Georgia cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Georgians take pride in their traditions and national customs, and they expect their guests to follow them. When you are meeting a Georgian for the first time and want to make a good impression, knowledge of Georgian politics will be very helpful. This way you could compare the Georgian political system to the Canadian system and this will pave the way for other discussion topics, like education system and family.
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union many Georgians, whose lives depended on the Soviet centralized planned economy, lost their jobs and incomes. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened. Thus asking questions about their personal finances would offend them. Also, since the break-up of the USSR, the Georgian infrastructure has suffered. The inhabitants of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, who take pride in their city, saw a near collapse of the transit system, deterioration of the housing infrastructure. Thus you would not want to make negative comments about Tbilisi. Georgians like humour but that does not necessarily mean that they would understand your humour. Since most of the jokes and anecdotes are hard to translate, they would lose their meaning and "funniness".
Conversation topics on family, work or the local culture are all safe. Discussion on the summer homes that some residents of Tbilisi have may lead to a wonderful excursion to rural Georgia. One could also talk about wine (Georgia is famous all over the former Soviet Union for it), food (Georgia has its own cuisine), traditional songs and dances, history, the variety of Georgian cultures within Georgia, Georgian poetry (the most famous poet is Rustaveli) and so on. You can quickly earn the favour of your host by complimenting their khachapuri—the Georgian staple dish of baked bread and local cheese. Every baker of khachapuri will claim that theirs is the best in the country. In general, Georgians are fairly well educated and will be happy to talk to you on a variety of topics. Georgian hospitality is famous and while they are somewhat cautious with strangers, it does not take long for Georgians to start fussing and worrying about their foreign visitors.
One can ask about the Soviet Union but it is advisable to use caution when talking about contemporary Russian relations. Russo-Georgian relations have long been strained due to Russia’s support of semi-autonomous regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the presence of Russian military bases in Georgia and Russia’s claim that Georgia harbours Chechen rebels in the North Caucasus Mountains. Georgia is a land of ethnic minorities including a large number of Armenians and a lesser number of Azeris and Russians. Joseph Stalin was born in the Georgian city of Gori and is still somewhat of a hero for some Georgians.
One can certainly use humour with Georgians—they are not stoic or stern people. Georgian’s like to make fun of those from western Georgia and in particular their apparent love of donkeys.
Oral communication in Georgia is crucial in conducting business or even daily relationships. First contact with your counterpart starts with a handshake (man or woman). If you are familiar with a person then you could kiss him on his or her cheek twice (once each side). You can keep a close distance while speaking and eye contact is very important. The traditional Georgian neighbourhood is a complex of several houses attached to each other with a common courtyard where the inhabitants meet each other daily for a chat, coffee, game of chess, backgammon, domino, or nardyi. Thus conversations take place at close distances. Touching someone is also expected. It is common for two close male (or female) friends to hold hands while walking. As a foreigner you do not have to follow this tradition. Georgians use hand gestures, for instance, thumb erect means you really like it (food tastes great, movie is great).
The acceptable distance when speaking to someone is a little closer than one would find in Canada but not much. Eye contact with colleagues or at a social gathering is not a problem. Making eye contact with strangers is not usually a problem either, though it is not advisable to make eye contact with potentially ‘unsavoury’ characters on the street.
Georgians that know each other will often greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks though this is more common among women than men. Handshakes are common and fine, however, a foreigner can engage in the kissing custom as well if he/she is well acquainted with Georgian friends or colleagues. It is perhaps most comfortable if a foreign man only kisses women and shakes hands with men. Women may kiss other women and shake hands with men.
Touching someone while speaking is not uncommon among people who know each other well. Women often walk arm in arm or hold hands and male friends will also walk arm in arm. It may feel uncomfortable if a woman or man loops his arm in yours but it also means that you’ve been accepted. Georgians use a lot of hand gestures when talking—they can be rather animated for the uninitiated. One gesture visitors are advised to avoid is the ‘O.K.’ sign. Also, it is best to alter the beckoning gesture from palm up to palm down.
