Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bring Pantyhose

Time to get intimately familiar with everyday life in our latest vital national interest. A few excerpts from some ground-level reports, both good and bad.

Corporate expat in Tbilisi, 12/07:

Pollution index: Unhealthy: Pollution in winter months hangs around, and the wind in spring brings lost of dust and pollen.

Is it a good city for gay or lesbian expats? A definite no-no.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices? Yes. The Othodox Church here is prejudiced against any other form of Christianity. Although attacks have been carried out on other Christians in the past, this does not happen at the moment. However, it would be wise to be discreet, especially if you are a missionary. Several of my friends find the Georgians to be xenophobic. They are definitely proud of their country.

What difficulties would someone with physical disabilities have living in this city? It is even difficult for able- bodied people. You need to hold your kids' hands when walking along/crossing streets. You'll encounter crazy drivers and open man-holes.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost? If you like junk or are not particular—i.e., local heavy food, pizzas, bland steaks covered with cheese, etc.—there are loads of restaurants. However, if you like good quality food, eat at home.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of rugged terrain, lack of parts and service, local restrictions, carjackings, etc? So if you have an accident (which is very likely if you drive a lot here, because Georgians drive fast, don't respect traffic rules and mostly don't have decent tires or brakes) it is your fault. If you have an accident, you are not to move your car (even if no one is hurt and you are holding up the whole of Tblisi traffic) until the police come. But what the heck, it will still be your fault. And the Georgian will never be insured. So get yourself and the car insured, too.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable? Taxis and buses are not safe because of dangerous driving. Taxis are not so affordable if they see you are a foreigner (as with most things here…it is very frustrating – you are good to pay…). Expect to break down or be very delayed on long distance buses/ vans. Of course, pickpocketing is rife.

Size of expat community: Not big enough, in a country like this, to be vibrant.

Morale among expats: Many arrive high. It doesn't last though – unless the other option was worse.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy? If you are well qualified, you might get a job with one of the foreign aid agencies. Otherwise, don't waste your time looking. Even if you want to do charity work or personal charity work, it can be a bit depressing. It is the first country I have been to where, even if you give to the max, people have a way of making you fee guilty not to have done more.

Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available? Stay well. Don't come if you know you need medical attention or if you have a problem that might get worse. Medical care is Soviet style – all façade if you have money and scary if you don't. IN the last three years, five of my colleagues' family members have been misdiagnosed for serious things by the most well-equipped clinics.

Can you save money? Depends on whether you want to want to have all the quality comforts of home or go without them. In any case, although some Georgians will welcome you into their homes, most consider that you are the ideal ATM.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? Make that a no, definitely no. I did not know that the schools were so bad. Nor did I know that, as soon as you start talking money, it's always up to you to pay, since you are the foreigner. Nor that you get ripped of with such high rents. That there is always a problem with something. And it gets on my nerves that these people are so lazy. Ministries, local schools, and shops open at 10:00 a.m. What country in the world can afford to do that? Certainly not Georgia.

Any other comments: In my opinion, most people who say they like it here:
- have only been here for one year or less
- are Georgians or are married to a Georgian
- are single men without a life elsewhere
- are families who are better off here than back at home
- are people who only live life in their own expat ghetto
- are those who don't have the guts to admit that they were wrong to come, or
- are people with a purpose to help Georgians, i.e., missionaries.

Expat teacher in Tbilisi, 12/07:

Is it a good city for gay/lesbian expats? If you are a discreet lesbian, then yes. An openly gay man would have trouble.

Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left? Hah Hah Hah. You drive on whatever side the road some psycho is not currently bearing down on. Expect to shift lanes often, owing to drunkards and cows.

Items you would ship if you could do it again? Movies and pantyhose. Pantyhose are outrageously expensive.

Morale among expats: I can only speak for myself. I had a wonderful time. Don't expect a Western life, and meet the locals. Embassy morale is famously low, with lots of curtailments and unhappy people. Everyone else seems to enjoy it here.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy? A lot of low-pay teaching jobs. Don't work at the embassy if you want to stay sane. It's a very toxic place.

Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available? Dentistry is superior and affordable if you know where to go. Medical care is known to be atrocious.

Quality pet care available? Adequate. This is the land of feral animals, so pet sentimentality is regarded as bizarre.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? In a heartbeat. Lovely people, beautiful country, quite a mess, but a fascinating mess.

Post report, U.S. Embassy, 2/07:

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples? This is not a good place for singles. There are too few good venues for nighttime entertainment, and those few close down for the summer months during vacation season. Single women are not at all happy here, but a few persistant single men find it tolerable, yet lacking.

Is it a good city for gay/lesbian expats? I would not think so, due to the conservative Orthodox culture in Tbilisi.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable? No, no, and somtimes. The Red Cab service is generally considered the safest cab service. Taxis are the source of many sexual assualts against Western women, and trains/mini-buses are the sources of many robberies and pickpockets. Stay away from public transportation if at all possible. Drive your own car or hire a trusted driver.

