a lot of TLG members are having with their host families is that Georgian society as a whole is a little more judgmental about sex than my parents were in that situation. Many Georgian host families are not okay with their TLG members going out for a night to stay with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Many TLG volunteers are worried that if they tell their host families that they are sexually active before marriage, their host families will judge them harshly, will hate them, will lecture them, or will treat them badly.

Two of my friends are dating, and when the girl left the guy’s host family’s house one day, an older Georgian woman called her “upatrono” – which literally means “unowned, without a protector” and is generally applied to women who are stepping out of the patriarchal order, stray dogs, and homeless children (no kidding – ძაღლი უპატრონო, dzaghli upatrono, means stray dog). The connotation, when applied to a woman, is whore.

Two of the TLGers from a previous group were dating, and decided to get married in Georgia just because they couldn’t get enough respect as a couple and didn’t want to be called whores or whatever.

Anyway. TLG members regularly lie to their host families about where they are going and why, in order to go have sex or be with their partners. I imagine that some host families catch on to this, but for the most part it seems like the host families are simply confused as to why their volunteers are spending so many nights sleeping over random strangers’ houses rather than at home. Many host families are insulted by the volunteers’ seeming desire to get away from them. This has caused conflict in a number of cases that I am aware of.

I also know one volunteer whose host family used to let her have her boyfriend over. Then once, I came by the house to pick them up so that I could show them where the local Liberty Bank branch is, and apparently the family’s neighbors started gossiping and the host family then banned the volunteer from having boys over anymore.

I know that I’m going to get some comments on here about how I’ve totally misrepresented Georgian culture, but the fact is, overall, the cultural milieu here – especially with the older generations – is one that discourages friendships between members of the opposite sex, and especially discourages premarital sex. Some Georgians are more liberal, but there are enough Georgians that are still traditional/conservative that TLG members almost always have to tiptoe around and keep their sex lives, and sometimes even their social lives as a whole, a secret.

I think that TLG could potentially address this problem by giving the host families some kind of orientation or informational packet explaining what to expect from Westerners. I think that TLG needs to tell the host families that the volunteers that they will be hosting are very likely to be sexually active adults.

I know that talking about sex makes many Georgians very uncomfortable. I know that telling host families the truth about Westerners will make the program look bad and will discourage families from hosting volunteers. However, right now the program is causing a lot of bad blood because this communication isn’t happening, and people don’t know what to expect, and an alarming number of volunteers end up leaving their host families over miscommunications related to sex and dating and the secrecy and resentment that come from these failures to communicate.

Again, I don’t expect Georgians to throw their traditions out the window to accommodate us. I just think that if this program is about cultural exchange, learning, and communication, TLGers and host families need to be able to communicate honestly. I don’t expect host families to approve of their volunteers’ sexual activities, or social lives, or personal choices – however, host families should know about these things in advance so they can decide for themselves whether they want to tolerate this kind of behavior before bringing volunteers into their homes.

And I think that word of mouth will spread, and eventually everyone in Georgia will have heard about how their fourth cousin had an American in their house who would disappear on weekends and show up on Sunday afternoon in the same clothes they left in on Friday night, looking disheveled and prompting all the neighbors to talk, or similar stories. And obviously everyone is different – not all TLGers are young adults, not all are sexually active, and in addition, some host families are very liberal and really don’t care what the neighbors say. I think in five years – if TLG continues – this sort of thing won’t be a problem anymore.

But for now, there’s a good chance that if you come to Georgia with TLG and are sexually active, you will either have to lie about it or be judged, gossiped about, and possibly shamed in some way for it. There’s a good chance that it will be one of the major stress points between you and your host families.

***********************************

Just as a reminder, I don’t have a host family. None of this applies to me personally because I have an apartment with another American guy. So please, don’t make it personal.

***********************************

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

10 Responses to Sex in Georgia, Part II: Host family issues

  1. saniday says:

    I do agree, especially in some parts.
    We’re all waiting for times, when neighbors and people who’s none of concern this is, will stop judging us and call whores behind our back.
    We need a couple more years for this kind of thing to change, obviously.

  2. Ilyk Eyaj says:

    I agree with you that TLG didn’t tell the Georgian host families anything the cultures of the Western World especially relating to gender relations and sex. Actually several TLG volunteers have told me personally that they have offered to give “crash course” seminars on American, Canadian, British, and Australian cultures to the host families and were refused by TLG employees.
    Separate issue: One thing that I have observed is that many Georgians sincerely believe that they know everything about American culture based on news, tv shows, and movies. So I have had Georgian friends tell me that they know all about us Americans already and don’t want or need any new information that could be provided.

    Funny thing is that I’ve been given the opportunity to foster good friendships with a few Georgians females and males alike and when they get comfortable, they DO talk about gender, sex, love and relationships. There is a barrier you have to cross to get there and it takes some time and effort because we are still foreigners and I can’t blame the Georgians for not crossing that line of discussion with us. Give it time and they will talk to TLG teachers about these subjects, even some of the older men and women will talk frankly to you about this stuff, trust me. Gaining and keeping the trust is key.

  3. Razha says:

    A very nice post!
    It’s a pity that TLG did not discuss these issues with the host families in advance but I am sure some of TLG staff visits these blogs so hopefully they will do something about it in the future.

  4. I’ve never really had a problem talking to Georgian girls about gender/sex in Georgia. In fact, it seems easier to me to talk with Georgian girls than American girls in that regards, as American girls get WAY more defensive way more quickly on any sort of critique, or rather, in a conversation, they automatically think it’s a personal critique. It’s the damaged goods effect.