Display of emotion
Georgians are very "hot blooded" people. For instance, it is common to see parliamentarians fist fighting in the Parliament. At the same time it is very rude to show public anger towards women and elderly, which could result in a bystander interfering and defending the victim. Georgians like to express their emotions publicly too. For instance, at workplace one might share his/her feelings by crying.
Georgians are quite animated talkers. Public displays of emotion are common; one may see a pair or group of Georgians engaged in what appears to be angry discourse and even of the verge of blows, yet, it is likely a simple discussion or debate. Georgians are somewhat ‘hot tempered’ and are easily aroused to a degree not common in Canada. Some adjustment is to be expected. Public affection is uncommon. Young men and women tend to go to parks to be together but will still be quite discreet.
Dress, punctuality & formality
The dress code for business is suit and tie. Shoes are an integral part; first and foremost they have to be polished and presentable. Overall, Georgians pay too much attention to their wardrobe.
Colleagues are addressed by their first names. Supervisors are mostly addressed by using Mr. or Ms. You could address your colleagues (if they are older) and supervisors by their first and second names (second name is your father's name).
Business hours are from 8 or 9 am to 5 or 6 pm with 1 hour lunch breaks. Some businesses or organizations close for that 1-hour lunch break. It is very common to share food during your lunch hours. Georgians are generally punctual. Deadlines are usually set with the expectation that they will be met.
Georgia is a very poor country and one finds few people who dress very well by Canadian standards. Dress is not as formal as it is in Canada. Suit jackets are common for men though a tie is not always necessary unless you are conducting formal business or have an appointment with a government official. Both pants and skirts are appropriate for women though pants are most common. Somewhere in between business casual and formal is suitable for both men and women.
‘Time’ is quite different in Georgia than in Canada and in the South Caucasus region. The workday usually starts no earlier than 10:00 and usually begins closer to 11:00. The workday then extends later into the evening. Punctuality is important if you are meeting senior officials but otherwise tardiness is overlooked. Still, a safe general rule is to be on time rather than late.
Georgians are hard working people perhaps partly because simple survival is still an important part of life. Most members of a family that are able and can find some kind of work do. It is not uncommon to see an elderly grandmother selling peanuts or sunflower seeds for pennies on a cold night in order to contribute to her extended family. As such, those Georgians working in an office setting tend to work very long hours and will often give up their weekends if needed. Georgians tend to come to work ill rather than call in sick and take a day off. It is advisable to match the Georgian work ethic as best one can. Early departures are likely to be met with suspicion.
Preferred managerial qualities
Education and experience are by far the most important qualities in a local manager. Another important trait in a Georgian manager is how well he/she is connected so that tasks/works can be accomplished. Also important is social interaction with the subordinates. Good, well-respected managers are invited to family gatherings and other activities. These qualities will be true for an expat, perhaps except for the connections part.
The most highly regarded qualities tend to be education, experience and personal connections. Georgia is still very much a clan-based country and whom you know is important.
If the manager is an expatriate then the qualities valued are the same although certainly a foreigner is not expected to have the same network as a local staff person. Foreigners are often looked upon as more experienced and better educated than nationals and while this may be true in some cases, visitors are advised not to boast about this fact. As visitors in a foreign land, foreigners are advised to treat everyone in the workplace fairly, with respect and without expectation for special attention—though it may be granted anyway. Some Georgians will respond to a more authoritarian figure but a more friendly approach, treating everyone as part of a family, will better develop an esprit de corps and encourage results. Georgians are an intensely proud people and while international comparisons are welcome, it does little good to overuse foreign examples, especially if the examples are from neighbouring countries.
