If you ask Georgians to describe themselves, they’d all start with a single adjective: hospitable (this is probably also true in the state of Georgia, but here we’re talking the country). And in the country of Georgia itself, there are varying degrees of hospitable stereotypes.
In Tbilisi, of course, it’s a city so it doesn’t hold true, but meet a Georgian and they’ll probably tell you the most hospitable people are in Samegrelo (check out these beautiful places in the Megrelian homeland) and the least hospitable people are in Kakheti.
a cow hanging out at a run-down tea plantation
Where this might not actually be true, it does say something about the style and expectations of hospitality. In Samegrelo, they have to stuff food down people’s throats. In Kakheti, they let you eat at your own pace. This also says something about what Georgians view as “hospitality", and for many of us expats, we end up adding another adjective to it, “hostile hospitality”.
I married into a Megrelian family, which means I know all about this hostile hospitality. And here I’ve decided to write some tips and tricks to both visiting a Megrelian family and if you’re ever lucky enough to host one, dealing with them.
Megrelians hanging out eating the cow
They will ask you if you want to eat. Like a hundred times. Be aware: they don’t say, “I’d like to eat, would you?” but rather simply ask, “Would you like to eat?” If you’re not hungry, and keep refusing, you may be starving them.
Saying “yes” to something when first asked is rude and you’ll look like a glutton. But on the other hand, saying “no” may starve them, so be aware of this fine balance.
If you sit down, expect food to be placed on the table.
If you are standing, expect to be told to sit down.
While you’re eating, you will be told to eat. Sometimes a different food they think you haven’t seen, sometimes the same food you’re chewing on. They think that despite the fact you’re presently eating it, you might have missed it still.
You should eat slowly and carry on at the same pace, otherwise they’ll think something is amiss. Always keep a little food on your plate. Because 7 and 8.
If you slow down eating, they’ll start asking you why you’re not eating.
If you’re the first to stop eating, they’ll look at each other very anxiously and assume you didn’t like the food.
They may put food onto your plate without asking you. Especially if you slow down or stop eating. Don’t get offended.
They may put food into your mouth without asking you. Especially if you slow down or stop eating. Don’t get offended, just chew.
If you didn’t like something and say it was “okay” when asked, they’ll assume you liked it and serve it to you again, over and over. They may even put it on your plate or into your mouth without asking.
If you say you didn’t like something, they may have a heartattack or disappear into the fields to cry.
Don’t be first to leave the table. They’ll think you didn’t like it. But at the same time, they’ll all wait for you to leave the table first before they leave.
If you go pee, it means you can’t hold your wine and are weak. But that’s okay if you’re not Georgian. They expect it. Which also means you can really impress people if you can hold your pee.
You may be visiting a poor family and are tempted to help pay for things. DON’T! Being a host is the most honorable and wonderful thing for a Megrelian and this could be the story of that family’s lifetime. If you pay for it, it will ruin that (this is partly why business hospitality and real hospitality are entirely different things for Georgians).
a Megrelian making sure I eat (and drink) enough
When having them over:
If you ask them if they want to eat, they will say “no”. This is a lie. Serve them anyway.
Megrelians will almost never accept hospitality. You must force them. This is normal, because it’s the same in Samegrelo. They expect you to force them. For them, it’s rude to accept easily, and they think it’s rude for you to not be hostile about it. Not asking something at least three times is rude. Maybe you want coffee. Ask them if they want coffee three times. They’ll say “no” every time, bring them coffee anyway.
They’ll often stand around until you tell them to sit, even when they want to sit.
You might see a Megrelian is not eating even after you serve them. Tell them to eat. They sometimes require extra motivation from the host. Feel free to put things on their plate.
If they’re still not eating, it may be necessary to put food into their mouth. You know they really want it, they’re just being shy.
They’ll tell you if they didn’t like something. That way you don’t have to serve it again.
It’s normal for them to bring candies or something to a large feast, but don’t expect much more help. It’s an honor to host them.
If you keep all these things in mind, you should be set when dealing with Megrelians (and by extension, many other Georgians as well).
getting ready to make nut sauce
A couple of other things to keep in mind are some key words to use: