What Foreigners Say about Tbilisi

The number of foreign citizens coming to Georgia grew by an impressive 26% last year and that number is expected to increase by 40% this year, according to a recent survey.

This isn’t hard to believe: everywhere you look, foreign nationals are exploring and enjoying the country. Many are even deciding to stay and even build businesses here. This is more evident than anywhere in the capital city. But what do they really think about the place?

This week, GEORGIA TODAY took to the streets of Tbilisi to interview a number of foreigners who have spent an extended amount of time here, from a couple of months to a few years. They were asked about a range of topics, including how they feel here, opinions on food and drink, public transport and the local people.

Feedback was generally positive, but the majority expressed bad feelings about public transport. All (except one) expressed great appreciation for Georgian food, such as Khachapuri and Khinkali. The vast majority agreed that local people are warm, welcoming and helpful and most were in agreement that Tbilisi is a city full of opportunity and growth.

Here, they tell us about the city in their own words:

Natalie Taylor, 25, from San Francisco, California, teaches English as a foreign language and has been here for the past three years.

“I absolutely love it here. I’m a foreigner, but I’m a foreigner at home in Georgia. I feel completely free to do what I like, and I think Tbilisi is such a cool, fascinating city. I’ll never get bored of it.

Traffic is a nightmare, so I usually take the metro to get places because it’s fast, cheap, and efficient.

Georgians are unlike any people I’ve ever met; they are unique. Generally, they are extremely friendly and welcoming, especially when you’re their guest. I’ve learned that in Georgian culture, a guest is considered a “gift from God” and should be treated accordingly. Georgians are direct and, in my opinion, can be aggressive at times, but nothing ever seems to be done or said out of hate.”

Rebecca Ernest from the US, has been here since September.

“I feel happy [here], but still very much feel like a foreigner. I think that not speaking Georgian is a bit of a hindrance, but it’s pretty easy to get by with English. I’ve also noticed that a lot of Georgians will go out of their way to help someone out. They may seem a bit cold, but as soon as you get to know them, you see they’re warm, kind, and helpful.

I’m 100% obsessed with Georgian food. Khinkali is one of the best creations on this earth, and don’t get me started with the wine. I really like the restaurant Sakhli #11. I’ve had two amazing dinners there since moving to Georgia, and they easily accommodate a big group.”

Katie Davies from the UK is the author of the Blood Omen Saga and Dark Wings book series and has been here for 10 years.

“I feel very free here. I very much felt that the UK was a ‘nanny state’- looking over your shoulder at every turn and providing nice clear signs to guide you on the way; total chaos here in comparison, but a definite sense of ‘use (or not) your common sense and on your head be it.’

What I like most is the POTENTIAL of the place: that it is far enough behind that it can be guided by the experiences of the West and yet it has the chance to make better choices, so in that respect it is a creative atmosphere which encourages innovation: “Your only limit is yourself,” as they say.

I love Georgian food, but too much without enough exercise and it goes straight to the belly/hips! My favorites are Khinkali and chips or Chakapuli (beef and tarragon stew- I make my own variant at home).

I love Machakhela restaurant (a chain), the Okrokhana branch- you can sit in the wooded garden and enjoy the fresh air and views across the hills to the Botanical Gardens- just 10 min up from Freedom Square! DiveX in Fabrika is one of my top choices for bars, as is Ibis Styles.

I’m very happy with the public transport here and use it all the time. They could do with more buses and minibuses at rush-hour, but otherwise the service is great for getting around the central districts and further afield. The big disadvantage is no metro in Vake, but a lot of buses and minibuses fill the gap.”

Daria Kholodilina, 28, was born in Ukraine has been here for four years.

“Tbilisi has so much potential, and there are a lot of things to be done and niches to be filled. I’m glad to have chosen this city.

Georgian food is the best. I like Shavi Lomi, Leila and Salobie Bia restaurants. Cafe Volver is my choice when I feel like Georgian wine and non-Georgian food. Cafe Hurma and Pin-Pon Cafe are for breakfasts.

There’s a good deal of laziness [from locals], negative thinking, patriarchal mentality, infantilism or things like not answering the phone or messages. But there’s also kindness, hospitality, and understanding that life is short and sometimes you should just take your time and enjoy it for a while. I made several loyal friends here, and I’m happy to have them in my life.”

Anna N. came here from Germany in May 2012 and teaches German and Japanese at an international school.

“I’ve felt many emotions living in Tbilisi. There have been good and bad times. In the beginning, I loved to explore the city and its mixed architecture. I very much enjoy the other side of the river (away from Rustaveli, Saburtalo and Vake), where the city looks much more original. Most of the time I feel happy, but I’ve been depressed here. Tbilisi is a very stressful city, especially when it comes to traffic, commuting and reckless behavior in the streets.

I like Georgian food very much. It’s very rich and tasty, but I can’t eat it every day. My all-time favorite Georgian dish is Khachapuri Ajaruli. It’s very heavy, but never disappoints.