It is difficult to identify how one’s staff feels about an expatriate manager. If the Georgian staff is all business, this may indicate difficulties in the workplace but not necessarily. If the Georgian staff is friendly, seem genuinely happy with their work and involve the foreigners in their social activities, then it’s likely that one’s workplace is fine. If you feel that you need to confront someone, you can but you may find that you’ve placed more importance on the problem than the Georgian. Georgians tend to have ‘thick skins’ and view foreigners as overly sensitive.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Decisions are solely made by the owner/manager. Ideas are welcomed from anyone in the company but it usually takes a long time to approve them (if they ever get approved). It is acceptable to go to your immediate supervisor for answers or feedback.
Generally, decisions are made and ideas generated at the top levels of Georgian organisations and then filter down to those who implement the decisions. Group decision-making or consultation is uncommon. An independent work ethic is the most common but one can ask for answers and/or feedback. Still, the expectation is that one will do one’s own work.
There tends not to be a lot of inter-office communication or information sharing between people in the office. One may find two people doing the same task without knowing it, or, one may learn about an activity by accident only because there isn’t a mechanism in place to share information. Staff meetings tend to be a bit of a novelty.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Georgia is predominantly male controlled society, although the role of women is increasing. Men have an advantage over women at work, in terms of promotion and pay.
Georgians are predominantly Christian Orthodox. Seventy years of communism and anti-Christian propaganda had ill effects on Christianity in Georgia; many churches were destroyed or converted to other public buildings. Today the Georgian Orthodox Church has a very small (virtually non-existent) influence in the affairs of the State. As a result there is no place for religion at the workplace. Although some religious holidays are statutory holidays in Georgia.
After the break-up of the USSR the intelligentsia (the middle class) is virtually non-existent. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened over the last 15 years. A large segment of the population is poor. It is more difficult for a person from a poor family to get a job.
Ethnicity is very important in Georgia. There are many non-Georgian ethnic minority groups that live in Georgia. As a result of that, these ethnic groups who are striving for self-determination are challenging Georgia's sovereignty, for instance, Adjarians and Abkhasians. Discrimination based on ethnic background is prevalent. Jobs are given to ethnic Georgians then to other minorities.
Georgia is still ‘a man’s world’ though there are more and more women in government, even at the decision-making level. Still, men dominate government, business and life in general. Women are expected to ‘look pretty’ and are typically bound to stereotypical female jobs such as secretaries and administrators. Overall, there is some awareness of gender issues among women but mostly it is seen as a western phenomenon. Divorce seems to be as common as in the West.
The Orthodox Church is dominant in Georgia and has its own patriarch. Because of the ethnic minorities in Georgia, there are a corresponding number of minority religious groups. The most predominant are Armenian Orthodox and Muslim. There is a relatively large Jewish minority in Tbilisi and pagan religions still exist among some remote mountain groups that have survived for centuries. Some cases of religious persecution have been reported.
Poverty is widespread in Georgia and so there is only a very small upper class middle class. The vast majority of Georgians belong to the ‘lower’ class. Status can be very important, though, and some Georgians like to display their wealth (cars, clothes, etc.) as indicators of a higher class.
Georgia is a country of ethnic minorities. The largest groups are Armenians and Azeris although there are also Russians, Turks and Greeks. The Armenian minority seems to cause Georgians the most worry. This is likely due to Armenia’s invasion of the Ngorno Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and Armenia’s close relationship with Russia.
In Georgia personal relationships play a key role in conducting business. You need to have a wide contact list if you want anything to get accomplished. First you need to get introduced to a person by inviting him for a dinner. Local practices sometimes include the "nurturing" of a relationship by offering gifts. You will have to make things very clear by explaining Canadian standards do not permit such practices.
Relationships are crucial in Georgia because Georgia historically is a clan-based culture. Immediate and extended family are the structures that form the foundation of Georgian society. The primary and most common social activity in Georgia is eating and drinking, so the easiest way to develop rapport is to invite ones colleagues/clients to dinner.
Privileges and favouritism
Clans play an important role in Georgia, thus special privileges or considerations are a way of life. Especially if you need a favour in return, then you would need to make sure that special privileges are granted.
This is a difficult question to answer. As mentioned above, Georgia is a land of clans and relationships and one typically looks after those in ones family or extended family. Still, bribes are increasingly frowned upon as Georgia tries to modernize after the revolution in 2003. There are no circumstances under which I would recommend granting special privileges.
