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Drinking Etiquette

Despite the Georgian love of wine, or perhaps because of it, it is generally consid-ered in very bad taste to get drunk. Women are not required or indeed expected to keep pace with men's consumption. Men, however, had better have a good head for what they drain; their very manliness-and the judgment of a traveler's manliness-depends upon it.

While some of the more important toasts require drinking your glass to the bottom as a sign of respect (bolomde in Georgian), the traditions of the Georgian table space the drinking out over the course of the meal. Here are the rules. You cannot drink until the tamada (toastmaster) has made his toast and drunk. Only then, and usually in order around the table, can other revelers echo the toast and drink. Never propose a different toast unless you are given permission: that is an offense to the tamada. If the toast is made to you as a visitor, to America or England, to the President or the Queen, or in any way bears directly upon your presence, you must wait to drink until everyone else has gone before you. Your toast in response should be one of thanks. Occasionally you will hear the tamada say Alaverdi to someone. This means that one guest has been chosen to elaborate upon the tamadds toast. All others present then drink to this same theme.

Toasting is not taken lightly in Georgia! In addition to the time-honored forms are time-honored subjects. Here, in order, are the subjects to which you will most likely be drinking: to peace (especially in the west of Georgia), to the reason for the gather-ing, to the hostess, to parents and ancestors, to Georgia as motherland, to friends, to the memory of those who have died (this is usually accompanied by pouring wine onto bread before you drink), to life, to children, to the mandilosani (in honor of women), to each guest present, sometimes individually, sometimes combined. After this the tamada usually allows anyone who so desires to make a toast. A closing toast is made in honor of the tamada, and the very last toast is to a safe journey home and to future meetings. Most Georgian homes have a large ram's or goat's horn called a khantsi. This will invariably be brought out at some point during the meal, filled with wine, and handed to an honored guest. Usually you must drink this to the bottom.

You can find the soul of Georgia at the seaside and the riverbanks, in the orchards and the mountains, within the sacred precincts of ancient churches and among the crumbling ruins of fortress walls. But nowhere is it so immediately and joyously felt as at a long Georgian table where, dining with the most hospitable people in the world, you lift your glass and feel powerfully connected to human sentiments that transcend mere bonhomie.

Gaumar . . .Jos! (Cheers!)