Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Georgian Wedding: If you can see the table, there is not enough food

Ia and Nika, the bride and groom
You cannot say you’ve fully experienced Georgian culture until you’ve been to a Georgian wedding. This past weekend I went to a Georgian wedding. I have fully experienced Georgian culture.

Friday afternoon we packed up my host uncle Kote’s car and set off for Gldani. And when I say packed up I mean that in its complete entirety. Kote, Kote’s wife Christy, Kote’s daughter Aniko, Nini, Nona (my other aunt), Giorgi (Nona’s son), Achie (Nona’s baby) and I, all packed into Kote’s small car. (The trunk was so full with bags; we practically had to sit on top of the trunk to make sure it closed). Needless to say the three-and-a-half hour ride was a bit uncomfortable but we made it to Gldani without killing each other.

Gldani is a small town just between Mtskheta and Tbilisi. My host bebia and babua (grandma and grandpa) live there in a cute house with many cows, chickens, all sorts of fruit trees and an outhouse that has seen better days. That weekend we happened to have no running water or electricity so it was a bit of fun to live the ‘rustic village life’ (though I am so thankful that I can wash my hands in Samtredia whenever I want).

As there was no running water or electricity, getting ready for the wedding in the morning was kind of hilarious. On top of that, the window shutters were rusted shut so there was no natural sunlight in the house so all us girls had to do our makeup by candlelight. I was concerned I’d end up looking like Mimi from the ‘Drew Carey Show’ but everyone assured me that I looked ‘dzalian lamazia’ (very beautiful). The gods must have sensed Nini’s distress because for just 25 minutes the electricity came back on which was long enough for Nini to do her hair.

Thus with a happy, beautiful-haired Nini we all set off for our wedding expedition. I’m calling it an expedition because there were so many stops along the way that simply calling it a ‘wedding day’ does not do the day justice.

For your reading convenience, I will break down the day into the various wedding pit stops.

Stop One: The Bride’s House

In Georgian tradition, before going to the church, all the close friends and family of the bride gather at her home and see her unveiling. The bride happened to be Nini’s cousin, Ia, and she wore a super elaborate dress with enough sequins to make ballet costumes for an entire dance school. As soon as she burst through the door everyone began clicking away at their cameras. Not too long after that the groom appeared and even more cameras started clicking away. A few bottles of champagne were popped, some shots of ‘cha cha’ were taken, and then off everyone went to go to stop number two.
The smiling bride about to make her grand entrance!

Stop Two: The Church

The cute little church that the ceremony took place in was just a quick drive from the bride’s home. Again, only the close friends and family of the bride and groom attended the ceremony so the setting was especially intimate. Everyone stood around the happy couple as the priest read off some prayers and coronated the bride and groom with special wedding crowns. After drinking some wine out of a bowl, taking a few laps around the church and kissing a few icons of Jesus and Mary, the couple was officially married. A queue was formed and people waited to kiss the bride and groom and give them their congratulations. The whole shebang took about twenty-five minutes and then we were off once again.
Saying a little prayer during the church ceremony. To the left and right of the bride and groom are the best man and the maid of honor.

Stop Three: The Wedding House

Okay, so here’s the deal. I love Georgian culture, I think all the ceremonial stuff is absolutely beautiful but I cannot understand how going to a Wedding House to officially sign a marriage certificate has manifested its way into Georgian wedding culture. I mean, the church service was beautiful but everything about the Wedding House screamed tackiness!

For one thing, this business establishment is actually called a ‘Wedding House’. I felt like we were going to a Vegas wedding chapel or something. I am still surprised a man dressed up like Elvis (or maybe Chavchavadze) did not greet us at the door. Inside the Wedding House, were two other wedding parties waiting to sign their own marriage certificates. I mean, come on, this day is supposed to make a girl feel like a queen, and yet she has to wait behind two other wedding parties? It was kind of like waiting at the doctor’s office but more awkward because around you people have wedding dresses on.

