Wait Your Turn

I am going to offer the rare piece of blunt, prescriptive advice: I think Georgians should learn to wait their turn.

Normally I shy away from direct criticism of Georgian culture, at least on this blog, and opt for describing and trying to understand the culture. I know people don’t want to be told how to live their lives. In this case, however, it’s such a small and innocuous thing that bears such an impact on everyday life. I think it is safe to say that everyone in this country would be happier, healthier, and smarter if they would just learn to wait their turn.

Waiting your turn is taught in the US and in many European countries from a very early age. It is a sign of respect for the people around you and the process or system that you are participating in. It is also a practical matter – in cases where not everyone can go at once, someone has to go first and someone else has to wait. You can’t all go at once.

Georgians have an ad hoc system for determining turn order. It has to do with social and cultural factors, such as age, gender, status/apparent status, and possibly other nuances that I am missing. It is also very closely related to who is willing and able to push themselves forward through the crowd to get to the point of service, or who is willing and able to yell the loudest. In America we are more likely to opt for a “first come, first served” system, because we fancy ourselves an egalitarian country and lining up in the order you came in is clearly more fair (by our standards) whereas making personal judgments about people before deciding who to prioritize is clearly unreliable, prone to abuse, and intrusive in a way that many people would find offensive.

Once I was crossing from Turkey into Georgia at the border station in Sarpi. There were small queues of Turks waiting their turn for passport control. They were surrounded by writhing masses of Georgians pushing each other and the Turks in order to jockey for position. I hope no one will call me insensitive if I just say that the contrast did not favor the Georgians.

Now it’s true that I am personally frustrated because I have just had yet another shopping experience in which the Georgian salesperson very deliberately and obviously skipped over me to serve someone else because reasons. (This was at Smart on Chavchavadze – do me and yourselves a favor and don’t shop there!) However, this has been an issue that I have noticed over and over again and that my foreign friends have also noticed and commented on. Georgians cut in line, shout out their orders ahead of people who were there before them, and otherwise behave in ways most Westerners consider very rude – and the salespeople reward this behavior by serving the rude people ahead of the polite people.

Go ahead, make excuses for them. I’ll wait.

*****

I’m going to make a huge theoretical leap and claim that the idea of fairness is somehow embedded in human nature. Not the specific definition of fairness, but just the idea that some things are just and fair, and other things are not, and that generally speaking we’d prefer things to be fair, especially if we’re on the receiving end of the unfairness. I think kids naturally feel it’s unfair that they can’t do all the things adults can do, for example, and I think this idea naturally causes them displeasure, regardless of culture. I could be wrong.

But I bring this up because I think that Georgians do feel that it is unfair that the loudest, pushiest people always get to go first. I think that many Georgians do get annoyed when someone cuts them in line. I think that part of the reason why that Gallup survey indicated that Georgians do not feel like they are treated with respect on a day-to-day basis is that they are constantly disrespecting each other in this and many other related and non-related ways that essentially amount to a lack of regard or consideration for the feelings and situations of the other people around.

Shopping at the store is actually perhaps the most harmless example of this lack of regard for turn-taking and other forms of consideration. Consider a highway. The insanity of Georgian driving habits – which scare nearly every visitor to this country – is mostly a result of a lack of regard for rules and an unwillingness to negotiate turn-taking (and right of way) in a fair and systematic way. This causes accidents, road rage, violence, and death. I need to get “you don’t actually need to be in front of that other car so badly that it’s worth risking your life” translated into Georgian for the next time I take a trip on the national highway.

Or how about education? Without citing any specific examples, I’ll just invite you to think about what a classroom is like when students do not wait their turn – i.e., wait to be called on – before shouting out a question or an answer or a comment. In public schools classes can have 40 kids. Students internalize the reward system as follows: “When I call out an answer, the teacher rewards me, moreso if I am the loudest. When I call out a question, the teacher answers me, and if she doesn’t the first time, she definitely will the second.” Sure, this someday becomes “When I cut in line, I leave the store first” – but that’s not really the problem. The problem is the missed opportunity for education, because the classroom is a shouted conversation between the teacher and the one or two loudest boys.

When I teach kids who come from that environment, they are unmanageable. It’s like they understand the concept of waiting their turn, just not how it applies to them personally. They are offended by the idea that a teacher might answer student questions in the order they were asked rather than in order of who asked the loudest or the most times. In many cases, they will not allow anyone else to learn until their own question has been fully addressed, and if there are two of them, there is simply no feasible resolution. That is one of the reasons why public school students very often get the bulk of their education from private lessons (not just the rich ones – teachers in the villages also give private lessons, often to their own students), and, as a result, most Georgians just never learn how to learn in a classroom environment. I pity them if they go to college outside Georgia.

