It’s that thing about London…

I don’t have anything particularly against our nation’s capital. I don’t like or dislike it particularly, but then, I’ve only been twice, and I’ve never had much cause to go there. Big, busy cities have never held much of an attraction for me, and since Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff are much closer, if ever the desperate need arose for me to travel to a British metropolis, it made more sense to go to one of those three.

I mention it here because I am sick and tired of Georgians talking or asking me about London. These people generally fall into two categories; the ones who’ve been (or lived there) and hence think they know Britain, or the ones who want to go without the faintest idea of where it is they’re really going. But they seem to love the place, which is fair enough in its own way, and you’d think I wouldn’t mind having anglophiles telling me how great they think my capital city is.

I’m thinking now what the best way would be to explain to a Georgian why it pisses me off. When you remark to Georgians in Tbilisi how much you love their country, they are usually very quick to point out that there is much more to Georgia than Tbilisi, and that they themselves aren’t from there at all, instead hailing from Mingrelia, Racha, Guria, or wherever (although sometimes they’ve never even been to the place ‘where they’re from’). What they don’t seem to understand is that it works the opposite way, too.

When I tell Georgians that I’m not from London, they look at me in disbelief. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s something to do with the fact that Tbilisi residents view the majority of the rest of Georgia as being undeveloped land full of what they call ‘village people’, and assume Britain is much the same. I can sort of see why. Since it looks so small on a map and is jammed in between the European mainland and Scandinavia, I can sort of forgive Georgians for thinking that, but what I don’t understand is the way in which they look at me like I’m lying when I explain the reality of things.

That reality is that we’re an overpopulated island of seventy million people, with fifty cities in England alone (not including the UK as a whole) each larger, or close to the size of, Tbilisi and with God alone knows how many dialects and accents. It’s a fairly big place, and if you go to somewhere like a university, or anywhere else that has people from all over the country in it, comparatively few will be from London (although it still depends to a degree on where you are). I still can’t believe that the fact that it takes about three hours to drive to London from where I’m from is so surprising to Georgian people. Fuck knows what they think of the United States and the Americans.

Whenever Georgians tell me that there are also the regional languages of, for example, Mingrelian and Svani, I usually respond by comparing them to our own minority tongues of Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Cornish. But I get a most confusing reaction. It begins with surprise, then a little shrug, and then they’ll just continue to talk about their own tribal languages as though somehow Welsh and Gaelic don’t qualify as being as interesting as Mingrelian or Svani.

One Georgian man once told me that he felt that Georgian history was more interesting than British history. Fair enough I suppose, each to his own, but since he’d never heard of William the Conquerer, Henry V or David Lloyd George, I didn’t think he had much room to comment. I, personally, am a keen student of both nation’s histories, and I don’t think they can really be compared in simple terms of ‘which is better’ since they’re far too different. I understand that Georgians are desperate to promote their culture, but in excess there’s a fine line between pride and arrogance.

Anyway, as usual I’m getting a little off topic. Let’s look at examples of people I know whose opinions of London rile me up so much.

Firstly, we have Olga and Tea. They’ve both lived in London in the past, Olga for four years and Tea for five. Neither left London, and despite the fact that they lived there for so long there are strange gaps in their knowledge, and their English is decidedly American in style. I find that very unusual for people who lived in Britain, especially for years. For example, Olga had no idea that we British refer to what the Americans call ‘potato chips’ as ‘crisps’, and Tea didn’t know what the word ‘bloke’ meant. You can see why I raised my eyebrows when they were talking about how well they knew my country.

I can guess what you’re thinking now. ‘Ah ha,’ I hear you say, ‘you’re being a bit of a hypocritical bastard, aren’t you? You haven’t traveled around all around Georgia, and you live in the capital city the same as they did’. Well, you’re quite right, I haven’t been all around Georgia, but I don’t claim to be an expert, and I do try my best to learn the differences in distinction between different regions of the place, such as accents etc. Olga couldn’t tell the difference between Devon and Manchester accents (!) and Tea had never heard of the Geordies. All I’m saying is that it’s pretty piss poor considering they lived there for so long.

Then we have Tiko. She’s never been to Britain, but she’s dying to go to London. Her Facebook profile looks like a Heathrow airport souvenir shop. When I first met her and she told me how much she loved London, I recommended to her my favourite English things, such as the West Midlands countryside, the rural pubs, the Cornish coast, the northern Yorkshire dales. Tiko made it pretty clear that she wasn’t interested and only wanted to see London, which I found pretty offensive and very ignorant, especially as Georgians get so prickly over their own country and its various territories. God alone knows what a Georgian would say if I told them ‘I don’t give a flying fuck about Kazbegi, I just want to stay here in Tbilisi’.

