I’m a white, Georgian, Christian (well, that’s a bit debatable) girl born and raised in Tbilisi, and I still feel like a minority. I’m a diagnosed introvert (and when I say diagnosed, I just mean that my shrink swept all my emotional problems under the ‘struggling introvert’ rug on the first session and told me not come again). Of course, I never admit this to anyone: first of all, introversion is one of the most commonly misunderstood phenomena — everybody assumes introverts are the socially clumsy, rude people shying away in the deserted corner of a crowded party. Second of all, once you tell someone you are an introvert, they start treating you exactly like one of those shy people — they either assume you don’t want to talk (in which case they stay clear of you) or they think you have a desperate fear of being rejected (which is why they smile at you like psychopaths until their face hurts).
Hence, the self-fulfilling prophecy works it’s magic — you run for your life!
In reality introverts are just people living on their own terms. There are three main traits that most introverts share: they love introspection, they need that cozy locked room to recharge, and they hate small talk. A lot has been written about introverts, but let me tell you why you should avoid settling down in Tbilisi, Georgia if you’re one of those weird loners!
- You’re never alone in Tbilisi!
‘Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.’ — Cheryl Strayed.
First of all, Tbilisi is a very crowded place. There are more people than rooms and the rooms usually have pretty thin walls (even in the intimidating grey monstrous Soviet buildings). Most teenagers don’t even have their own rooms. You’d think you could hide away in relatively deserted place, but, well, there are no such places (none that are worth a visit, anyway). Most importantly, Georgians don’t expect you to respect their privacy and they sure as hell won’t respect yours. Everyone is your friend in the street: they have the right to look you up and down, stare, approach you whenever they feel like it, and suck all your social energy out. And no, your beloved headphones won’t help!
2. You’ll always be the rude one.
In Georgia (and especially in my family) good manners are like a sacred mantle, passed on from one generation to another. I’ve undergone the toughest military training in good manners — I’ve even walked with books on my head so that I walk like a real lady (today I almost walk like Quasimodo — good job, Mum!) As a kid, I was always forced to say a very loud good-night to a roomful of guests before I went to bed. In short, life was very hard.
Despite my intensive schooling, I always feel like I’m coming off as a bit rude. The thing is, social etiquette is designed to fit extroverts. Inviting people everywhere you go is considered polite but leaving the party early or declining an invitation in the first place can often be seen as impolite. (God forbid you’re invited to a Supra — the traditional Georgian feast; try telling the tamada (toastmaster) that you want to leave early!) Chances are, introverts surrender to the pressure and join the party anyway, exhaust all of their social energy and politeness, and crawl back to the safety of their own bed to regain consciousness.
Ah, and if you are a true introvert who enjoys giving a distant hello — a nod and a smile — be warned, Georgians adore deafening hellos and — wait for it — wholehearted kisses on the cheek.
3. You’re bound to be late to a meeting at some point!
A lot of introverts hate being late. No, we’re not just too punctual. The thing is, there’s an enormous difference between arriving early or on time and arriving late: in the first case, you get to build a social situation around you and slowly adapt, and you don’t even have to initiate contact. In the latter scenario, you do not know what situation to expect — you have to dive in and adapt to an already existing playground. And you have to make an entrance.
So no, don’t come to Tbilisi if you’re one of them. Traffic in Tbilisi is like a journey down the rabbit hole — one pill gets you on time, the other pill makes you late.
4. You’ll have to call, call, call.
Most introverts simply dread phone calls. Georgians, on the other hand, love phones and hate emails. Almost everyone has a smartphone but somehow they don’t trust the notification to inform you about a new email in your inbox — they always call — sometimes just to ask: ‘did you get my e-mail?’ You’ll always have to call to make an appointment — to everywhere. Boy, do you have to call to obtain information from a government office.
5. You’ll have to talk to a lot of salespeople and many more!
When I was growing up times were much harder in Tbilisi. There were no busses so the only way to travel was by marshrutka — a Georgian minibus which only stops upon request. Taking the minibus home alone at the age of 9 was the most terrifying mission I had to complete every day.I had to whimper out ‘Gaacheret’ (stop the bus). I was always either too quiet (and the driver wouldn’t hear me) or too loud (and everyone would turn around to look at me). The feeling never went away — I still hate marshrutkas.
There were also no supermarkets, so the only way to buy something was to communicate with the lady behind the stand. This is still true for the neighbourhood shops; sometimes you have to travel pretty far to avoid interaction. What’s worse, there’s no guarantee you’ll be left alone in any of the shops. The staff love to follow you as you move along the aisle (or just stare, if you’re lucky).
6. ‘I’m a private person’ has no meaning here.
Last but not least, don’t expect Georgians to respect your privacy (that you value so much). The whole country is like a big online blog shared by everyone. Every person gets a page with different columns, telling stories about their personal and professional life. You have a duty to announce every exam result, every first kiss, every new dress you bought. First to report to your family, who then take care of distributing the news as widely as possible. If you resist, they will most likely be offended or start calling up your friends to investigate on their own. And no, there’s no such thing as an uninteresting piece of gossip.
Being an introvert is a tough job everywhere, but please stay clear of Tbilisi if you value your privacy, dry cheeks, or smooth traffic.