It didn’t’ take long to notice that Georgians like to toast. A lot. The Georgian toast is often a long, drawn out monologue pointing out appreciation for any number of things. Typically the toasts begin with a cheers to the company that you are currently keeping, but they can venture into any number of directions, such as “Cheers to our mothers, and all mothers,” “Cheers to the dead,” or “Cheers to the beautiful Georgian countryside.” Whatever the cheers is, they are typically affirmative and inspire appreciation. I love this custom.
The toast is followed by the cross-cultural customary clinking of glasses and a boisterous “Gaumarjos”(Georgian for Cheers). Time to drink! Not so fast. I found that in Georgia the toast is typically followed by further forms of soliloquy. Then, once the appreciation has been properly proliferated we raise up for another Gaumarjos and it’s time to drink. I take a sip of my wine. All eyes on me. Another cultural curveball. It’s quite customary in Georgia to go bottoms up after the toast with whatever it is you’re drinking, so be prepared. Did I mention that Georgians like to drink?
On the subject of drinking, I should mention what most Georgians would be drinking as they toast. Georgia is a wine-producing country in the truest sense. They are the oldest wine-producing country in the world and it’s quite evident. I began to get the impression that everyone has someone in his or her family who produces wine. And once they make their wine, they use the remaining grape peels and stems to distil into their national spirit of Chacha, which is essentially grape vodka. In short, most Georgians are all getting high on their own supply, in quite a self-sustaining way. And if you ever find yourself at a Georgian table, chances are you’ll be throwing back quite a bit of wine and Chacha.
The Gaumarjos is one of my favorite Georgian customs because it is so affirmative in its nature. Affirmation is one of the most powerful tools we have in our human arsenal and I deeply believe that when we give thanks and acknowledgement for something or someone it elevates us all to a higher state of being. Therefore, I would like to honor Georgia with ten toasts of appreciation for the wonderful place they call home. Gaumarjos to Georgia!
1. Gaumarjos to extraordinary exhibitions of hospitality. Georgians don’t always feel warm, but they are always hospitable. It is a cultural imperative that their guests are taken care of and they will always make you feel at home.
2. Gaumarjos to the natural beauty of Georgia. The landscapes are varied and diverse, but unified in their beauty. From bright blue bodies of water, grand snow-capped mountains and green pastures in the countryside, the Georgian landscape truly is a sight to behold.
3. Gaumarjos to Tbilisi. While the countryside of Georgia is truly spectacular, Georgia has managed to accomplish something that most countries struggle to do. The capital city of Tbilisi is architecturally diverse and beautiful. It’s combination of history and modernity is accomplished without coming across as kitsch. There’s a certain romance to aimless walks through it’s winding, cobbled streets.
4. Gaumarjos to Georgian wine and Chacha. While not quite the reason for the season, a Georgian table wouldn’t be complete without these liquid accompaniments. Any wine lover would be remiss not to raise a glass and toast the oldest wine-producing country in the world.
5. Gaumarjos to Georgian food. I love food, and I’m easy to please. But, the Georgian food was so delicious. My personal favorite? Any version of the Khachapuri. I don’t care if you fill this bread-based delicacy with cheese, beans, meat or top it with an egg. Khachapuri, I love you all and I love you Georgia for coming up with this crazy simple, delicious dish.
6. Gaumarjos to the rich history of Georgia. I’ve found that many in the west are unaware of the mere existence of a Georgia that doesn’t involve Atlanta. Yet, the history of Georgia is undeniable and upon further examination the world finds some of it’s strongest cultural roots leading to Georgia. From roots in Christian Orthodoxy to wine, Georgia’s historical presence in the world is strong.
7. Gaumarjos to the strong women of Georgia. From the strong older women who are clearly the straw that stirs the drink of Georgian homes, to the strong young women that are pushing Georgia into a 21st century of egalitarianism, Georgian women are remarkably tough and impressive.
8. Gaumarjos to the strength of Georgians. Georgia has had it’s fair share of historical turmoil. But, it seems as though no amount of invasions or occupations could crush the spirit or resolve of these strong individuals. They love their country and are proud of it.
9. Gaumarjos to Georgians loving Georgia. I’ve been all over the world, and it’s not always to be assumed that people love where they are from. Yet, even in the face of hardship, Georgians seem as though they wouldn’t have it any other way. They love their country and are proud of it. They don’t seem eager to run from its problems, but face them head on and continue to write the rich history of their country.
10. Gaumarjos to the future of Georgia. I truly believe that the best is yet to come for Georgia. The rich history combined with the strong, aspirational next generation will cause the world to take notice of Georgia. It’s a small country, but it’s heart beats strongly.