In just a few hours I will leave Georgia for a month long vacation in Israel. I’m excited to revisit a country I’ve fallen in love with so many times and catch up with old friends and meet new ones. But before I go I think it’s important to note that when I leave Georgia tonight, I will not be an American leaving Georgia- I will be a “real Georgian girl” (as Nini likes to say) leaving Georgia.
Over the past three and a half months I seemed to have transitioned from East Coast American into Western Georgian- and I will tell you how you too can fake being Georgian in just a few easy ways.
1) Master the “qkh”
There is no quicker way to fake being Georgian than to sound like one. The trickiest letter in the Georgian alphabet makes a sound like “qkh”. The noise comes from a very specific part in your throat and almost sounds like a subtle quack.
Nini and Eka made me practice making the noise so many times one evening that I ended up with a sore throat. Nonetheless, a cup of tea with lemon and honey later, my “qkh” sound making session was resumed.
You are not a true Georgian until you can correctly recite the tongue- twister about a baqkhaqkhi (frog). If I had a lari for every time someone asked me to recite it, I could probably afford my own flight home to New York.
2) Crack open 10 sunflower seeds in twenty seconds
Georgians love their sunflower seeds. It seems to be the snack of choice when watching TV, walking around town or even viewing a play. People seem to eat sunflower seeds as frequently as you might notice someone chewing gum. And they’re damn good at eating them too.
They can crack them open and eat them with one swift motion; some people can even crack several at one time.
I have no idea how people do this. First off, I think the seeds are tasteless. Secondly, it takes me like a minute to eat one seed because I have to spit out half the shell. The art of eating of sunflower seeds is a skill I’ve yet to master (but I have another six months in Georgia to work on that).
Nini loves it when I share a bag with her, because by the time it takes her to finish an entire bag of seeds, I’ve only eaten like twelve
3) Rock the knee-high boot
Sure, we all know Georgians love to wear black, but ladies- to truly fit in you need a pair of black-knee high boots (the higher the heel, the better). Everyone in town seems to own a pair, and Samtredia is not exactly fashion conscious so I can only imagine how high the average heel should be if you live in Tbilisi. My co-teacher Nona even has two pairs of four-inch stiletto boots.
I bought my own pair of knee high leather boots in Batumi the other weekend and I’ve felt increasingly more Georgian ever since.
4) “Vaime deda” is your go-to “I’m scared” phrase
When a balloon pops unexpectedly in front of your face, what’s your go-to phrase? In Georgia, that phrase would most likely be “vaime deda!” This is somewhat similar in meaning to the colloquial phrase, “oh my god” except that “vaime deda” pretty much means “oh my mother”.
I’ve been training myself to say “vaime deda” whenever I am spooked (which is fairly often considering every child in Georgia seems to be setting off New Years poppers every minute of the day).
It’s definitely not a habit. On occasion I do say the word “mother” when I get scared, but it’s less a Georgian colloquial phrase and more an English profanity…
Nonetheless, you can surely trick people into thinking you’re a true Georgian by uttering “vaime deda” at literally any given opportunity.
5) Wink, don’t wave
Winking here is not code for “hey you’re good looking” it’s as common as waving. Even some of my third graders will wink at me when I see them on the street. I mean really, why go through all the trouble of raising your arm when you can just shut an eye and it’s considered greeting someone? (That was sarcasm right there).
It seems as though most American girls have some type of vendetta against winking (me included). In the states, winking is synonymous with creepy men. But if you decided that every man/boy/toddler/newborn baby in Georgia who winks at you is creepy, there would be no men left.
6) “Hello” may not be universal but “I love you baby” sure is
There are very few words that seem to be universal. Sure, “taxi” and “radio” are the same in most every language but these words can only get you so far. (“Justin Beiber” also seems to be a universal phrase these days, but that’s a different story). While some people simply may not know the word “hello”, I’ve yet to meet someone who does not know the phrase, “I love you baby”. It seems to be more of a greeting than a statement.
Case in point:
Person A: Hello
Person B: I love you, baby
Person C: How are you?
Person D: I love you, baby
Person Y: Gomarjobat, sad aris banki? (Hello, where is the bank)
Person Z: Kartuli itsi? (You know Georgian?)
Person Y: ki, tsota (Yes, a little)
Person Z: I love you, baby (I’m most likely an asshole)
So there we go, when you’re in Georgia, and you just can’t quite remember the word for ‘thank you’ (it’s g’madlobt) you can just utter the phrase, “I love you baby” and everyone will be on board.
Okay people, there you have it. As long as you can pronounce the “qkh” sound while you’re wearing your knee-high boots eating sunflower seeds and happen to utter the phrase “vaime deda” when you catch a fifteen year old boy winking at you saying “I love you, baby”- you will fool the world into thinking that you too, are a “real Georgian”.