Once we finally got called in to our room, the DJ played the totally tacky “Here Comes the Bride” song which he accidentally cut short midway through the song. Wonderful. As cheesy 80s love songs began to be played and the bride and groom danced, I could only dream about tearing down all the paper cut out hearts off the wall and turning the entire building into a shelter for abused women and children. (But hey, that might have just been me). After the exchanging of rings and a quick glass of champagne, the marriage certificate was brought out to be signed. A standard, BIC ballpoint pen was the pen of choice for the Wedding House. This entire business establishment makes their money off couples coming here to sign their marriage certificates, and they use BIC pens? At least give the poor couple, a nice smooth writing pen for goodness sake! (Someone could make good money by opening up a non-cheesy, wedding house).

Finally we were out of there but before I could hop in the car, a stranger on the street bought me a red rose. I thanked him but told him I spoke no Georgian. His response was, “Okay, I love you. Goodbye”. Just like that our love affair was over…
Signing the marriage license. (Notice the classy BIC pen and the flower petals).

Stop Four: Mtskheta

I’ll spare you all the details, but we all then drove to Mtskheta intending to do a photo tour of the bride and groom at all the main churches. It started to rain while we were at the church that Saint Gabriel is buried at so we left Mtskheta almost as soon as we got there.

As I was wearing three inch heels, I was quite thankful I wouldn’t have go urban hiking all over town. Mother Nature totally had my back on Saturday.
Nini and I ready for a Georgian wedding party!

Stop Five: Reception (aka Jenga with dishes of food)

The actual wedding reception was everything you’d expect it to be except with more food. If you close your eyes and picture a table filled with food, and then quadruple the amount of food on the table, that is what a Georgian wedding reception table looks like. Plates are stacked on top of plates, which are stacked on top of other plates which are stacked on top of more plates. You can’t even see what’s on the table because there is so much on the table. Eating was a lot like playing Jenga. You’d carefully slide out a dish hoping the other dishes wouldn’t come toppling over.

I strategically sat next to the bucket of caviar and the cucumber roses so I was a very happy camper. (Is there anything more delicious than fresh caviar with cucumbers?) All of us drank wine, ate delicious food, listened to speeches and greeted family and friends. And then came the dancing.

Here’s my thing with dancing. I like to dance, I enjoy dancing, but I don’t think it’s necessary that I dance with every man who asks me to dance. While I was sitting at the table, a man who creeped me out for whatever reason asked me to dance. I politely said no and he walked away. A half second later a woman who happened to be sitting at my table, told me that that boy was her son and that he is a very good boy.

A bit taken aback, I wanted to show this woman that I didn’t say no to him because he was her son, I just didn’t want to dance with him. I decided that if another man asked me to dance I would also turn him down so the woman would see that I simply did not want to dance, and that it had nothing to do with her son. About twenty minutes later, another man asked me to dance and according to the plan I also turned him down, politely so. The woman looked at me and said, “That man is also my son. My older son”.

“Oy vey,” was all I could muster in response. Guess I won’t be marrying into that family anytime soon.

The rest of the night went as you can imagine. Men got drunk and danced on tables, women kept falling on the dance floor because they tried to do Georgian dances in four inch heels. You know, expected wedding behavior. Our cab ride home to Gldani was especially fun because babua serenaded the car with Georgian hymns. (Babua had a little too much vodka at the reception).

Believe it or not, the wedding party actually continued the next day at another restaurant. Many of the party guests gathered at a smaller restaurant to eat all the leftovers from the wedding. It sounds kind of gross, but there were so many leftovers, that even after eating on Sunday, it still looked like none of the food from the wedding had been touched. Finally, after some tunes were played on the accordion and the strings on a balalaika broke, the wedding excursion came to a close.

Forget the fat lady singing, it ain’t over until the balalaika breaks.


  1. It was funny :D I hate Georgian weddings and I had only 'Stop Two: The Church', no food, no dance, no certificates and other traditions. and then honeymoon in Istanbul. It was nice.
    I like your blog.