Then we have Keti. She’s part of a new generation of Georgian girls who are turning their backs on the very Christian culture in favour of desperately wanting to be what I can only describe as an American ‘society lady’. I don’t dislike Keti, I just find her very annoying; she is very, very arrogant and smug, and since she’s started to work for the government and going on trips all over Europe, it’s only made things worse. She loves to show other Georgians what she’s done and what she can do, such as speaking English; almost all of her Facebook statuses are in English, and I love correcting the myriad of mistakes she makes.

Her trips to Germany and Britain, then, have made her even more unbearable, since she now considers herself an expert on all things European (!!!) and especially London. She visited Big Ben, Westminster Palace, the London Eye and Regent’s Park, as well as some nightclubs. She is now saying that London is ‘her second home’. I’m sure she isn’t meaning to be so annoying, and is in fact just trying to say how much she enjoyed her time in our nation’s capital, but I just can’t stand the way she’s now swanning it in front of her mates talking about ‘British culture’ and how she knows ‘all the best places to go’.

It’s not likely to stop, so I thought I’d post this rant. I’m dreading starting university here, and the questions I’ll be asked…where are you from? Why are you in Georgia? Why are you at a Georgian university?

I’ve decided I’m not going to answer, and instead start a competition. The buy-in will be ten lari. And the following will be the answers:

1. Where am I from?

Answer: ‘Britain’, ‘United Kingdom’ or ‘England’ are not acceptable answers. If they can base it off my accent, I will accept: West Midlands (at the broadest), Staffordshire, Worcestershire or Wales.

2. Why am I in Georgia?

Answer: for this I’ll accept ‘I have a Georgian wife’ or ‘I hate the way Britain is in the modern age’.

3. Why are you at a Georgian university?

Answer: for this one I’ll have ‘I hate British universities’ or ‘I don’t want to leave Georgia’.

So there we have it. If one person can get all those answers right by the end of the academic year, they win. If they can’t, I win.

I look forward to making a few hundred Lari from that one.


About tcjogden69

Former soldier, current boxing trainer/student living in Tbilisi.
This entry was posted in Georgia, Tbilisi and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to It’s that thing about London…

  1. panoptical says:

    FYI, the place Mingrelians are from is called Samegrelo, not Mingrelia 🙂

    • tcjogden69 says:

      …why did I write that? My wife’s best mate is from Samegrelo. I’m getting stupider by the day. I am so giving up boxing.

    • tcjogden69 says:

      Actually mate, do us a favour, what have your experiences been of like this? Is there a better comprehension of America than our islands?

      • panoptical says:

        Oh, no concept. It’s stunning.

        I mean, I came to Georgia with very little to go on – two years ago, as you probably recall, there wasn’t much in the way of blogs or guides, and what there was, was often riddled with mistakes and half-truths. So I totally understand and sympathize with not knowing anything at all about what a place is like, and having to relearn all of the little things.

        I mean, take windows (holes in walls, not the OS). Where I grew up we had windows that opened vertically by sliding up and down within a tight frame. There were storm windows made of glass and there were screen windows made of a sort of metal mesh that let in fresh air but kept bugs and bats and birds outside where they belong. In Georgia they have windows that swing open like miniature doors (also – in the US, when we do have swinging windows, they typically swing out; in Georgia they typically swing in) and most people have not only never heard of screens, but still don’t really get the concept even after I’ve explained in two or three times. I’ve since read that America is basically the only place where window screens are ubiquitous (they became popular, apparently, just before malaria was eradicated from North America) and now I know what to expect when I travel and also why there is a thing called a “mosquito net.”

        I have always considered myself unusually cultured for an American what with having foreign friends and watching TV and listening to music from all around the English-speaking world, and reading a bunch of literature and just generally paying attention. Still, there’s only so much you can absorb without living somewhere and things like the way windows are basically predominate through life. Heating water is different here. Floors, carpets, and shoe etiquette is different here. Etc.

        I’m rambling. Point is, I totally understand having no concept of lots of little differences and even having no real concept of big differences, because I’ve lived through it.

        But given how much Georgians supposedly love and want to visit America, their opinion of it is so strongly formed around two or three iconic cultural things, and they know so little about even those things.

        Take hamburgers. Georgians think that hamburgers are the basically only American food (and many erroneously believe hamburgers are German) but when you get down to it Georgians don’t even really understand hamburgers. Like, they don’t know what a cheeseburger is. They don’t know what a hamburger is supposed to look like or taste like. They don’t know that unlike the shit they call hamburgers in Tbilisi, hamburgers in America are not disgusting to look at, smell, taste, and digest. They don’t know when Americans eat hamburgers or in what context or what niche hamburgers fill in the American diet. They don’t know how hamburgers are cooked or how they are prepared or how they are served. And yet they take the fact that the one American restaurant they know is McDonald’s, and the fact that McDonald’s is primarily a hamburger joint, and they presume to understand the entire American palate, when really they don’t even understand hamburgers.

        So that was a rant.

