Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sakartvelo Phekhburti, Western Music, & No-Problem David

Meat's meat, man's gotta eat. Which includes a nice boars head from time to time

It’s pretty much been raining the last two weeks, but out of nowhere the weather turned immaculate the past two days. So the entire family has been out on the farm trying to make up for the work they’ve lost, while I had my buddy Bill visit the house to drink their wine. If I can just make it to winter without growing a conscience, I think I’ll be okay.

Ati – The people of Georgia are proud of almost everything Georgian. I’ve heard things that are crazy (Georgian men are twice as strong as other European men [that was a scientific fact by the way]) to the insane (there were Migrelians [people from Samegrelo] in the New World before Columbus discovered it). Georgia, much like all European countries—or any other country in the world for that matter—is nationalistic beyond comprehension.  Sa-kart-velo, ga-mar-JOS!

These may have been the Georgians that made it to America before Columbus, or they could just be a couple religious dudes

Otsi – The only aspect of Georgian culture that native Georgians love to bash is their phekhburti (football). There’s a common joke in Georgia that goes like this: football was born in England, grew up in Brazil, and died in Georgia. Anytime I bring up the Georgian National Team, the common sentiment is, “The Georgian team is very… bad.” There are a few exceptions to their scorn. Kakha Kaladze has been a team staple for the past dozen years and played in a Champion’s League Final with AC Milan, while Levan Kobiashvili is well regarded and has been their number ten for quite a few years. But everyone else sucks; a claim that I tend to disagree with (although I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, so I can find the positives in even the most dire of circumstances).

This is a picture that I believe I've used before on this blog, but it's a shot of the Bandza team playing another village. Bandza's  team is even worse than the Martvili team, and any Bandzan will tell you so.

Otsadaati – I’ve now watched two games (their match against Israel on my birthday [0-0, a complete snoozer], and their match against Latvia in Riga this past week [1-1, with Latvia snatching a point with a magnificent equalizer in the 90th minute]), and if anything, Kabiashvili and Kaladze look past their prime, while the brightest spots have come from 18-year old Jano Ananidze (tiny and sickly looking, but fast with quick feet and a amazing understanding of the game at such a young age) and Gogita Gogua (the Georgian Arjen Roben; young but already bald, nifty with the ball at his feet, can’t defend worth a damn, and loves to milk a dive). Despite blowing a prime opportunity to help their chances of qualifying for Euro’12 by conceding a point to Latvia this past week, Georgia still hasn’t lost a game in it’s group while picking up draws against group favorites Israel (in Tbilisi) and Greece (in Athens, which was an even bigger point). They have to face ultimate group favorite Croatia twice, who I still think is living off the overrated hype of its triumphs over England in the Euro’08 qualifiers. The long short of it is, four games into qualifying, Georgia has a legitimate opportunity to qualify for Euro’12 (they currently sit third [with six points in four games] behind Croatia and Greece), which would be their first ever FIFA qualification… and it feels like no one cares but me.

This is a nice picture of tourist Max outside the national stadium in Tbilisi, which acts as the home stadium for Dinamo Tbilisi (the best, biggest, and most popular club in Georgia) and is usually packed to the gills for any Euro qualifying matches (including Saakashvili who watches from his Presidential box)

Omotsi – I think it’s because most Georgian football fans are front-runners to begin with. They don’t want to support a loser, and the Georgian National Team has done plenty of losing in its brief history. And though most of the locals will go to Martvili (the town up the road ten kilometers north of us) to watch F.C. Marani play every now and then, they will also freely admit that the team isn’t any good (they play in the second division of Georgian football, so it’s a pretty fair statement). If I ask my students which team they support, it’s always one of four clubs: Barcalona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, or Manchester United. There are a few Liverpool fans (although they don’t even understand that I hate L.F.C since I support Everton), and I see jerseys of Chelsea and Arsenal (one of my students has a pretty sweet blue Henry kit circa ’05), but usually they keep it to the international big four. I understand why, as the only matches they are able to watch on the weekend usually involve one of those four clubs. Needless to say, no one really understands why I follow a club that struggles to make the Europa League (the poor man’s Champions League).