Conflicts in the workplace
Yes, you would confront him or her directly, preferably, in private. Going to your superior and expressing your grievances is considered to be "snitching" and is uncommon. If a colleague is offended by something, then he/she would usually express their feelings to you.
It is difficult to tell if a colleague might be offended by a foreign worker. If a problem is suspected, one can try to confront the person but Georgians tend to see Westerners as overly sensitive. Georgians may be quick to express emotion and even anger but they are also quick to forgive.
Motivating local colleagues
Money plays an important role, also the prestige that comes from working for a Western firm or organization.
Georgian employees might be motivated by salary but it is often the less tangible aspects of a job that are most appreciated such as encouragement, increasing levels of independence and responsibility, and being treated as an equal.
Recommended books, films & foods
The Colour of Pomegranates, by Paradjanov, is a film based on the life of the 18th-century Armenian poet-monk, Savat Nova, a Georgian-Armenian poet/musician who lived during the reign of Queen Tamara. Georgian cuisine is incredibly tasty and delicious but no Georgian restaurants exist in Canada since the Georgian community in Canada is very small (virtually non-existent).
Travel guides are good starting points but it’s difficult to find any substantial information about Georgia outside of the country. Georgia is a very small country with little English language (or French to my knowledge) history books. Once in Tbilisi, check out one of Prospero’s Book Store locations on Rustaveli Avenue or at Besty’s Hotel for good coffee and a good selection of English language books about Georgia and the Caucasus.
Since the Rose Revolution in November 2003, current events have dominated the headlines. The BBC website has good basic country information as well as a timeline of events in Georgia’s recent history. The Economist magazine also provides solid information about Georgia. Visitors are advised to read a variety of information resources as many overstate the difficulties and dangers in Georgia while others glorify too much the vacation possibilities. An open mind is a must.
Go to a football (soccer) game and watch the Dynamo Tbilisi; get acquainted with Georgian wines, the pride of Georgia; visit Georgian restaurants to taste the local cuisine (especially dish called 'khinkali' which is eaten with the fingers); visit the Pantheon where famous Georgian writers are buried.
Georgians love their opera and theatre and both venues carry full programs. Georgia has its own traditional form of dance—roughly similar to what one might find in Russia or Ukraine—and its national dance troupe tours internationally. There are several museums in Tbilisi owing to Georgia’s rich heritage; some have multi-lingual interpreters. Tours to Georgia’s regions are increasingly common and there are even international tour groups travelling to the country as the government makes it easier for visitors to travel to Georgia. The arts and crafts scene is astonishingly rich with a wide variety of locally made enamel, jewellery, textiles, pottery and art. Antique hunters will not be disappointed either—relics from old Russia as well as the English, French, Ottoman and German empires are all available. English language newspapers are generally only found in hotels as is English, French and other international television. Local television and radio is mostly in Georgian with some Russian influences.
Restaurants and cafes abound in Georgia as this is the primary social venue in Georgia. If invited to a traditional Georgian feast, be prepared to eat more than you’ve ever eaten before and enjoy large quantities of local Georgian wine. Thankfully, one isn’t expected to eat everything on the table or on ones plate—it is entirely appropriate to leave food on your plate (the wait staff will bring you a clean one). More and more people speak English in the restaurants as they cater to the influx of international workers from the West. Almost every restaurant will have its menu in Georgian, Russian and English.
Among sports, football (soccer) is the most popular and for sports enthusiasts, games at the national stadium are an experience not to be missed.
A hotspot for English speaking visitors to Tbilisi is Prospero’s English language bookstore. There is also a French cultural centre in Tbilisi one block off Tbilisi near Freedom Square and the Marriott Courtyard Hotel.