*****

It’s not a matter of patience. Most Georgians I know are as patient as a stone, highly flexible, and tolerant of setbacks and delays – at least, those that are inevitable or perceived as such. (That outlook, by the way, is one of my favorite things about Georgia.) Instead, it’s a matter of applying that patience to a specific set of circumstances.

It’s about choosing to wait your turn – about choosing to put the health of the system ahead of your own momentary personal inclinations. It’s about delayed gratification. It’s about being able to wait when you don’t have to as gracefully as you wait when you do have to. That skill is so super-important in life that I think its lack is one of the main deficiencies in the so-called “Georgian mentality” that Georgians are always blaming their problems on. And sure, you can say that this lack is a result of poverty, Sovietism, instability, or whatever – but let’s not dodge responsibility for solving the problem. Georgians should just learn to wait their turn. Start now. Practice. PSH is great because they make you take a number, and some of the bank branches are doing that now too. Bravo to them for setting an example. This is low-hanging fruit, but it’s basic and important. Get on it, Georgians.

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6 Responses to Wait Your Turn

  1. Joe Boccuzzi says:

    Bravo. I love Grorgia, but as a westerner I was surprised by this lack of courtesy as I know it. However, it is their country and culture. So, I try to politely negotiate the differences.

  2. Samantha says:

    http://www.npr.org/2014/08/27/343623220/parking-behavior-may-reflect-economic-drive

    This NPR report discusses the correlation between backing in to a parking spot (reflecting an understanding of/preference for delayed gratification), and economic drive. Perhaps Georgians’ general disinterest in delayed gratification (choosing personal temporary benefit now over long term systemic improvement) is reflective/explanatory of the Georgian economic trajectory

  3. Chuck says:

    If I sat down in front of my computer and set out to describe my first and lasting impressions from our first 3 months in Tbilisi, I could not have come up with a more accurate analysis. Just the other day, I was in my local bank (the Orange flavor, not red or blue, or black and red), and they recently changed the upstairs queue system for the cashiers, so that instead of standing in some ambiguous line where you get yelled at by people who are sitting down near the windows if you tread too closely to their invisible and intangible spot before your “mystic” turn, you get a number downstairs for the cashiers, then go upstairs and wait for your number to ring. This is how it should have been all along. Well, having not been in this branch since the change, I went upstairs, realized the change, passed a rather larger man on the narrow stairwell, and went and stood in the ambiguous line for the number machine. Apparently, the ambiguous line only changed location, from upstairs in front of the cashiers to downstairs in front of the number machine. As I was waiting, the rather large man came downstairs and started yelling, pushing his way to the front of the line to get his ticket for upstairs. I could do nothing but roll my eyes, seeing as I don’t speak Georgian or Russian. Had I been able to speak Russian or Georgian to him, I would have told him that he is not more important than all these other people who are waiting patiently and not acting like animals. Anyways, he got his number, and about 30 seconds later, I got mine. I went back upstairs, only to see this same man still yelling at people. This time because the number that he had received had already been called while he was downstairs yelling. So finally a cashier who was eager to make the madness stop decided to call him forward and resolve his most-likely-inane problem. Unfortunately, no one will be able to help this man with his real problem, and that is thinking that he is somehow more important than everyone else in this world. This best way for these types of people to learn their lessons is for them to reap the dividends of their actions. Sadly, they are usually too near-sighted to be able to see these lessons.

    If someone were to write a primer for expats moving to Georgia, this article should be near the front, if not the first chapter. The sooner they learn this lesson, the sooner they will begin to adapt to life in Georgia. Especially as it applies to the traffic here πŸ˜‰

  4. yeah, i just yell at people to wait for their turn (i wait for mine).
    they look surprised.
    i hate when u find a ball of people instead of a line of people. or 5 lines.
    i wonder if it stems from the 90ies, when ppl had to line up for hours for bread, and if u were towards the end of the line, u were less likely to get bread, as products were limited.

    • panoptical says:

      Have you seen “In Bloom”? There was a scene where the girl got yelled at for cutting in the bread line – I was wryly amused at the concept of someone cutting in line and *not* getting away with it.

  5. Pingback: On “Hats Off” | Georgia On My Mind

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