This morning Mr. Neal Zupancic replied to my counter-blog, which I didn’t think he would, and told me:
“I think there are places where you’ve mistaken my intentions and places where we’ll have to agree to disagree (Good for you, Neal. Carry on), but overall you’ve presented your case articulately and in that particularly British way you folks have of telling someone to fuck off in the most civil and urbane way possible (Steady now, young Neal). So instead of just saying that you took my words out of context, I’ll try to actually provide the context.”
He presented his argument to me, and I have to say I was very impressed, although not surprised; East Coast Americans are gifted with the manners and articulation imprinted on that shoreline by my British forefathers (Rule Britannia!). Anyway, his reply was very polite and detailed, and I think it warrants further response from me (I have to admit, I’m rather enjoying myself).
So, to the point. Neal said (oh, who are we kidding Neal, you’re the only one reading this) that his purpose here was to introduce to Georgia an American influence that his work here is sanctioned by the Georgian government, as far as I know through the Ministry of Education. All very fine, and accurate, but here I’m going to discuss some of the issues revolving around that and some of the other issues Neal highlighted to me. This time from not such a personal standpoint, so be prepared for some hypothetical debate. Here we go.
At one point in your reply you were talking about how Georgia and American/European hegemony and whether or not I object to it. Well, if you look at Georgia’s history, reader, you’ll notice Georgia has (near enough) always been subject to foreign dominance, whether it be from Moscow, Samarkand, or Tehran. Even during its medieval golden age, Tbilisi depended on its Byzantine neighbours for support. All of this does have relevance to the present, especially when it comes to President Saakashvili.
I’m a fan of Misha; I can’t help but like the man, despite European criticism of his fiery rhetoric. As a domestic politician he’s had unmatched success in Eastern Europe, turning this country around from a third-world nation into an example others should fellow. His foreign policy, however, has been rather more disastrous.
I’d like to draw a comparison now, between a Georgia of two hundred years ago under direct Russian control, to the one of today which is under rather more subtle dominance from Washington. Now I appreciate, Neal, that Georgia needs to look after itself; unlike my homeland, it isn’t surrounded by the sea and so can’t conquer the world through naval power (Rule Britannia!) or rely on sea-faring economic strategies. What I would prefer, however, is for Georgia to be a part of Europe, which it is (just about) geographically, but definitely not politically.
I think it was a mistake for Saakashvili to throw in his lot with the Americans as opposed to the Germans and French. In the short term I’m sure it made things easier, since the United States’ immediate aid to this country has been undeniably helpful, but in the long term Georgia is further away than ever from becoming part of the EU. Georgia is a long way from the United States, and Washington can wash its hands of Tbilisi at the drop of a hat if it needs to, as it did in ’08 (though I can’t say I blame them for that, it wasn’t worth risking armed conflict with Russia but their diplomatic stance could, and should, have been firmer). I like to think that if Germany and France had had more at stake here, they would have been forced to take a tougher stance against Russia due to their geographical proximity. As it happened, they had nothing to lose and happily blamed the Georgians for firing first. The point is, quite how Saakashvili came out and said ‘The Americans were there for us in our time of need’ this year is anyone’s guess.
Anyway, to get roughly back on topic, I can’t blame you for the piss-poor decisions made by Georgian and American (and British, when you think about it) politicians, but you’ll see how all that drivel I’ve just typed out impacts on what I have to say. The difficulty with introducing American culture here is how it impacts with everything they’ve grown up with. Let’s use your articles about sex for some examples, and you’ll see what I mean.
In those articles you wrote about sex here in Georgia, I think you’ve got it spot on. It’s near enough exactly as you describe it, though since I’ve been here for so long and gotten used to it, it doesn’t really shock me anymore, but I can see how you’d want your Western teacher colleagues to be aware of it. Anyway, if you haven’t already, Neal, ask some of your Georgian colleagues or friends here what this place was like in the mid ’90s, and they’ll paint a bleak picture. Imagine, then, when they got American TV (one of the perks of American influence here), showing all the joys and wonders of young peoples’ lives in the United States. Promiscuity, no patriarchal system…you know the rest. I imagine you’re aware how that contrasts with the traditional Georgian slant on things.
So because of all this, Georgian young people are being pulled in two very different directions. In one way, they’ve got their families telling them the traditional side of things and what they perceive to be their duty (particularly in female cases), and their MP3 players and TVs are telling them the direct opposite. What then, to do? Another added complication is the fact that Georgians are very proud of being Georgian, and even if the more open-minded ones are willing to admit that not everything about Sakartvelo is perfect, they’ll never abandon their patriotism. Even the ones who live the United Kingdom, or America, or wherever in the world, will never forget where they’re from.
That, then, is the cause of the problems when it comes to sex here, but to be honest it isn’t so different from England or Ireland fifty years ago, and if I had a penny for every time I heard about a British or American dad getting violent because some young Jack-the-lad shagged his daughter, I’d be living in Ivanishvili’s compound.