This is Ian's host brother Tsotne, who usually rocks this Barcalona Messi jersey, but he also has a full Kaka Real Madrid kit. Talk about a confused kid.

Ormotsdaati – When I was watching the Georgia/Latvia match with Lasha (my host-father), he never got all that excited like I tend to when watching soccer. For me, it’s the perfect build-up sport; you see the play unravel slowly and can just feel a scoring opportunity coming to a head, but even if the play ends with a shot into the stands, I tend to swell into a frenzy with each subsequent pass. Basically, viewing a game with me is like watching soccer with a teapot. But Lasha just sat back and looked disgusted the entire time. Even when Georgia scored following a set piece in what was, admittedly, kind of a weak goal for Latvia to let up, Lasha looked disappointed in that it wouldn’t win goal of the week. Anytime a Georgian player would misplay a ball, or send an errant pass as the intended target darted the opposite way (something that happened quite frequently, but—to be fair—tends to with national teams because of how little they play together), Lasha would tilt his head to the side and fake spit in disgust. It was hilarious; like out of a Pop-eye cartoon. Amazingly, when Latvia did score in the 90th minutes off a beautiful scissor kick volley in the box, Lasha didn’t show any disgust by spitting air to his side, but instead had a feint smile of admiration towards one of those plays that gives the sport it’s nickname—the beautiful game. It was an astoundingly levelheaded reaction; something that I could probably learn from, because I’m not even Georgian and my heart sunk to the floor realizing that one lapse in defense could have squandered any chance of qualifying. So maybe it isn’t the team at all; maybe it’s the way in which they play that matters most to Georgians.

And this is Tsnotne's little brother Luka, who is always rocking his Gerrard Liverpool jersey, which is probably why he's such a pain in the ass

Samotsi – Speaking of Lasha, I’ve successfully weaned him off of using the n-word when describing someone of African descent. This tends to be a common problem for volunteers, especially those who are of African heritage (if I think its weird to be stared at because I wear button-down shirts and have long hair, I can’t even begin to imagine what some of the other African-American volunteers go through on a daily basis). It’s not the Georgians’ faults, as they aren’t trying to be ignorant or disrespectful, they just consider the word a common term in our vernacular. I’m not exactly sure why they assume that; maybe they show a ton of Tarantino movies and Spike Lee joints on TV here. Or, if my host-brothers affinity for DMX tells me anything, it probably more likely comes from the music they listen to.

Fellow volunteer Tomas, a diehard Newcastle supporter, with his host brother who is a Chelsea suppoprter despite seen here with a Harry Kewell Liverpool jersey. None of it makes any sense...

Samotsdaati - Much like football clubs, Georgian teenagers only listen to three musicians: Eminem, Shakira, and K’naan (and with the latter two, they really only like their World Cup Anthems). Some know The Beatles or a few Rolling Stones songs, but their knowledge of western music is limited and bizarre. The last two weeks, my friend Ian and I have been hanging out with a Georgian buddy of ours named David who is from a village outside of Martvili (where everyone has the same last name as David). David represents the typical 21st-century younger Georgian as he’s always fashionably dressed, has spent a few years living in Tbilisi, and understands English pretty well. Usually younger people who have spent some time in Tbilisi are more cognizant of current trends, and although I wouldn’t deprive David of that, his penchant for bad music could rival any other citizen of Bandza or Martvili. He loves We Are the World, but the song that really gets his juices flowing… Shania Twain’s Man I Feel Like a Woman. There’s nothing funnier than seeing the entire crowd in the Martvili café react to the opening lines of that horrid tune. It’s like when you put on The Electric Slide at a Bar Mitzvah; people go bat-shit crazy.

This was the lead man for the band that played at the festival in Martvili. The band is pretty well known from Tbilisi and their name translates into The Travellers. I respect any leading man who will spark up a cig in the middle of a religious holliday concert.