    As for the culture in general, I find that Georgians are way more lax on men than they are on women. Men are almost expected to be sleeping around with free women and prostitutes, and when people find out that you aren’t, they look at you funny. “Well where have you been all weekend?” they ask with worried eyes. “Traveling. Davit Gareja. Kazbegi. Etc.” “Americans are strange people. I wish I could travel like that.” “Yup. And you can, it’s like 10 lari there and back by marshrutka.”

  5. BlackGlance says:

    I absolutely agree with you in everything you described in this post. And this is also true that in 5, maximum 10 years that kind of stuff won’t be problem anymore.

    BTW. I’m Georgian in America and I also experience cultural shock in here. It’s fun :))

  6. tiki says:

    yup. i liked your article and i really agree with you. I’m Georgian and i know it well and all is clear. 🙂 just do ur best and respect everybody’s traditions… i don’t like Georgians opinion about sex generally but i try to respect them and their culture. so that’s why i think that everything has bad and good sides. 🙂 good luck and have a fun in Georgia

  7. tiki says:

    i liked ur article and i agree with you. Georgians have differently opinions about many things than other nations. I’m Georgian and i really know that well. i don’t like many things but i try to respect them and their traditions. like everything has bad and good sides, so don’t think that’s this is all bad. good luck and have a fun in Georgia

  8. Dolf says:

    Hi,
    I came in Georgia, because I found my “Georgian” girl (now my wife) on internet. I am lucky with a very liberal family. But indeed, our boy-girlfriend period was “hiding”. Now we are respected as a married couple.
    I am surprised about a lot of things I see and hear in daily life in Georgia. But its the lifestyle here and a long tradition where Georgians are stuck in. But so be it. I made the choice to marry my girl and life here. That means, give up things, respect things and “be quiet”. Totally different from Holland, where I am born and raised. Freedom of speech and so on.

    I read your blog, and I agree with a lot of things. The Georgian society is stuck in religion and tradition. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is difficult for a lot of Georgians. Because their past is most about fighting wars and defending their traditions. Still, these days they defend their country like “Americans” , and their religion as their own true faith. Words as “sex” are taboo in public, and that is why Georgians write forums full about sexual life and fantasy’s. They are afraid of showing the real person inside, and pretend to be good Christians. (just like Americans)
    Yes, Georgia wants to become “western”. The European flag hangs in every village in the country. But Georgia has a lot, and I mean, a lot to learn before they can become part of the EU.
    I read the website of TLG and it sounds like a good program. To teach the young generations in Georgia about other cultures. Teaching is connected to learning. Learning is a basis for something to achieve in the future. You make mistakes to learn it better. So, this program is focused on younger people. The future starts with children. Beautiful!
    I suppose that the volunteers of TLG know what they sign up for. You go to an other country, other culture…. So, you choose to give up things, to respect others believes, traditions, culture and to teach/tell Georgians about your culture. That is great!
    But, I think, that you, as TLG volunteers, should not forget, that Georgia is in some cases a few century’s behind the “western civilization”. That means that the people here has to learn a lot still. So, in my opinion, the American TLG volunteers have to think about what they sign up for, before they sign up. Everyone is nice to you, at least to me, but know what you do before you want to press your western lifestyle/freedoms on the people here. I know, you Americans are good at that, but give Georgians time to learn. If you cannot or don’t want to, then ask yourself ” what am I doing here?” or live your life ( like the author of the blog) in your own apartment and own rules.

  9. Kate says:

    Most Westerners do not live at home as adults, if you do happen to live at home as an adult, you are expected to follow certain rules like not come home late at night drunk . etc. in this regard Georgia is no different. Yes, some of these families are over protective of their female teachers because this will save a lot of trouble for the both parties. Gender gap exists in all societies, and yes, in many respects the gap of inequality is wider in Georgia compared to Western countries. Another thing to keep in mind is that Georgia is more of a collective culture, more like in realms of Middle Eastern and European Mediterranean countries, because of this people are much more in each other’s “business” than in individualistic cultures like America and many other Northern Europeans countries where people generally do couldn’t care less about what you do. There are negative and positives aspects about both types of cultures.

  10. Tymala says:

    I agree 100%, the host families should be given a crash course on western cultural behaviors; especially the gender issues and oops the word SEX—-such a naughty thing! I have been living here for 2 years and am a foreigner who is not in the program, but I am also working here as an NGO and have primarily Georgian friends and have many experiences as a foreign woman in Georgia.

    Back to your program. Yes, the foreigners were invited here in Georgia and we should be as culturally sensitive as possible and follow the rules. I absolutely agree that sex in the home of your host family is not respectable and flaunting a relationship with the opposite sex in public should be given a second thought. But the Georgians have to give the same courtesy and respect our differences as well. I know one girl felt that she was living a total lie. She was Jewish and pretending to be Christain. And of course she was hiding anything personal about herself and pretending that she does not have a boyfriend back home. I have to censor so many things about myself on a daily basis and it does get exhausting.

    The issue about fb pages is also controversial. The Georgians want to befriend us on fb, yet doing so means we have to censor ourselves even more. I know of another girl on your program and she is criticized by her co-workers and students for having a boyfriend (at the age of 25). I never talk about politics, religon, or anything that would be taboo for Georgians on my fb. I think these cultural exchange programs need to meet half way. Both sides need to show respect for each other and we should be accepted for who we are, no matter how bizarre, and to not have to live a lie.

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