Here are my thoughts after having been in the Republic of Georgia for a little over a week now.
First, I like it here. I’m comfortable here. Georgia is the third former Soviet republic that I’ve lived in (after Kazakhstan and Ukraine). It’s a part of the world that I have a deep love of and interest in. It’s good to be here.
Having said that, Georgia feels far away from America. Mexico didn’t feel too far removed from the US, and part of that obviously has to do with the fact that it is right next to the US. Beyond that, sure, everyone spoke a foreign language and looked different, but there were still 7-Elevens and Kellog’s cereal and maple syrup and Pizza Hut. Georgia isn’t like that. I’ve seen two McDonald’s here, and a Wendy’s is currently under construction, but that’s about it. There are more Russian brands than American ones.
Everything is written in Georgian. Georgian is the most prominent language in the Kartvelian language family (the others being Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz), which is completely unrelated to any other language family. The Georgian language has its own unique script and alphabet. I can’t read it (yet). The Georgian language looks and sounds pretty crazy to American ears. It contains lots of sounds that we don’t have. When I walk into a restaurant, I ask for a menu in either Russian or English. If they don’t have one—if it’s only in Georgian—I just talk to the waiter in Russian (which most people here speak) and ask what they have. It makes things exciting.
Georgian people are great. They’re friendly and seem very fun-loving. When compared to other groups of people I’ve met in the former Soviet Union, they have less of a cold exterior. And Georgians like Americans. I’ve seen more t-shirts here with the American flag on them than I see in America, and the road from the airport to the city is even called George W. Bush Avenue.
The city of Tbilisi (which has a population of about 1.5 million) has three different personalities to it: 1) a Soviet side, 2) a European side, and 3) a side personality. The Soviet side is manifested by concrete apartment complexes and imposing government buildings. The European side is evident in the tree-lined boulevards, fancy new shops, and loads of pleasant cafes. The Georgian side comes through in the beautiful Georgian orthodox churches, winding cobblestone streets, and buildings with an almost Middle Eastern flair to them. Tbilisi itself is in a river valley and is completely surrounded by hills and mountains. It’s a pretty incredible location for a city.