        Anyway your comparison was apt, I think – Georgians know and understand very little about the UK, and the UK isn’t even really all that big. They know less about America and America is, if not like 50 different countries, then at least ten or fifteen. I try explaining regional food but so far in two years I haven’t really managed to. I mention Buffalo wings as a thing from New York, and the “from New York” part gets lost because no one will believe that Americans, or anyone, could enjoy eating chicken wings.

        Many Georgians think there are 52 states. Few believe that Washington is one of them, or that it is 5000 km away from Washington, D.C. Trying to keep New York and New York City straight is challenging. Georgians seem to try not to laugh when I tell them that New York produces some really good wines.

        Also, there’s no concept that Americans are mostly religious nuts. Georgians have never heard of virginity pacts or promise rings or “everything-but girls”. They don’t seem to hear the abortion and gay rights noise coming from the US, or else they don’t realize that it’s the result of several Georgias worth of religious fanatics who won’t shop at a Home Depot because the Florida Family Organization claims that that particular hardware store is eroding Christian values. Georgians don’t realize that an embarrassing number of Americans don’t believe in evolution and that candidates for President are asked whether they believe in the Christian Bible before they can be elected.

        I like that New York and California’s PR teams are winning out, but the US is not its coasts.

        Also Georgians have no idea that most Americans are in debt, or that they do not live like people in movies, or that most Americans are lower or middle class, religious, and moderate – because most of the Americans that they meet are wealthy and liberal because by and large only wealthy and liberal Americans ever bother to leave the country – which means that they often demand to know why I act like who I am (a person from a poor, religious, mostly moderate conservative family) rather than who they think New Yorkers are (Sex and the City characters).

        I could go on… I could write a book about this… but I’m losing track of the size of this text box.

      • tcjogden69 says:

        Hahaha I can’t say I’m surprised at any of that; I’ve had the same New York State/New York City discussion myself, and I’m not even American.
        It’s complicated with the United States; America sure as hell can’t be considered a single country, if you consider the word ‘nation’ to have a unified culture, consistent across the board. Why, if you remember my first post on here when I initially opened fire on you, you might remember I mentioned those lunatic Republicans Janet and Steve. On paper, they’re as American as you and my friend John (he lived in Kyrgyzstan, and is fluent in that tongue. He’s now applying to your Foreign Service) but in reality couldn’t be more different.
        Like you’ve pretty much just said, they can love a place while knowing almost nothing about it, like those girls in my entry here. My friend Archil didn’t know the extent of the British Empire; when I explained to him that was why English was so widely spoken in the world, it was like a light suddenly turned on. A mystery of life solved, it would seem.
        Actually, that reminds me of a conversation I had with someone else the other day. I mentioned in passing I once had an offer from the New Zealand Army to fight for them for a period of three years, after which I’d be granted citizenship. He asked me how I could do that; did I speak the language? Or was I going to learn it? I highly doubt he was referring to Maori.
        It might seem a little unfair to say, but since Georgians get so prickly about being ignorant of their culture and history, I often feel inclined to do the same. I say that’s a trifle unfair since, after all, I am living in their country and they’re not in mine, but it sometimes feels that some Georgians (some, mark you, not all) dismiss the rest of world history as being somehow far less interesting compared to their own. A product of foreigners like us coming here at first and knowing nothing, I expect.
        I still don’t think that hits the nail quite on the head. But to give another example, before I joined the Orthodox faith, I was Protestant. I got a little tired of people talking about ‘your religion’ and implying that Protestant and Catholic churches somehow didn’t deserve respect as being ‘places of the wrong church’. I appreciate that they’ll be loyal to their own branch of the church, but I don’t understand why that called for so much intolerance. Why, I’ve visited mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras in my time, all places that deserve the utmost respect even though I’m not Muslim, Jewish or Sikh.
        Like I mentioned in that entry, one thing that still irks me is the perception that everywhere outside Tbilisi is full of ‘village people’, it must be the same rule for England, and since I’m not from London…go figure, as the Americans say. In fact, my family are minor nobility, who own three properties in England, three in France (including one estate containing fields, rivers, woods etc.) and we’re annual guests of Royal Ascot’s Royal Enclosure (courtesy of Lord Martin Thomas)…we’re quite posh, really. But since I enjoy a simple life in a small apartment in Tbilisi, and my only lengthy employment has been in the army as a private (haha imagine the scandal that caused when I was 16…have to write about that one day), they get several ideas in their head which I used to tolerate at first, but when things became a tad patronising I feel obliged to smugly correct them.
        I can’t type any of that without sounding like an upper-class, boastful, arrogant wanker, but such is the way of it. I don’t walk around bragging about stuff I’ve done or places I’ve seen, but when people who know very little about the world take a condescending stance…you’re obliged to self-defence, what?
        My Australian mate was only here for a week, but we were talking about this and he felt things were a bit simpler for Georgians. He felt social class and culture is a bit more black and white here, which has elements of truth to it I suppose, though it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s an interesting discussion, no error, I’d love to actually talk about it with you in person, have you any idea when you’ll be back in Tbilisi?

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