Don’t get me wrong, the Yanks aren’t all to blame. Sex before marriage, affairs, and all the other gubbins were going on long before Saakashvili made Georgia the 52nd state (Britain having taken the title of 51st after Mr. Blair bent over for President Bush). But one of the main problems I have with it all is that it’s almost giving Georgians false hope. I know of so many of them who, while being proud of being Georgians, believe America and Europe to be the Promised Land. The truth of it is (at least in Britain’s case, I’m not as familiar with America) most of them will never see the West, and even if they did, they’d be nothing but second-rate Eastern European immigrants, ‘job-stealers and whores’, as they’re usually portrayed in British media. In layman’s terms, it’s dangling the carrot; since you’re teaching younger Georgians who perhaps can’t remember the mid ’90s and Soviet days, they perhaps don’t appreciate things as they are like a Georgian person in their mid to late 20s or early 30s.
You can correct me if I’m wrong when it comes to the United States, but when it comes to Europe I will be more of an authority. The fact of the matter is, I don’t want my wife to live in a racist, prejudiced British society, where she’d get ‘fucking foreigner’ sooner or later. It might be different in the US, but I doubt it will differ drastically. What kind of signal does it give to Georgian kids who learn about American culture? ‘Look at all these things you haven’t got, can’t do, or will never have’? I’m asking you, seriously, what other aspect is there to it? Going home to a flat where they live in one room with their parents and siblings and thinking ‘Fuck, I wish I lived in America’.
The government’s decision to employ people like yourself to come and teach here wasn’t anything to do with you, so don’t think I’m blaming you personally for all this. Using more extreme examples, look at how American cultural influence has backfired in Afghanistan and Iraq. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, you can add American cultural elements to the United Kingdom, or vice versa, without much bother, but American and Georgian cultures simply don’t mix, and therein lies the problem. I also think it’s giving Georgian youths (ha! Youths. I’m 20. What can I say? Military life ages you) a very one-dimensional perspective of the outside world. Georgia lacks international ties, you say, and you’re quite right. But what I dislike is how only an American perspective is being taught. Why not a French, German, Canadian, Australian or (dare I say it?) British standpoint?
As for me, I’m not someone who believes everything in Georgia is perfect. Certainly not; I can tell you a song and a dance about problems in Georgian hotel management, and a long time ago I struggled with the culture as you seem to. But it wouldn’t have been desperately helpful for me to point out all those things when I was countering your criticisms of Georgia. Going back to what you wrote to me today, you said :
But what really benefits Georgia (in terms of attracting tourism, investment, and political capital from the world) is having Westerners here to bring Georgia to life in a way that the facts and figures on Wikipedia cannot.
In that you’re exactly right. But I’m afraid your articles don’t paint a very flattering picture of Georgia at all. If I was one of those prospective teachers thinking about coming out here, I wouldn’t touch this place with a barge pole. But if I’m being absolutely fair, your Georgian experience has been (and is) very different to mine. You clearly interact with other foreigners a lot who are also on your teaching programme, while for me, most of my time is spent with Georgians. I’ve never been to an expat bar; though I’m a frequenter of restaurants and bars, the guests are mostly always natives or Russians.
I suppose there are a few differences between you and I. One is that you might be looking to get laid, while I am married. Another is that you are here proudly representing the United States and telling people how wonderful your culture is. I tend to do the opposite amongst my Georgian friends, telling them about the violence on our streets, the racism, the prejudice, the political correctness. I strongly dislike the current culture of my own homeland and I was partially raised in France, so I don’t feel any real affinity to anywhere except this place, the country I’ve chosen to settle in. It’s not perfect, by any means, I’d be the first to admit that, but I won’t tell people here life for them in the West would be better; if anything, it would only be worse.
I’ve not met many American travellers, but I hope they want to know about the good things as well as the problems they might face as well as whether or not they can get dental floss (which they can, by the way, go to the pharmacy by Machabeli Street). Out of interest, I showed your articles to a few Georgians today besides my wife who shared my opinion (actually, I also met an African-American lady who agreed with me as well, interestingly enough. The unfamiliarity with black people here in Georgia is something even I’m not entirely comfortable with). My friend Archil asked what was it that caused that Georgian man to hit you in the bar?
I suppose what it largely boils down to is that you will not be here forever. You are a contracted worker who will eventually go home and have some interesting stories to tell about your time here (or maybe you’ll stay, who knows. I don’t know you). But this is my home, and my children will one day be Georgian. I’ve read some of the other comments and blogs on your page and you sometimes seem to be dealing with morons. I don’t agree with some things you’ve mentioned, but keep them coming, I do enjoy reading them. Come down the boxing gym and take out your frustrations if you feel inclined.