Aggressive Hospitality: why there’s no such thing as a free lunch in Georgia
Georgians are without a doubt some of the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet. Wherever you are in Georgia, you are never far from a warm welcome, a square meal and a bed for the night. Although a lot has changed here in the last hundred years, Vazha Pshavela’s “Host and Guest” still rings true.
But as a guest of Georgia who has long outstayed his welcome, I’ve noticed a few things about the national cult of hospitality.
Everyone knows that in Georgia “guests are sent from god”. It’s a national adage you get told it in restaurants, taxis, even in the Lonely Planet tourist guide—one day they’ll probably put a sign up at the airport. But this overused catchphrase contains more truth than meets the eye. That French backpacker you just saw on Rustaveli? He may think that he’s here to go horse riding in Borjomi, but actually he is on a divinely ordained mission to provide Georgians with opportunities to show what good hosts they are.
In Georgia, hospitality isn’t really about the guest at all. The national pastime is in fact a chance for the host to perform his crucial social duty. As a guest, you are merely allowing your host to show that he’s a fully-fledged human being. This is especially true with foreign guests. In restaurants, for example, it’s very common for foreigners to be commandeered by the group of Georgians on the next table. The bemused foreigners are sat in the place of honour, fed semi lethal amounts of alcohol and forced to perform embarrassing toasts—it’s not very nice for the foreigners, but the Georgians can go home safe in the knowledge that they have been good hosts. Expatriates who have lived in Georgia for some time even have a word for this, a reflexive verb from the word ‘supra’: “What happened to you last night? You look terrible!” “Oh, I got supra-ed by some random Georgian guys at Khinklis Sakhli”.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking pride being a good host, and there is nothing really wrong with force-feeding khatchapuri to unsuspecting tourists. But next time you see that backpacker doing his fourth vakhtanguri with half a litre of wine, ask yourself if he feels ‘sent by God’.
This post originally appeared in Tabula Magazine
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