Interesting/fun things to do: Visiting historic churches, wine tasting, and tourism in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs? I would not do it if not absolutely necessary, but then stick to the ATMs at the Marriott, Sheraton, and US Embassy only. For safety's sake, DO NOT use one on the street outside, whatever you do.

What unique local items can you spend it on? Georgian wine is the best in the world, but nothing else here is worth its price.

Student in Tbilisi, 11/06:

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? McDonald's has obviously plagued this city, although there are many other fast food places that are cheaper and better. There are many very good restaurants here: these include a few Chinese restaurants, some Italian restaurants, many Georgian restaurants, some Russian restaurants, etc.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living? Quite a lot. Basic Georgian and/or Russian are essential here for people that actually want to do something.

Morale among expats: Although there are many foreigners here, there are very few that actually go out and enjoy the culture. Many foreigners are incredibly ignorant of the local culture and extremely paranoid. Many of them are convinced that the local population wants nothing more than to steal their money and hurt them in some way. Those are the foreigners that enslave themselves in their huge houses behind 3-metre walls and only leave to go to work. In reality, there is no real danger in this city; it is safer than most Western cities.

Entertaining/social life: There is an amazing opera here which has concerts and theater plays at least once a month. There are many extremely talented musicians in Georgia, and it's quite easy to find a café with good live music. Apart from that, there are many cultural events throughout the year.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? Yes, I believe I'll return many times in the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Predictable but still interesting contrast in reviews between the student and older adults.

8/13/2008 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that corporate expat had a rough time of it, eh? Otherwise it seems reasonable for a former Soviet republic. I think it shows how much we take our relatively peaceful, civil society for granted. Driving there sounds like a trip though!

8/13/2008 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the first country I have been to where, even if you give to the max, people have a way of making you fee[l] guilty not to have done more.

So Georgians and Russians actually have a helluva lot in common....
-- sglover

8/13/2008 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could always go the Peace Corp route.

Georgians are/were anxious to learn English for tourism along the Black Sea.

They take one step forward, and two back. It is sad.

I'd like to understand more about South Odessa. It's part of Georgia according to the "International" community, so it was okay for Georgia to bomb it, and then Russia said, oh no you don't, so take this.

8/13/2008 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Correction to above comment: Odessa should be South Ossetia.

I was thinking of the movie, Everything is Illuminated, and that was Odessa in Ukraine. Argh!

Highly recommend the movie though ;-)

8/13/2008 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Georgian Civil War wiki has been updated for current events. Puts things into historical context.

8/13/2008 11:56 AM  
Blogger Mr. Hedley Bowes said...

Reads like Grover Norquist's Riviera on the Black Sea.

8/13/2008 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bit about the ATMs is very much outdated. They're ubiquitous and safe. Prepaid local mobile phones are paid for via an ATM-like infrastructure, and this, too, is widespread and safe.

Drivers are nuts, lanes mostly notional, and outside Tbilisi much poorer. If anybody's pouring out buckets of development cash, send me some, ok?

8/19/2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Tapenade said...

What a bunch of whiners. If white toilet paper is the be-all and end-all of civilization for them, they should stay in Dubuque.

Georgia is a poor country. Duh. Is that news? There isn't much money for infrastructure maintenance, pantyhose imports, or importing Mexican food to keep fussy and immature Embassy employees happy. But gee, foreign-country-loving-expats, how about actually appreciating what is here, instead of crying about your lost pepper jack cheese?

The food here is absolutely fabulous---you have never seen mandarin oranges like this in your life, and the tomatoes....oh, the tomatoes are an absolute revelation for anybody from the US. Georgian cuisine is incredibly tasty. I like the vegetable-and-walnut combinations, myself.

Georgians are extraordinarily hospitable. I literally have had people give me the clothes they were wearing--once, a friend gave me her cashmere shawl, just like that. My Georgian friends go out of their way to make my son and I feel welcome and comfortable. They are hospitable even when they literally cannot afford to be.

I admire the depth and strength of social connections here. Many Georgians have told me, "Americans have psychiatrists. But we have friends! Why would we pay somebody to listen to our troubles, when we know our friends will actually help us solve them? There is something about being in Georgia that makes me feel more human, more part of a community, more supported than I ever feel in the US.

It's a fabulously beautiful country. I'm from Colorado, and the mountains here are bigger and wilder than anything I've ever seen. The wealth of opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing are just amazing. Next time I come, I'm bringing snowshoes.

So yeah. Georgia is not America. If you need to be in a place where everyone speaks fluent English (gee, imagine that, Georgians speak Georgian in their own country!), where you can get crappy hamburgers for rock-bottom prices, and where your friends try and charge you for attending their weddings, go home. You're not capable of appreciating the beauty of this place, and you're really not the kind of person who should be representing America abroad.

2/02/2009 3:16 AM  

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