Georgia is a very ancient culture with many firmly held traditions. In general, it’s a society of hierarchy where elders and those in positions of power are given respect. Also, it’s still a male-dominated society but that is slowly changing. Here are some basic tips on Georgian customs that will help you build stronger relationships with locals.
Elders are looked highly upon in Georgian society and are greeted first. When you meet someone for the first time, you should shake their hand and say “gamarjoba” which means “hello.” If you’re already familiar with someone, a kiss on each cheek might be appropriate. It’s more common for the cheek kissing to be done between a man and a woman. Two men will usually just shake hands.
Make sure you maintain eye contact when meeting and conversing with another person. Looking away gives the sense that you’re not telling the truth.
There is a Georgian proverb that says, “The guest is God’s messenger.” This thinking has existed in Georgian culture for centuries, and the art of entertaining others is an elaborate ceremony. Georgians love to hold big feasts known as supra. You can read all about the tradition here.
For centuries, Georgian families have had a guest room. Sometimes richer people even had a guest house where they would entertain people most nights.
If you’re ever invited to someone’s house, you should bring a gift with you. Flowers or chocolate will do, but don’t ever give an even number of flowers. That’s reserved for funerals. If you know the family has children, a small gift for them is appreciated too.
When you’re on a first-name basis with someone, you can use the words “Batono” (Sir) or “Kalbatono” (Madam) to address them. Add these words after their first name.
Drinking is an important part of Georgian culture, especially wine. If you’re a man, be prepared to test your liver. Women are given more leniency in refusing drinks, but it’s considered unmanly for men to decline.
Paying the Restaurant Bill
Tipping is not necessary or expected in Georgia. Most restaurants will add a 10% service charge to the bill but small cafés might not. Either way, it’s up to you whether you want to tip. 10% is more than enough or just round up.
Do not ever try to go Dutch on the bill though. Splitting the tab is frowned upon in Georgia. Usually only one person pays, and the man pays for the woman.
As Georgia is a conservative country, you should refrain from public displays of affection. Holding hands is ok but kissing is not common.
Also, you should avoid blowing your nose loudly in public.
If you’re a woman, you shouldn’t smoke on the streets or stare at strangers.
For the most part, you are free to wear what you like in Georgia. But men and women must cover their shoulders and knees when entering churches. Additionally, women need to cover their heads. There will usually be scarves provided but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own.
Georgians are very expressive and emotional people. Don’t be alarmed if you see them expressing deep disappointment or anger. However, it’s very rude to show anger towards women and the elderly in public.
Georgians may also use hand gestures a lot and it’s common for people who know each other well to touch during conversation. Female friends, and even male friends, loop arms on the street when they walk.
Across Georgia, very little English is spoken. But don’t let the language barrier deter you from interacting with locals. They will do their best to show you Georgian hospitality! Do learn some basic phrases in Georgian though.
Some Russian is spoken so you can get a bit farther with that. Despite the history between Georgia and Russia, there is no animosity towards speaking Russian.
Name Day Celebrations & Gift-Giving
Many cultures celebrate birthdays with gift-giving. In Georgia however, they celebrate “Name Days” which are the birthdays of Saints people are named after. It’s customary to give a gift to someone on their Name Day. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s more the intent behind the gift that counts.
Most presents won’t be elaborately wrapped and don’t be offended if the person doesn’t open the gift in front of you.