Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blank Stares and Randomness

Today started like any other day - with the roosters crowing all over the village, my alarm going off before the sun is up, and my cocoon too warm to want to emerge. But emerge I must - I have lots of children who want to talk to me today. And who knows what the day may hold? I certainly didn't!

When I arrived at school, I took one look at my co-teacher Lika and asked her why she wasn't home in bed. She looked terrible. She had a horrendous headache and a fever. I told her that I would take her classes, and that she should go home, but she said she needed to be at school. I didn't press the issue - I didn't have to - all the other teachers descended on her like a flock of mother hens and insisted that she go to the doctor. Georgians are very, very insistent. Lika went to the doctor, and left her classes to me. All the classes went along fine, although I did get some blank stares now and then. But the students know more than they think they know, and it was nice to hold class in English without Lika translating too quickly when someone doesn't immediately respond to me. Of course we didn't get as much done as I had planned, but I think that getting through the lesson is secondary to making the kids think! There are a couple of students in each class who excel, and they have picked up their teacher's habit of translating at any pause. I quickly shushed anyone who started to speak Georgian - they caught on and let their classmates work it out for themselves. Now if I can only get my co-teachers to do the same!

Something I learned today: the "hairy eyeball" (as my dad calls it) works just as well on Georgian students as it does on American ones!

Since it is getting colder and the mornings are especially cold, I have switched to running after school instead of before. Today was my day to run, so I went out for a nice 40-minute run to the bridge and back. Since it was "rush hour," I had to run around a lot of cows who were on their way home. They all looked at me as I ran by - their eyes held no clue as to what they were thinking - they all gave me blank stares. I received a handfull of flowers from a student - so sweet! - but it is a little tricky to focus on my workout while holding flowers! I have decided that the whole idea of a "workout" is not a Georgian idea. Today's experience proved this theory. I had just turned around at the bridge and had passed a few houses when I saw two of my students standing on the side of the road with a couple of women. They waved to me to stop, and I did, killing my stopwatch at the same time. One of the women, Eka, introduced herself to me in relatively decent English and said that she had been wanting to meet me, and this was her house, and wouldn't I like to come in. Of course I didn't want to go in - I was in the middle of my run, sweaty, and not wanting to stop and get chilled - but, this is Georgia, and refusing an invitation is rude - and, like I said, Georgians are very, very insistent. So I told her that I would come in for a minute. She introduced me to her in-laws and her little daughter. We sat at the table and her mother-in-law set out plates, forks, and a bowl of fruit and started cutting up an orange. At least it was fruit, not cookies or khachapuri! I can take oranges mid-run! I thanked her and ate a few sections of the orange. But when she broke out the glasses and started pouring me some cognac, I declined - insistently. She couldn't understand why I didn't want any, and even though Eka speaks English, she didn't really understand either. I tried to tell them that I was in the middle of my run - I still had about 18 minutes to run back home, and cognac would not be good to drink while running. They both looked at me with blank stares (I got a lot of those today). Eka wanted to spend time talking in English. I told her that we could plan another day to have some English conversation. She couldn't understand why I didn't want to just sit and talk at that moment. I tried to explain again that I was in the middle of my workout - I was sweaty and starting to get cold since I was wet and I still had to finish my run before I could get warm and dry. Finally when I said that I didn't want to get sick from being wet outside in the cold, she understood. I promised to drop off my phone number (which I still don't know) on Thursday so we could set a day to talk. She took English classes in college, but doesn't get to use it very much. I told her that we could get together every week so she can practice. She walked me out and kissed me on the cheek as I went out the gate to finish my run.

While contemplating what had just happened, I noticed two pigs on the side of the road. Seeing pigs is very normal, but I thought their "pig-pile" was a little different. Then I realized they were mating right there on the side of the road. They watched me run by with .....blank stares!


  1. What is the hairy eyeball?

  2. Julie,
    Another name for the "hairy eyeball" is the "teacher death-stare." I've developed a pretty effective one over the years of teaching!

  3. > They both looked at me with blank stares
    > (I got a lot of those today).


    I think you've already figured it out (I have not red all your blog entries yet) that concept of personal space and privacy in Georgia is nonexistent.

    Also, Georgians do not value time because for them time is not associated with commitment, money or missed opportunities: so what, if you did not finish your run today, you can do it some time in 'future', socializing with other people, getting know them better and have good time (read - drinking) is more important then you own personal goals. (I'm obviously explain things from their point of view).

    As a result, when locals are asking or offering you something (like come home and have a cognac in the middle of running) they do act from their best intentions, but their best intentions are according to their core values which does not necessarily takes into consideration of values and opinion of other side.

    This works quote well of two sides in this exchange have the same Georgian core values, but when other side is a Westerner then it almost always creates mostly sitcom situations but sometimes it might go bad because of assuming things from either side and being lost in translation/explanation.

    The best way to avoid getting into trouble/misunderstanding is to minimize assumptions/'I thought that...' as much as possible. When communicating with locals it is necessary to inform them WHY you are doing this/that and WHAT you want to archive by doing it and make sure that you use concepts/terminology which other side understands (like you did explaining why you can't stay in the middle of the run: running for them did not work, but reasoning with cold worked fine). After that everything will be fine.

    Thanks for all your blog posts.

  4. Invisible,
    You must be Georgian to understand so well what is happening here! I appreciate your insights and advice on how best to get along and blend myself into this culture. I do my best to do the things you have suggested, but knowing very little Georgian hinders my being able to explain my Western reasoning to many people when our cultures clash. I know that they have the best intentions in mind and want to respect me, so whenever I can, I compromise what I may want to allow them to welcome me as they want to.

    And, yes, many sitcom situations have occurred -- thankfully not so many any more! I'm getting used to things here!

  5. Steff,

    You are welcome. Yes, I'm Georgian by birth however in most places I go I feel myself being a Klingon...

    I have being living in States for last 13 years and now I can quite well understand mentality both Westerners and Georgians.

    In terms of blending - even if you live there for years you will still remain 'თეთრი ყვავი' - a 'write raven' (literal translation), which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Well, unless you get marring on a local, convert to Orthodoxy and have bunch of kids. ;-))

    Locals treat a foreigner (especially someone who's physical appearance screams "I'm a foreigner" - like a blond athlete girl running in a village) with a positive discrimination: same way they treat a child. Changing this attitude is quite hard.

    It is up to one if he/she is OK with such kind of treatment from locals, but if you want to streamline communication and quickly explain your reasoning to Georgians do the following: get the local person who you trust most and understands you most (like your hostess) on speed dial on your phone and if you figure out that there is a communication problem with someone else, call her and ask her to explain to other party WHAT you want to do and WHY you want to do it. She would do it with pleasure.

    And yes, you can call anyone in Georgia any time for any reason. Again, privacy matters are non-existent, especially when they (your hostess) considers you part of the family.