The variety of bars, pubs and restaurants has been blossoming in the last couple of years, which reflects one aspect of positive city development. Tbilisi has a huge variety of different pubs and bars, so you can find something special for every taste.

I believe [Georgian wine] is the best in the world. I don’t like European wines anymore.”

Shahnoza Muminova is a business owner from Uzbekistan, who has been back and forth since 2008.

“Sometimes, I feel like I want to leave and never come back because everything annoys me so much, but when I go, I start missing it within 2-3 months. Now I know that, wherever I am, I need to come back regularly.

I love the food here (except Khachapuri… but please don’t tell the Georgians!), however, I think they could have a bit more seafood. It’s a pity because they have a sea, but no seafood culture. My favorite restaurants are Taverna Monadire, Taghlaura and Shemoikhede genatsvale

One bad thing about Tbilisi is the public transportation. It is slowly improving; a few modern busses on the route, with air-conditioning, etc., but it’s way too slow. Minibuses are hell and the metro is dirty, not [regular] enough during peak hours…and taxi drivers smoke inside the car and are not always polite.

[Georgians] are special people… It takes time to understand their mentality and behavior, and then it takes even more time to accept it. Once you do, you can be very comfortable with them.”

Ian Shynkarenko from Ukraine has lived in Georgia for 2.5 years working on international projects.

“Every time I come back to Tbilisi from my business trips, I say ‘it’s good to be back home!’

Kharcho is my favorite food; it’s different in each place you eat it and, in most cases, very tasty. My favorite restaurants are The Terrace on Kokobadze Str., Armazi’s Tskaro near Mtskheta and Tom Yum Asian Food on Baratashvili Street.

Hazem H., a Syrian national, has been in Tbilisi for more than four years.

“I feel comfortable in this city; free, already familiar with transport, directions and streets. I’m also seeing a lot of changes in this city compared to when I arrived four years ago, which makes me happy about the future of this country.

I’m not a wine-lover, but when I taste Georgian red wine, I find it very smooth and delicious.

Carolyn Rice, originally from the US, has been here nine years but first visited in 2002.

“I’m happy here; there are loads activities that don’t break the bank. Lots of interesting places, good food, good wine, good art and music, and lovely people. Anything I don’t like? Of course! Even the most wonderful places have a negative or two. I don’t like the trash in the streets. I don’t like the number of smokers blowing their smoke into my face. But I wouldn’t trade living here for anything; the positives outweigh the negatives.

I was in Georgia when corruption was high, when it took 13 hours to drive from Tbilisi to Batumi because you were stopped every 15 minutes or so to pay a bribe. Saakashvili changed all that, but there is much that still needs to be done. The government should pay attention to pollution and parking problems in the city, not by creating more parking in the center, but introducing park-and-ride from outside the city. They could learn a lot from other large cities.”

Kenneth Monette from New York retired from the US Navy and now teaches English. He has lived here for just over seven years.

“Tbilisi is very safe; I’ve never been hassled. I’m an easygoing person, so I feel relaxed and thoroughly enjoy just about everything in the city. I’m always in a good mood here, especially in Old Tbilisi!

I really like Khinkali, Mtsvadi, Lobiani and Khachapuri (only when it’s fresh, though). My favorite Georgian meal is Khinkali: cheap, filling, delicious and goes well with beer. It’s great to have with a small group of friends and enjoy great conversation while eating it.

I love the Georgian wine, especially homemade wine from the villages. I was never a fan of white wine, but I like the Georgian white. Red wine is the best here, in my opinion: Saperavi is my personal favorite, I drink it with just about every type of food I eat, even with pizza.

I’ve lived and traveled in many countries around the world, but I can honestly say the Georgians are the most hospitable people I’ve ever come across, and, like me, they are ‘crazy’! I mean crazy in a fun and good way of course!

Message to other foreigners: Keep an open mind, be patient, and always expect the unexpected when you live in Tbilisi, and Georgia in general, because every day can be so different from the last!”

Erika Copeland from the US has been here for 6 years.

“[Tbilisi] a few years ago was a depressing place. Now, with it becoming a more modern city and seeing attitudes changing, I’ve really started to love this place. I like how new businesses are constantly popping up and neighborhoods are changing. It’s a great city to just wander around and have a look at the mix between old and new.

I feel very free and happy to go to districts I love…but the traffic and the number of cars is making this nearly impossible for most people. I’ve never seen a city so small with this many cars.”

Neil Hauer (27), a Canadian analyst and journalist who has been here since the start of September.

“I feel quite inspired here. The city is the exact opposite of where I came here from. It’s exciting, bustling, in the middle of everything and with a great international scene. I’ve only really scratched the surface of the city and the country at this point, so I’m still very excited to be here.

Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone lives here in the summer, given that it was 33 degrees and humid for most of September. The weather lately has been very nice and mild though, given that my hometown in Canada has been blanketed in snow for a month, I think I’ll enjoy the winter here.

I have almost exclusively good things to say. Georgians are very kind and friendly people, with a good balance between modernity while maintaining their culture and traditions. The only thing I’d change is the amount of shouting that happens.”

Tom Day

23 November 2017 16:01


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