David the Builder, King of Georgia, who founded Tbilisi, the capital of the Georgian kingdom. Queen Tamara strengthened Georgia in Medieval Times. Joseph Stalin, a controversial figure who is considered dictator by most of the world, but Georgians have a great respect to the native son of their country. Vakhtang Kikabidze, a well known Georgian singer and actor, as a matter of fact respected throughout the former Soviet world.
Georgian long-standing national heroes tend to be poets and writers—some of whom were also leaders of independence movements in the past few hundred years. Georgians also idolize their ancient kings and in particular St. George who brought Christianity to Georgia in the fourth century. Visitors to Georgia will see St. George as he is most commonly portrayed—on horseback slaying a dragon.
Perhaps surprisingly, many Georgians consider Joseph Stalin, a native of the city of Gori, a national hero. Even though in most minds, Stalin has long been discredited as a brutal dictator, there are some in Georgia who feel that he has been wrongly maligned. There remains a substantial museum in Gori that portrays Stalin as a great man and leader; his ‘death mask’ (a mould of Stalin’s face after his death) is particularly revered. His childhood home has been moved to the museum grounds as has his personal train car he used when he was General Secretary of the Soviet Union.
The country seems to prefer strong leadership and until recently, former President Eduard Shevardnadze could be considered something of a hero because of his past high standing in the Communist party during the Soviet period. Shevardnadze is credited with bringing order to Georgia after the civil strife in the mid-1990s though his forced resignation in 2003 has tarnished his reputation somewhat.
Georgia is fond of its sports and recently has raised some of its Olympic athletes to heroic status. During the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, two Georgian wrestlers from the same small rural town each won a gold medal. The town is supposed to have celebrated for
Shared historical events with Canada
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any historical events that tie Canada to Georgia. The two countries even lack diplomatic representations in their countries.
None that I am aware of.
Due to the distance between the two countries and an absence of Canadian diplomatic representation, Georgians know very little about Canada thereby hold no stereotypes of them.
Canadians tend to know very, very little about Georgia and thus it is difficult to identify particular stereotypes. However, visitors should understand that Georgia is an independent nation with a history that goes back hundreds of years. It is a former Soviet Republic in much the same way as the Baltic country of Ukraine. Georgia is not Russia and Georgians are not Russians. In fact, considering recent events and Russia’s dominance in the twentieth century, it is advisable to keep pro-Russian sentiment quiet. Russia sometimes refers to Georgians as terrorists because of their belief that Georgia is harbouring Chechen rebels. Russia does not blame Georgia for the longstanding conflict in Chechnya, however, it does blame Georgia for tacitly supporting the rebel cause.
Stress and hardship are ways of life in Georgia where survival is still a significant aspect of life. As such, sometimes it seems as though Georgians have a decided inability to plan ahead. Instead, Georgians seem to work in a state of perpetual emergency but this is likely due to the fact that government services are still mostly nonexistent, expectations are low, unpredictability is predictable and change is expected.
Georgia is one country in a very complicated South Caucasus. This context includes, amongst many other things, Armenia and Azerbaijan—still technically at war— a lucrative oil pipeline soon to go into operation and high stakes geo-politics that include Russia, the United States, Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her family traces its roots to 17th century Tbilisi. She lived in Tbilisi until she turned 21 when she visited Prague, the Czech Republic and met there her future husband who sponsored her to Canada. She has a degree in Journalism from the University of Tbilisi.
Votre interprète culturel est né à Winnipeg, Manitoba. Il est le troisième enfant d’une famille de quatre garçons. Il a grandi à Saskatoon et a étudié l’histoire, l’administration publique et les affaires internationales à l’Université de Saskatchewan, à l’Université de Waterloo et à l’Université Carleton d’Ottawa. Son travail l’a mené à l’étranger pour la première fois, en 1999, en Albanie, au Kosovo et en Turquie, où il a travaillé dans le domaine de l’action en cas de catastrophe. Après quoi, votre interprète culturel est retourné au Canada où il a commencé à travailler dans le poste qu’il occupe présentement à Ottawa. Il a géré des projets de réforme du secteur public au cours des quatre dernières années et demie en Union soviétique.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
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