Georgia: Close to Heaven
When I moved to Georgia and began working here, it puzzled me greatly how Georgians manage to complete certain tasks and even conduct successful business, if they set up meetings no earlier than from today to tomorrow. Can anything at all be well-organized under such setup?
Everything functions according to the following rules here: if I need to make an appointment, I call the person I need to find out if he/she has time for me, say, tomorrow. The answer is, usually, “Yes, all right, call me tomorrow morning.” What am I to think in this case? Will this person be free tomorrow? When will the meeting take place and will it take place at all? In the majority of cases, it happens like this: I call him/her in the morning (but not earlier than 10 a.m.!) and we agree to meet “at some point” during that day. It is amazing! It turns out that everyone (or almost everyone) here has time, but no one wants to make plans. People here only discuss a tentative course of events, carefully voicing their plans and intentions and then… they wait. The question is: what for?
One of my German friends, who was involved in coordinating EU-Georgia culture projects, was at times in utter despair with this specific Georgian feature of time management. It is not surprising: everything in Western Europe gets planned well in advance, sometimes even years ahead of time, but it is not a joke for Georgians. It was hard to envy my friend, who had the difficult task of working at the junction of two cultures and mentalities, finding himself between two fires, risking to burn down in one of them.
The same rule applies to invitations to official functions. You can send out invitations two to three weeks in advance, as foreign organizations and representations always do, usually asking to confirm presence at the event. However, the odds that you will get a reply in Georgia are close to null. It may also happen this way: just by a stroke of luck, you may get a reply, but at the end, the invitee will not show up. Or the other way round: the invited person does not reply, but does arrive at the function. It is just a “heads or tails” game.
The golden rule for all new-comers in Georgia is to invite their Georgian friends two to three days in advance at the most. It is also necessary to call them with a reminder on the eve of the event, but don’t even try to get a straight answer from them: there are too many force-majeure situations and unexpected circumstances, which a true Georgian would not even think to tackle. So much water can flow under the bridge till tomorrow, so much can change! Why would you intentionally endanger yourself, if you can wait until tomorrow, sleep on it and see how it all gets resolved?
It is a bit reassuring that Georgians have managed to deviate from their spontaneous time management rules, when it comes to making an appointment with a doctor or, say, hairdresser. On the other hand, there is much more leisure among friends: you can tentatively agree to meet tomorrow, but then not see each other for several days, if, say, bad mood, poor weather or lack of money are in your way. You may invite your guests at 6:30 p.m. and they will arrive at… 7:30 p.m. It turns out that arriving on time is a sign of bad tone in Georgia. If you are late – you should not be stingy and take your time, because if you come on time, you may disturb the hosts and make them understand that you are very hungry, which is, of course, utterly inappropriate.
Hence the conclusion: if you live in Georgia, it is useful to gradually and gently change your mentality, become more flexible and accommodating. It seems to me that I, personally, deal with it quite well. We invited guests to the recent birthday party of our son “between 4 p.m. and late night,” making up our minds to have a long feast. It turned out that this type of plan is the most reliable in Georgia. Foreign guests arrived at 4 p.m. sharp and left at 7 p.m. the latest. Georgian guests started arriving around 7 p.m. and stayed until midnight.
I have to confess that I have tried several times to break the well-beaten paths and make precise plans, against all the existing traditions. And what do you think? The results were not successful. Something always disrupted the plans, forcing me to either fully forget my intentions or completely review them.
That’s exactly when I grasped the essence of the Georgian way in relation to organizing time. People in Georgia live by the rule “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” It seems that this country is so close to being Celestial that if you make any plans, you will make God laugh in the best case, or make Him angry in the worst case. Georgians are a wise nation, because they know or intuitively feel this rule, so they live accordingly to it: “We decide, God guides.”
Tbilisi, March 27, 2012