Last night was the final night of orientation kutaisshi (That’s Georgian for “In Kutaisi”). Definitely a bittersweet evening as we had to bid farewell to our new friends and coworkers, but a wonderful night because we spent it well! Two girls in the program had birthdays that day so we secretly pitched in and bought them a cake! We went to this restaurant–I cannot recall its name–and prepared to have a birthday party there.
Now, upon arrival the staff helped us push several tables together to accomodate the ~60 people in our party. We all sat down, waiting for the surprise cake to arrive when this matronly Georgian woman came up to the table and asked loudly in English, “Doesn’t any of you speak Russian??” Most of the group pointed at me, as I was the only Russian speaker amongst us. I turned around and replied, “Da, ya govoryu po-russki.” (Yes, I speak Russian) So began my brief stint as a Russo-American waiter at a Georgian restaurant.
The woman told me that we could not just have drinks. “This is not some bar. It is a restaurant. People come here to eat. You do not eat, you cannot be here.” “Okay,” I said, “Well we are bringing our own cakes because we all had dinner already.”
“You must order food. Not just drinks.”
“Do you have khinkali?” (Khinkali are these delicious Georgian dumplings with meat in the middle–a perfect snack to accompany beer or wine).
“No! I said we are not bar. No Khinkali. Khachapuri, Shashliki. What do you want?” (Khachapuri is Georgian cheese-bread and Shashliki are kebabs)
I consulted my fellow travelers and made the executive decision that we would all order khachapuri and shashliki. I told the restaurant owner we’d have that and some drinks. She asked me, “What drinks?” “I don’t know, probably everyone wants something different.” “Well,” she said, impatiently, “Why don’t you ask everyone and write it down?”
I surveyed the 60 people sitting at three tables before me, thinking, “I’m not a waiter, lady, I’m a guest at your restaurant,” so I turned back to her and said, “Everyone wants wine.” She told me that she would bring all of us “Wine, Water, Limonade” and that sounded fine to me.
At this point, all of my coworkers were looking to me for guidance so I went around explaining the situation with the food and the drinks. Of course, as with any group of sixty people I discovered vegetarians, non-pork eaters, and beer lovers. Wonderful. I crossed the room to find the matron once more and asked her, “What kind of meat are the shashliki?” “Meat.” “Okay, but from what animal is the meat?” Understanding the question, the woman gave me an answer I did not understand.
I know the words for “fish,” “pig,” “cow,” “chicken,” but this new word escaped me. I asked for clarification. “What animal is that?” She repeated her first answer. “Okay, but I do not know this word.” “Ahhh, it is little cow. Very tasty. Baby.” At least it wasn’t pork!
Next I went to the bartender and told him that some of us wanted beer as well. “Well,” he said in English, “Go find out who wants beer. How many beers, how many wines.” Fifteen minutes in and I still had not sat down. I went around and discovered thirteen people who definitely prefer beer to wine (In Georgia, the birthplace of wine!). Finally the orders were squared away, jugs of wine arrive, and the supra (feast) began!
The birthday cake went very well and soon Georgian dancers took to the floor. Before long, Georgian women drifted to our tables and began dragging men and women from our group to dance. Pauli (Georgians and “i” to the end of names ending in consonants) from Germany got very nervous as he does not enjoy dancing.
Pauli is a good friend of mine; together we are Raughley-Pauli (think rolypoly). He has a marvelous German accent when he speaks English and takes great delight in learning and practicing Georgian with me. We coined such euphemisms as “Six beers are in the man” to describe a drunkard in the street using words we knew, and often spoke Georgian with exaggerated Italian accents inspired by words like “Gelati,” (a monastery) and “Chineti” (China).
The bartender asked me to make an announcement in the microphone that “We Georgians want all Foreigners to dance Georgian national dance with us!” which got all of us up and dancing. It was a lot of fun–even Pauli got excited!
Pauli soon met a Georgian who spoke some German and who, as any good Georgian will, forced him to drink glasses of wine “bottoms up!” Pauli didn’t like drinking this much so when his new friend called him from across the room (on his cell phone, no less!) for a second round of toasts, Pauli made me come along.
The first toast did not include me and was in German: “To Brothers [touching each of the men drinking], Mothers, and Sisters and Friends! [pointing at me]” Bottoms up, then glasses refilled.
Soon, Naturi (a new “six beers are in the man” fellow) put his arms around Pauli and I and jovially shouted at us in Georgian. We communicated as best we could with our meagre Georgian skills. It wasn’t long before he asked if I spoke Russian. At this point he began shouting toasts in my ear in Russian and demanding that I translate them for Pauli. “We Georgians we love all peoples! Germans we love, Russians we love, English we love, All peoples!” “Yes, All peoples, we love them too,” I parroted. Pauli basically understood the toast but this man felt the need to repeat it six or seven times, shouting and spitting in my ear asking “You understand? You understand Russian?” Finally, satisfied that we, too, loved all peoples, it was “bottoms up” time and Pauli and I began to feel like “six beers are in the man.”
We stepped outside for some fresh air only to discover our program coordinators, whom of course had been invited to the party, fretting about some crisis at the bar. Nino, the lead coordinator told everyone to go back inside, because we are leaving. She made a harried announcement into the microphone and we gathered up the money for the bills.
After walking home, we began to piece together the story of why we had to leave in such a hurry. It turns out that one of the groups of Georgians at the restaurant, essentially all the ones dancing with us, was a group of “prostitutes and big-time pimps.” I could’ve sworn they were just super friendly!