So I got used to London. I was there for a year and everyday I was heading through The City of London (you know, with all the business people) so got used to everyone rushing and having somewhere to be. It’s taking every ounce of my patience not to get angry when walking down the street in Tbilisi. It’s a small city and therefore very likely that the person you’re walking behind will bump into someone they know, stop dead in the middle of the pavement and kiss, hug and reminisce with their dad’s friend’s sister’s dog’s uncle’s child.
You try to overtake them, unsure why you’re rushing, only to be cut off by a bebo (grandma) trying to sell you some lemons. If not a bebo, then a beggar/gypsy will be wound around your leg as you try to explain that you don’t carry change. You escape, only to be in the midst of a swarm of children just leaving school, then you remember you should focus more on the cars around you since they’re never looking where they’re going. You’re on the pavement though? Yeah, don’t get too comfortable. These cars will be beeping at each other angrily (I now understand and love the law in the UK that makes incessant beeping illegal), shouting out of their windows and sat across stationary lanes diagonally. The police have a more sophisticated approach where they can use built-in megaphones on their brand new police cars to shout at the people around them. Then you’re smug because you can move faster as a pedestrian than they can in their over-priced, fuel-guzzling Jeeps.
The cars are smelly, they don’t have filtered petrol here so yes you are being poisoned as you breathe it in (more so than usual anyway). I’d recommend a tissue or a face mask but make sure to cover you mouth and nose unlike most of the people you’ll see who seem to wear it as a fashion statement. If the cars weren’t delightful enough for your lungs, you will spend the whole time breathing in peoples’ cigarette smoke. Sure it’s the same in most cities but you could be stood on the street alone and you will still be able to smell cigarette smoke. Be careful not to trip over the loose tiles, or even worse, to fall down one of the plummeting 6′ holes you’ll find in the middle of the street. And no you can’t sue them if you break your legs, you should’ve looked where you were going.
People will be staring at you, no matter how inconspicuous you think you look. Old, young, fat, thin, tall, short. Whatever, you’re interesting and god knows why. Play dumb if you like when people try to talk to you. If you’re female the only way they will leave you alone is when you explain you’re married to a Georgian. The women will find it perfectly acceptable to ask you if you’re a ‘kargi gogo’, and expect to know how many kids you will have and why don’t you have them already?!
If you want to buy fruit from one of the vendors and you communicate with near-perfect Georgian, they will still know that you’re foreign and try to charge you more. Your best bet is shopping at Carrefour or Goodwill – solace for expats in Tbilisi. In other supermarkets you will most likely only find gherkins and tinned Russian meats. It’s nicer to ask for popcorn for 10tetri/cup on the streets if you fancy a snack. If you’re cute they might give you two cups for the price of one. The chocolate bars will make you crazy thanks to the additives they still have in them, that or they’ll be out-of-date so take your pick. Khachapuri and lobiani is available everywhere and is wonderful, but if you’re like me and can’t physically stomach a pizza-sized slice of cheesy bread everyday then maybe popcorn is better. It’s impressive how cheap things are here but sometimes less is more.
Do your best not to let these things get to you, everyone appreciates a kind face and polite words. Be patient, you don’t have anywhere to be in a rush either (yes you have to be there for 6, but Georgian time is +3 hours). Talk in the little Georgian that you know to say please, thank you and excuse me and don’t be surprised when your neighbours bring food or give you fruit just because you’re there. Focus on the dogs who have fun on the streets instead, and it’s absolutely vital to carry bacon biscuits for them because they’ve mastered puppy-eyes.
(Negative and slightly exaggerated but sometimes a girl needs to vent!)