Looking down on Georgia
27 December, 2012
Looking down on Georgia
Writing this column, I am often accused in the various forums of looking down on Georgia, of being judgemental and having a sense of superiority. Here's an example from a forum about the Georgian version:
"I don't like Mark Mullen… I don't like his attitude… He looks down on us… Making some tests and experiments … Taking some notes for himself… For him we are some developing, third world nation upon which he makes observations … afterwards, he laughs at
us with his colleagues …"

This attitude towards what I write is completely understandable. I do criticize Georgia and scribble away notes and I am a foreigner. I often will say on the one hand this and on the other hand that. Because I have been here for a long time and understand things better than many foreigners, I take the risk that there will be some people may will be interested in what I have to say. But I can see how some people could find that annoying. So I thought for this year-end column, I would just list all the things I can think of that I love about Georgia, that I think the rest of the world has to learn from Georgia, without all the "on the one hand…on the other hand" stuff.

I love the role that old people play in society. They are respected and an important part of families and of society. In the US people too often don't treat older family members as well as they should, they rarely have a role in bringing up children the way they do in Georgia. There is so much American young people loose by not having this strong bond that most Georgian children have with their grandparents and older people in general.

Georgia is a very intellectual society. I find that most people are curious and listen. More than in the US. Not everybody of course but most. Familiarity with ideas and an understanding of how things work, is taken seriously in Georgia. Those who are smart and can express themselves well are respected in Georgia, from the smallest village to the center of the capital. People who are not curious or think they have all the answers already are in general a depressing bunch and I think there are fewer of them in Georgia than most places. In Georgia people recognise that ideas have consequences.

Friendship is very strong in Georgia. People are loyal. When you have difficulties, people will help, they want to help and they view it as natural to help. For that reason it is rare for somebody to feel isolated here. In the US, the institution of "dakaloba" and "dzmakatsoba" (loosely translated meaning very strong friendship) is a beautiful thing and is closely tied in with Georgianess.

Georgians have a strong aesthetic sense. Beauty plays an important role in Georigan society. Even people without much money tend to be well dressed, people make a real effort to have beauty in their daily lives, in houses, in what they do and they are successful. Georgians know a great deal about music and dance and their taste is very good. That good taste and effort really pays off. In America it is not a priority; most people don't think about it much, and they don't even realize what they miss because of it.

I love how much Georgians love Georgia. It can some times be hypnotic. Foreigners who live here often comment on it. They first comment on how much the ex-pats who live here love it, then they themselves fall in love with it but it starts with the love that Georgians have for their own country.
I love panashvidis (roughly translated, wakes) and funerals. The Georigan death rituals are much better than American ones. When somebody you know dies, the most difficult thing is to know they are gone and Georgian rituals are designed to force you to recognise that fact and serve a very useful purpose. There is nothing similar in American culture, and as a consequence I don't think Americans deal deal with the death of somebody close as well as Georgians' traditions help Georgians handle death. Many Georgian traditions have a brilliant logic to them and really help people interpret life and all that happens around it.

In fact all Georgian holidays revolve around family and togetherness, usually being made manifest by eating and drinking. This is so great. In America, most holidays have gradually commercialized and now revolve around buying things or watching TV. That is an exaduration, but not much of one. Georgia is still not very commercialized, and we can all be thankful for that.

Georgia is dynamic. Things are changing. Although it is an old - an extremely old - society and culture, you can day by day see Georgia reinterpreting the lessons of its history and putting that to work in building a new system. In America, the current system has been going for a while and I feel like it has too much momentum on its own for people to be able to change it, making the politics very frustrating. In Georgia, active people who work hard to make changes can actually see those changes take place in a few years.

Everybody loves children in Georgia. Nobody in Georgia, no matter how tough or macho, can resist the cuteness of a child. That is not the case everywhere. Abroad, you often come across people who don't know how to deal with young children or who are annoyed by them. This ubiquitous attraction to young children is I think evidence of a deep and appealing humanity.

There is so much history. And such an incredible location. Living in Georgia, it feels like it is the center of the world. The to main stabilizers of the world, the EU and Asia to the west and east, and the two major destabilizers, the petro-states of the muslim world and Russia to the south and north. Probably anybody can convince themselves they live in the center of the world but in Georgia it feels more that way than anywhere else I have ever been. America feels far from the center of human culture and history.

I love the respect that Georgians have for their language; how it is their own secret code that almost no foreigners speak. It's old literature and beautiful alphabet. It makes Georgia a secret club. It is such a small language with so few speakers but so much literature, internationally unmatched in that regard. Language in much of the world is simply an instrument, a way you get things said but in Georgia it is the object of warship, which is great. What is more worthy of warship, what can be said to make us more human than language, particularly the language we grew up with?

Georgian food is fantastic, even better than its reputation. And the way Georgians eat and role food occupies in Georigan society is so much healthier than in America. If Americans would deal with food the way Georgians do America would be a happier and healthier nation. Food is directly tied to Georgians hospitality. Georgia really is the most hospitable place in the world and eating together has real meaning for guests and for hosts.

That's enough, I could go on and on. So I apologize for sometimes being the guy in the corner taking notes and tossing out my opinions, please take it in the right spirit. I deeply love Georgia and feel a part of it. I daily feel a great swell of love for this country, and great happiness that the course of my life brought me here and has allowed me to stay here and make my life here. I know people think of me as a foreigner but I don't feel like a foreigner. When I hear foreigners, particularly those who aren't very well informed, criticizing Georgia, I feel the annoyance and instinctive need to defend the homeland against them that some people feel when they read what I have written. And that typically Georgian defence of the homeland I also love and respect and am glad to share.
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