Georgia, a country too often confused with the American state, has been attracting more and more foreigners each year, whether it be entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or tourists. Are you thinking of joining them? Or are you simply curious as to what attracts them? This article
provides a few insights to answer these questions.
An ancient and unique culture
First, one cannot discuss the wealth of the Georgian culture with mentioning the ქართულიენა, the Georgian language: a language with a unique alphabet of 33 letters that was seemingly derived from Aramaic around the 3rd century and that is characterized by six ejective consonants and words with 4 or 5 consonants in a row.
Regarding food, the flavorful Georgian dishes can speak for themselves if you get the chance to discover them. However, any visitor in Georgia who might be invited into a Georgian home should be ready to participate in a supra, a traditional Georgian feast. A man called the tamada will conduct the feast by making toasts on various themes in a very specific order. After each toast, participants must drink their glass in one go and when you are drinking for themes such as the honor of a deceased grandmother, it is best not to leave a drop. You do not want to drink? It is best to prepare a solid excuse such as a heart condition. Women are generally tasked with the cooking and have a secondary role during the feast. In less traditional supras, women are more included and the toastmasters can change, so you can prepare a short speech to make a good impression.
Other elements that make Georgians proud include their resistance to many invaders throughout history, Georgian ballet, rugby, scenic landscapes, and Georgian polyphonic singing. It is also worth noting that the oldest traces of wine ever recorded were found in Georgia and that the traditional method of fermenting wines in clay jars persists today.
A European country looking towards the EU under Russian scrutiny
Although this former Soviet republic is under the Russian sphere of influence, it is turning more and more towards the European Union. Indeed, Georgians predominantly consider themselves “European” with surveys suggesting that 80% of the population is favorable to integrating the EU. These warm sentiments towards the EU are reflected by the positive relations that the Georgian government maintains with the EU and the numerous agreements regarding free trade, visas, and more. A tourist wandering the streets of Tbilisi will also see these good relations through the many EU flags displayed in the public sphere. Regarding Russia, on the other hand, this tourist will probably see the aversion that locals feel towards Russian influence on the country by reading tags such as “20% of Georgia is occupied by Russia”. This is how Georgians tend to perceive Russia’s support for the two breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, especially since the 2008 war.
On top of their common love for wine and fine food, Georgia and France are linked by the Georgian president, Salomé Zourabichvili, who happens to be Franco-Georgian. Her roots are Georgian but she was educated in France. She claims that she can act as a “bridge” between Europe and Georgia, something that supposedly convinced many voters for the 2018 presidential elections.
The majority (83%) of the population is Orthodox Christian, but there are also Muslim (11%), Catholic, Jewish, and Armenian Apostolic Church minorities.
Georgian society is overall very patriarchal with women often attributed traditional roles and benefiting from fewer freedoms than men do. When I lived there, I regularly heard boys and girls called “good boys” (k’argi bitchi, კარგი ბიჭი) and “good girls” (k’argi gogo, კარგი გოგო). Yet, there seemed to be a double standard. A model k’argi gogo puts effort into her appearance, remains a virgin until marriage, and masters her grandmother’s recipes while in the public eye, men are seen as masculine by losing their virginity young and must earn money rather than do the household chores.
Georgian patriarchal norms are accompanied by profound respect for women, especially for mothers and grandmothers. All interculturalists know that language and culture are inextricably linked. When speaking of someone’s mother in Georgian, although the word order would normally be flexible, it is imperative to say “dedashens” (literally: “mother your” , დედაშენს), rather than “sheni deda” (” your mother ”, შენი დედა), which is an insult.
A Rapidly Evolving Country
The least that can be said is that Georgia has evolved since the end of the Soviet era. The civil unrest of the 1990s was characterized, among other things, by corruption, hunger, gangs, and darkness (figuratively and literally due to power failures). The Rose Revolution in 2003 consolidated democracy in Georgia and since then the country has opened up to the world and experienced significant development with an annual economic growth of 5% on average between 2005 and 2019. These developments are visible through the increase in tourism and the increase in foreign brand stores, fast food restaurants, and other such symbols of globalization.
Having lived in Tbilisi for a year and having worked in a Georgian school, I have also observed a gap between the mentalities of the younger generations and those of the older ones. While I do not want to generalize too much, it seems that, unlike most elders, many young people are more open-minded about societal subjects such as the role of women and sexual orientation and that some doubt the existence of God. This appears to be a westernization of mentalities, certainly accelerated by internet, which affects young people more than old people from the Soviet era.
An Attractive Country for Business People and Expats
With a low cost of living and excellent Internet access, many entrepreneurs and digital nomads are taking advantage of the expatriation opportunities offered by the government. Indeed, it currently allows citizens of 98 countries, including Americans and EU members, to reside in Georgia for a year without a visa.
The World Bank produces an annual ranking of countries in which it is easiest to do business based on regulations imposed on companies. The latest ranking (2019) placed Georgia in 7th place, making it the first European country behind Denmark.
Another advantage is that Georgia has become a very safe country to live in, despite memories of high insecurity from the 1990s. The numbeo.com site places Georgia as the 10th safest country in the world in 2021, placing the country well in front of countries like France, Norway, and New Zealand.
Regarding languages, English is becoming more and more widespread, especially among the younger generations, since it is compulsory in school. Russian is also spoken by the majority of Georgians and by all those who lived during the Soviet period when Russian was imposed on the population.
By Eizo Lang-Ezekiel
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