How Close is Georgia to the West?

West, Western, Westernization ... these phenomena are little by little turning into the ideals that this nation aspires to and cherishes. Why? Because most of the country thinks that being friendly with the West – Europe and America – might be a stronger guarantee for heightening our people’s standard of living, another reason being slightly imaginary – “the historical closeness of our culture and spirituality to Western ideals rather than Eastern” which doesn’t take into account the vividly expressed aloofness between the West and Georgia.

Take for instance the faith: we are Christian orthodox, whereas the West is Catholic and Protestant in its majority, this being a huge difference. Based on this considerable difference, we vary in character, values, attitudes, mannerisms, spiritual standing and interpretation of life’s substantial issues in general. The Georgian polyphonic vocal culture has nothing to do with West. They can only envy us and learn from us in this particular respect, richly drawing from our national musical endowment; a Georgian folk song is something acutely outlandish for a Western ear and hardly understandable at first hearing, especially if that hearing takes place at an accidental Georgian table; a Westerner cannot be at home with Georgian folk singing and dancing at first sight – they need time to embrace it and, finally, to take it for granted.

Talking about tables and feasts, our insistent hospitality and overdone attention to guests is also bothersome to the Western sense of privacy and individualism. Our habit of loud ensemble talking is also something strange for a person of Western upbringing. The time factor is brazenly ignored in our culture; a Westerner will never understand our proclivity to spend hours on end sitting at the table, eating and drinking interminably, notwithstanding the content of the occasion that brought us together. To comprehend this, one has to catch the impressed look on the face of a Westerner who was incidentally taken to a funeral feast with hundreds of sitting and voraciously eating men and women at the sacred moment of the God-blessed communion.

Pursuing the theme, now I can imagine a guesting-in-Georgia Westerner at our typical cemetery, lavishly loaded with ugly heavy marble slabs with paganish photo-embellished dark headstones, the dead watching the visitor with an inviting gaze. How about the chic country houses in the vicinity of our capital city, surrounded by thick tall walls like castle enclosures in medieval times? A Western visitor to our parks and other recreational sites with that post-party garbage strewn around is a pathetic sight: a Westerner will never be able to put together our ancient culture and current habit of discarding trash in nature. Nor will they quite get how or why animal waste is to be found on every street corner, waiting for us to step in. This is all crowned with our lunatic manner of driving – either very fast or very slow; the first question that occurs to an astounded Westerner’s mind is – where are all of them hurrying to so desperately, and even if they are in a hurry, why are they allowed to breach the traffic rules so unabashedly and right in front of the police?

We could go endlessly on with the differences between Georgia and West: the purposeless education that has inflicted the entire nation; the full-grown kids living at home forever; female virginity still the subject of public discussion; businesses like those 65 non-remunerative television stations for only half a million stable viewership; the much-heard-of appalling standard of living and the restaurants still packed full of clientele; thousands of hideous unlikely structures in the yards of Tbilisi, constructed without any architectural plan or permit; noise, smog, dirt, impatience, misdemeanor, vain politicking, intolerance, and whatnot in that category.

So much for the distance between us!

But now for the closeness, if there is any: yes, we try to dress like they do in the West, but the dark color still prevails; yes, we are sort of prone to letting democracy in; we have also started to build some tolerance towards the homosexual model of behavior; Western sexual freedom is also to our liking; shop windows look like they do in the West, though the stores themselves may be devoid of a buyer, so triggering the question – how on earth do they keep running? The service industry seems to be coming closer to Western standards; discos, modern music, television style, free travel, etc. can also be paralleled.

Now the central question: Are we too far from or close enough to the West? We sure know the answer but we will never admit to it!

Nugzar B. Ruhadze

15 June 2017 19:51