Monday, November 29, 2010

About Georgian personal space.....

I wish that I'd had my laptop with me on my little after-school excursion to the city today. I am trying now to remember just how I was feeling and what I was thinking a few hours ago while riding in the marshrutka (the main type of public transportation in Georgia - a mini-bus). But even if I'd had it, there is no way on earth I could have written anything even though I was sitting in a seat! A marshrutka has about 15 or 16 seats for passengers, but I swear the one I was riding in to come home from Zugdidi had at least 30 people in it.....not to mention all the bags and baskets full of purchases from the market! Circus clowns who cram into a VW bug have nothing on Georgians in a marshrutka! I was truly amazed and entertained by the nonchalant way everyone who was standing kept edging back down the aisle, slowly shuffling themselves like live puzzle pieces that fit together just so if they turned a little one way or the other. There was not an inch of free space left in the vehicle when we pulled out of the bus terminal bound for Shamgona - the inside of the mini bus was one solid mass of flesh. My first thought (after I got over how many people we had managed to fit in there - and, by the way, I tried counting, but I couldn't even see everyone! So I counted those in front of me that I could see - that covered about a quarter of the space, and estimated 30 passengers.).....anyway, my first thought was, "Well, if we crash, no one will get very hurt since no one can move anywhere." My second thought was, "How on earth are the people in the back going to get out if we get to their stop before the people in the front get off?" And while pondering those two things, I noticed how no one seems to mind the absolute absence of personal space! Crammed together like sardines, some had their arms linked - which everyone does while walking around or standing together - others were leaning against each other or over the backs of seats to talk to someone a couple of seats up. And even if the person hanging over another is a complete stranger, no one minds. There is no concern for that "personal bubble" that can't be broken that is so common in Western culture. Oftentimes when a Georgian is talking to someone, they lean way in - like the "close-talker" in Seinfeld! My students do it, the friends that I have made do it, people standing around their fences in the yard do it. Just another of those little differences that make this place so different from my "norm!"

So, the people in the back of the marshrutka did have to get out first! Of course! What did they do? --unloaded everyone in the aisle to the point where those who needed to could squeeze out, then they all got back in, and off we went!

And, I didn't get any flowers today! But I didn't have to pay for the marshrutka either way to or from Zugdidi! On my way out of the village, my school director paid my fare, and on my way home, the driver wouldn't take my money! Such generosity!

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