Otkhmotsi – When I say David understands English well, I really mean that he knows a few phrases but is eager and willing to learn more. One of his favorite phrases is he is stupid. We were hanging out in the café (the only place to socialize in Martvili outside of Boom, which is the supermarket) with David, his brother Levan, and one of their friends named Nica. I taught them how to play shoulders (a counting game that goes well with drinking), but despite it being a pretty simple game and playing with Georgian numbers instead of English numbers, Nica would constantly mess up, after which David would crack his giant smile and roar out, “He is stupid!” Almost as if that were the only explanation possible: he is stupid, he was born that way, so there’s nothing we can do but laugh.

This is David taking down some beer at the cafe in Martvili. Another possible nickname for this man, David the Drinker

Otkhmotsdaati – David can use the phrase in a serious way as well. Last week we were driving around Martvili and he pulled up next to a younger looking guy in his early twenties. Once they began talking, it quickly escalated to where the conversation only lasted about sixty seconds. After pulling away at a break-neck speed, I asked David what that was all about (as I’ve previously noted here, when Georgians raise their voice, it’s not exactly indicative of an argument), and he basically told me that guy and himself had gotten in a fistfight at the café the week before. When I asked him for what reason, he turned to me with a stern look and said, “That boy is very… very stupid.”

Myself and no-problem David

Atsi – The phrase that David uses the most, even more than he is stupid and it is very bad (with bad emphasized; often used to describe the Georgian National Team), is It is no problem! It usually comes in a sequence like this, “David, can I get a ride home on your motorcycle?” To which David replies, “You need a ride home?” Then his forehead scrunches up like he’s contemplating a math equation, followed by a face one gets when inspiration hits, while answering with a wide smile, “It is no problem!” Ian describes David as the happiest man on earth, which is a pretty fair title, since you almost never see him upset or not smiling like he’s got the run-around on you. But I like to call him no-problem David, because no matter what we want (a ride home, more beer, a meeting with the President) it is always no problem! This is a common attitude that many Georgians have, especially towards guest’s needs, but no one I’ve met encapsulates the pure joy in pleasing someone than no-problem David.


  1. That was hilarious and so true. It is always interesting to see my country through foreigners eyes. Thnx for sharing.

  2. Max,

    Description of local villagers' musical tastes is hilarious, thank you!

    Honestly, I can't remember anyone else who could show to Georgians how their country looks like from side and especially how life in province looks like. Just for this one needs to tell you big 'thank you'!

    Keep writing. I have a feeling that eventually it might end up in a good book or as a script of good situational comedy - 'Adventures of foreigners in Georgia'.

  3. The Travellers / mgzavrebi - are most popular band in georgia.

  4. I'm teaching in Tbilisi (5th group). You mentioned crazy-to-insane things Georgians have said about Georgia's greatness, and I just had to comment because I heard a claim just today that was pretty awesomely ridiculous.
    I was told that "people" say when the Second Coming of Christ occurs, the language Christ will use to speak to all of Mankind will be Georgian.
    I was told this by the Georgian English teachers at my school, whose faces betrayed no sign of mirth. Before I could stop myself, I reflexively had to ask "...Why!?". Of course there was no real answer. But it was something like "*awkward pause*...It is something people say."
    Next time I will hopefully do better pretending I have just heard something remotely plausible.

    -Angela, who commented once before a long time ago about that architect who made the Presidential Residence and the obnoxious bridge

  5. Angela,

    That makes complete sense. Why wouldn't our L&S be speaking Georgian when he makes his miraculous return? Spot on with there being no explanation, there never is; it's just accepted doctrine.

    Hope all is well in Tbilisi and you're finding Georgia as entertaining and fun as I am.


  6. Hey Max,

    I don't know how I ended up on your website:)It was definitely random lol but I had to post a comment:p I'm Georgian by the way, just a simple teenager who learned English by watching movies and communicating with foreigners who come to visit and teach us but I just wanted to say I'm loving your blog and it's not because on what you write, it's "how you write". You should definitely write a book:) and one more thing, you guys (as in foreigners) have no clue how we actually appreciate for visiting us, learning our culture, traditions and plus teaching us:) we really do:) believe it or not but we(especially me and my friends) are always excited to meet foreigners because we get to practice in our foreign language skills:D in my case english lol

    P.S. sorry my English isn't good, as I'm sure I made lots of grammar mistakes...