Etiquette in Georgia
As one of the oldest cultures in the world, Georgia has some standards of etiquette that are much different from the Western world. Understanding Georgian rules of etiquette will help you understand how to conduct yourself in Georgia so that you can build better relationships, succeed at work, and enjoy a warm relationship with your host family and co-workers.
Things to know:
The supra is a large dinner party involving many toasts. The toastmaster or “tamada” selects people to make long toasts. A horn full of wine is passed around the table for special toasts.
Georgia is a hierarchical society. People with age, position and power deserve your respect. Those at the top of the hierarchy are expected to make decisions that are best for the group.
The elderly are generally held in high esteem. Therefore, they should always be greeted first.
The oldest or most honored guests are always served first.
Shake hands when meeting someone for the first time and say “gamarjoba”. (Hello) Once a relationship warms up, some Georgians may feel comfortable giving you a kiss on the cheek to say hello.
Here are some tips for regarding customs and etiquette in Georgia:
• Accept invitations to cultural events, especially invitations from your host family and co-workers. Remember that Georgians are very hospitable and they will view your presence as a symbol of good luck.
• Feel relaxed at the dinner table. Meals are a time for everyone to get together and enjoy each other’s presence.
• Watch what other people do at the dinner table if you’re not sure how to act. You should always feel free to ask if you’re not sure.
• Remember that table etiquette is continental. Hold your fork in your left hand and your knife in the right hand when you are eating.
• Keep your hands above the table when you are eating.
• Try all the dishes if you can.
• Finish everything on your plate.
• Try to take small first portions as you will most definitely be offered second and third helpings. Accepting additional helpings will please your host.
• Do use the words “Batono” (Sir) or “Kalbatono” (Madam) when addressing people by their first names. You can use these terms immediately after you address someone by their first name to bring a sense of formality to the conversation.
• Bring a gift of flowers, imported sweets or chocolates to your host family. The same rule should be followed if you are invited to someone’s home.
• Give an odd number of flowers, as even numbers are given for funerals.
• Maintain direct eye contact. Direct eye contact conveys trust. Looking away or making intermittent eye contact may be misinterpreted as a sign that you are not telling the truth.
• Do learn some traditional dinner songs to sing with your hosts at the dinner table.
• Do toast your host family before you leave the table.
• Do feel free to enter a church, but make sure that you are dressed appropriately. Women are not allowed to enter a church bareheaded. Shorts, bathing suits and low-necked dresses are not appropriate.
• Rest your elbows on the table.
• Drink wine without toasting someone first.
• Don’t offer to go dutch on a bill. The bill is normally paid by one person. Normally, men pay for women.
• Do not leave the table without asking the tamada (toastmaster) for permission to propose a toast, especially if you are a man.
• Blow your nose in public.
• Don’t give an even number of flowers as a gift, as even numbered bouquets are given at funerals.
• Engage in public displays of affection in public.
• Gaze at a stranger or smoke on the street if you are a woman.
Gift Giving Etiquette
As with most European and North American nations, gifts are usually given at birthdays and at Christmas. However, in Georgia they also have “name days”, which are the birth dates of Saints whom people are named after. Gifts do not need to be expensive and it is more about the thought and intent behind the gift.
• Gifts do not need to be elaborately wrapped.
• A small gift for the children is always appreciated.
• Gifts are not necessarily opened when received.
Georgian business culture is noticeably less formal than in other countries.
• Shake hands with everyone upon arriving and leaving.
• Maintain eye contact during the greeting.
• The person of the higher status should initiate the handshake.
• It is polite to wait for a woman to extend her hand.
• Academic and professional titles are commonly used with the surname.
• Always wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis.
• Business cards are exchanged without any formal ritual.
• It is a nice touch to have one side of your business card translated into Georgian or Russian.
• Introductions at the beginning of meetings are the norm. Introductions made in order of seniority are generally made first, although women are often introduced first. Be prepared to give an overview of your background, experience, and general purpose of your visit.
• Do not expect contracts to be signed during a first meeting. First meetings are more often about seeing if doing business together is possible.
• Meetings are often conducted over lunch or dinner. Use this time to let your Georgian hosts learn more about you on a personal level.
• Meetings can be frequently interrupted.
Georgians are naturally oriented towards relationships. This means that a person’s feelings should take precedence over facts. It is important to appreciate that you may not get the whole truth if there is bad news. Similarly you should be sensitive when communicating difficult information.
Furthermore, many Georgians will offer an affirmative response in their eagerness to establish a business relationship, even if they know that it is far from the truth. One way in which this cultural influence manifests itself is by asking questions in a negative fashion so that the person responding may give a positive response for a negative answer.
• Georgians are not afraid to express their emotions. Do not be surprised if people display anger or extreme disappointment.
• Similarly Georgians can be emotive speakers. When discussing a topic, voices may become raised and hand gestures increased