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.