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.