Georgia’s culture has grown along with the country’s long history, giving it unique customs and traditions. While some traditions have been long forgotten, there are still many of those beautiful traditions left that Georgians cherish and pass on from generation to generation. This article explains the Georgian hospitality, their culture and other necessary points one should know when entering and communicating with the Georgian people.
Over the years, Georgia has developed a reputation for being a friendly nation. There’s even a monument, Mother of Georgia, dedicated to hospitality and friendship that overlooks the capital, Tbilisi. When a person, local or foreigner, visits a Georgian home, they are offered food and drink, and the hosts make sure that guests feel as comfortable as they would be in their own home. Georgians have a tradition of hosting big dinners called “Supras”, during which a table is fully decorated by different dishes, and people sit around it for hours. The organizer of the Supra is called the Tamada or the toast-maker who is in charge of keeping the audience engaged at the table. Supra revolves around many toasts, where a Tamada talks for several minutes. Each toast has its own theme and the toast-maker must be very good at entertaining a crowd and holding his liquor.
When a Tamada proposes a toast, each male guest around the table is expected to follow the lead and say an individual toast on the topic the Tamada proposed. Needless to say, these dinners can last several hours.
As Georgia is an Orthodox Christian country, it follows the Julian calendar. Therefore, the nation celebrates a New Year holiday twice in a year, on January 1, as the rest of the world, and on January 13. According to the calendar, the New Year falls on the latter date, which locals call the “Old New Year.”
The most important New Year celebration comes on December 31, when families sit around the table very late in the evening and have a proper meal. Everyone starts congratulating each other at midnight, the time when it’s considered to be the “official” New Year.
After Easter Sunday, locals visit graveyards to pay respect to their dead relatives. This custom has a sacred meaning for many Georgians. During the Soviet rule, churches were closed; therefore, the only place people could light a candle for their loved ones would be at graveyards. Even today, the tradition still remains.
As Easter symbolizes eternal life, Georgians do celebrate it with their entire families, dead or living. Visiting graveyards of relatives is a way of letting them know they are remembered and that Christ has risen.
It’s habitual to give a toast in respect of those who have passed away. After drinking, locals pour a small amount of wine on the grave, which is called “knocking over a goblet.” It’s a way of expressing a hope that in the afterlife, they will be remembered by their living relatives and won’t be alone.
Georgian restaurants, cafes or bars do include a service fee on the final bill you get. The percentage varies according to the venue and is between 10-18 percent. Budget-friendly bars and cafes, though, don’t have it; therefore, tipping the waiter or bartender is up to you. However, if you think the service you got is worth more than what they have included, feel free to leave a tip for whatever amount you’d like.
Georgians love celebrating different occasions by inviting many guests. Weddings are no exception and tend to have more guests compared to other festivities; each side invites at least one hundred people. Even distant relatives of the families, who the bride and groom might not know, get an invitation. It is customary to attend a wedding when invited and declining is considered to be offensive unless a person has a good reason for it. Therefore, a wedding with 100-150 people in total is considered to be a small one.
When meeting someone for the first time, shake hands while saying “gamarjoba” (hello). Once a relationship warms up, some Georgians, but not all, will quickly move to a kiss on the cheek. When addressing people, only close friends or family will usually use first names. First names may also be used with the word “Batono” (Sir) or “Kalbatono” (Madam) immediately afterwards, which brings a sense of formality. Most people would expect to be addressed with their appropriate title followed by the surname, but in business behaving is varied!
- Georgian business culture is noticeably less formal than in other countries.
- Shake hands with everyone upon arriving and leaving.
- Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
- The person of the higher status should initiate the handshake.
- It is polite to wait for a woman to extend her hand.
- Academic and professional titles are commonly used with the surname.
- Always wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis.
- At the beginning of meetings introductions are the norm. These are generally made in order of seniority although women are often introduced first. Be prepared to give an overview of your background, experience and general purpose for your visit.
- It can also prove fruitful to send a full biography of everyone who will attend the meeting beforehand to save time and also offer a bit more thorough introduction.
- A first meeting is often more about seeing if doing business together is possible. Do not expect any contracts to be signed on a first meeting. Time and patience are needed.
- Meetings may continue over a lunch or dinner. The topic of conversation will shift away from business but this should be used as the time to let the Georgian hosts get to know you on a personal level.
- In most cases, decisions are made at the top of a company. Unless you are meeting with the boss or owner, bear in mind that all your meetings’ key points will be passed upwards to the main decision maker(s).
- Meetings can be frequently interrupted. Do not interpret this as a sign of disinterest but Georgians will not see any issues worth dealing with and insist that each matter must be dealt with one at a time.
Georgians are very relationship orientated in their outlook. This means that people’s feelings take precedence over facts. It is important to appreciate that you may not consider the whole truth if there is bad news. Similarly, you should be sensitive when communicating difficult information.
Totally, eager to establish a business relationship, Georgians may offer an affirmative response even if they know it is far from the truth. One way in which this cultural influence manifests is in asking questions in a negative fashion so that the person responding may give a positive response for a negative answer. Georgians are not afraid to express their emotions no matter how bad. Do not be surprised if people do display anger or extreme disappointment during business meetings. Similarly, Georgians can be emotive speakers. When discussing a topic, voices may become raised and hand gestures increased. Direct eye contact conveys trust. Looking away or making intermittent eye contact may be misinterpreted as a sign that you are not telling the truth. Although Georgia has a relationship orientated culture, they can also be very direct.
The elegant shopping capital of Georgia – Tbilisi is making a name for itself with its ever-expanding array of stores, the popular shopping malls, Art Deco architecture, unique antiques and some of Georgia’s best array of wines! The country’s presence in Europe and its own handicraft industry ensures high quality products and local produces which can be wonderful souvenirs. The historic Bridge Market is a great place to shop in Georgia and buy some souvenirs. No matter what you are looking for, there is something for everyone. Some of the unique souvenirs which can be brought back home from Georgia includes wine stored in little clay jugs and hand-painted clay bottles from which one can savor the delightful Georgian wines.
The country is just beautiful, the culture is rich, the food is delicious and of course Georgians are friendly. You’ll meet many people who are going through hard economic conditions. especially if we are talking about taxi/bus drivers, but it is rapidly changing with steady economic growth.