  2. I love georgian wedding traditions, but there is one thing what I hate - drunk men. There is nothing worse than men who can not control their behavior, and unfortunately such things happen quiet often not only in weddings.

  3. Michelle,

    I just LOVE reading your blog and I'm not alone - you have a serious fan base in Georgia who read your and Melissa's, Emily's and Tara's adventures with great enjoyment. As one of your readers commented in other blog 'if I would be one of these Samtredia gals I'd be gone bananas already'.

    Regarding Georgian weddings - your observations hit bull's eye about tackyness of some of them. Here is a little bit historical background: there is a reason why couple goes to that tacky Wedding House - it is legacy of Soviet times when weddings were held only in these places and church marriage was not recognized by the state. 20 years has passed since Soviet times, but situation is still the same: despite Church's role in Georgia marriage by a priest is not recognized by the state and a couple needs to be married by the state official. And guess where these state officials are sitting? Yep...

    As far as standing in line to be married - you have to go to Vegas to see there even worse situation. ;-) Me and my wife were given 30 minutes in Mandalay Bay's wedding chapel to get married and obviously there were other weddings scheduled before and after our timeslot.

  4. Hey,

    Love your blog. (long time reader now)

    Absolute majority of your observations are correct.

    I can only add few tips:

    1) If you don't like a Georgian guy (And probably in Samtredia they are even worse idiots than in Tbilisi...) you just turn them down. No problem, I think they get turned down every day anyways. ;)

    2)"That man is also my son. My older son”.

    - You don't have to view this comment as some form of criticism that you disagreed to dance with some guy, Georgian mothers are always proud of their sons (even if it's the worst moron in the country...)

    It was more like - This man is also my son.:)

    Not - why did you turn him down ...
    (or something like that)


    Weddings in Georgia suck! I HATE them. Loud noisy and people just can't shut up and all those drunken idiots... I have been twice (I had to) and both times I was ready to shoot myself in order to get some solitude. (And as a Georgian, I can't escape weddings here...)

    The only thing I have doubts are "Forget the fat lady singing, it ain’t over until the balalaika breaks." - A Georgian wedding with a "Balalaika"? LOL, no. They probably had this stupid tiny guitar like thingy called "Chonguri"... but anyway, probably that's a detail.

    Take care and be safe.

    I'm a Georgian born in Tbilisi and thought that Samtredia was like a total zombie wasteland, I'm glad it's not THAT bad.

    bye. ;)

  5. Michelle,

    As I said, reading your blog is real entertainment and does provide very useful information to both natives and foreigners.

    You've being in Georgia for several weeks. May I ask you questions summarizing your experience?
    Just three of them:

    1. What would you change immediately in the country, in the host family, your students and teachers - what drives you most crazy?

    2. What was the most important things you did not take with you but you found out that can't live without them?

    3. What would you advice to people who will be coming later on TLG program so they are successful in their jobs?

    Thanks in advance,

  6. I MISS YOU!!!
    i just spent two hours reading all your posts!!!
    i'm so glad you're enjoying your time there!!!
    I LOVE YOU!!

  7. Miche!

    As I was reading this blog I only kept thinking about the movie "My big Fat Greek wedding"

    And though your efforts to be as polite as you could turning down those men that asked you to dance, I saw that coming, and LOVED every moment of your story! P.S. Especially the Oy Vey!

    You should start saying your jewish, and see the response to that ;)

    Miss you, KEEP blogging I'm all got up and need more. :) LOVE u

  8. @DaniK Productions

    "You should start saying your jewish, and see the response to that ;) "

    - You will be disappointed, trust me. There never was an antisemitism in Georgia... not to mention the Georgian Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world... and well, a huge Synagogue right in the center of the capital should tell you something. So you can "show off" you Jewishness all the way. (I still don't think that John Stuart of the "Daily Show" is that funny... you can take that as an insult my Jewish friend. Haha!)

  9. It's very interesting read stories about our lifestyle (wedding, living, school and a.c.)..

    some moments for wedding story where very comic. Women with 2 single sons :)))))) HA HA HA.... super.