I’ve been sitting all alone for 10 minutes in the spacious cafe’ of the complex “Funicular” overlooking Tbilisi. There are 4 waitresses walking around, but I don’t see them doing anything, let alone doing something that should be written in their main job description. They definitely don’t serve anyone, unless the other guests are invisible. They pass me by, look at me and the empty, shiny table in front, but none approaches. Their ongoing discussion with the cooks in the noisy, open kitchen is more important for them. In the background, the orchestra of pots and lids plays Allegro Moderato and the employees’ voices start turning into Agitato. The atmosphere boils. It’s not about me not understanding Georgian. This dynamics would mean an argument even in the hot Mediterranean countries I am so familiar with.
I hear, “Ssh” and my eyes light with hope that someone is aware of an individual sitting in the corner. I have time and it amuses me to watch the action. I am curious to see how bad the service can get and smile thinking of the Kishon’s story about the table in a restaurant that doesn’t belong to any of the waiters. Nevertheless, 10 minutes passed, it’s not fun to be Ms Invisible any longer, but I am too thirsty to leave.
“Excuse me!” I call to a person, not involved in the discussion, who looks like the main waitress or a manager here. She turns and honours me with a wondering look as if it was strange to expect a sound from that corner of the room.
“Could I order, please?” is followed by a surprising look in her eyes, “Order?”.
“Yes,” I reply. She addresses one of the waitresses, continues to stand by the bar and nothing changes for 2 more minutes. Finally, the waitress approaches me with a big smile. “Could I have an Earl Gray, please,” my lips surprise me by not ordering the salad I picked from the menu 10 minutes earlier. After witnessing the scene, I daren’t wait for something more complex than a cup of tea, even be it coffee.
I told this story to my friends who have been living in Georgia for a while. Their comment was, “You’re a woman. You don’t really count.” I didn’t know what to think about it after my time spent there. I found it too harsh in a way because, in all the personal contacts I had had, I felt well respected. Fair enough, I was a guest in the country where guests are considered to be a blessing and people are genuine masters of hospitality. But the comment puzzled me anyway because I trust their judgement and the knowledge about the country they live in.
Georgian society does seem to be a strong patriarchal one with a long Christian tradition and all of us living in the predominantly Christian countries, do know that there is a long way to go for the Christian Church to admit real gender equality. In Georgia, women did seem pretty invisible in many situations – just a force behind the scenes. Then again, on every dinner (supra) I attended, the toastmaster (tamada) proposed a nice toast to celebrate women. Now you are getting why all of this combined with my own experience, left me confused.
I researched about the topic and some recent studies do say that Georgia has a way to go to achieve gender equality, but doesn’t the whole world in general need that, as well? Some countries positioned themselves better than Georgia, some way worse, but as long as the likes of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tell women that it’s a good karma not to ask for a salary raise and when the researches show that women have lower salaries in general, the movements like HeForShe will have a lot of work to do everywhere around the globe, not only in Georgia.