Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Where are you from?"

It's a classic question, isn't it, especially in a world capital such as the Big Apple, for example. It's not so hard if you're from an obvious place (e.g. France, Italy, Australia, Japan, etc.) but a tricky "dubious" answer like "Georgia" is nearly always followed by a quick explanatory "the country, not the state!" Otherwise, I'm bound to get bombarded with additional questions, such as " you don't have a Southern twang at all!"

No, not Atlanta, GA - the former Soviet republic of Georgia, that is!

I suppose it was only recently that people in the western world became more open to the notion of Georgia not being Russia but a former member of the Soviet Union instead. Although I have to admit, a lot of the new friends I have made here over the last 3 years that I've been living in the US, have really embraced this cultural exoticism of being a Georgian and even more so, they seem quite fascinated about what it means to be from the former USSR.

A few years ago, saying you were from Russia was a big deal - next to stating that you're an alien, really. Every time I mentioned that I'd spent my formative years in Moscow came as a huge cultural shock to those in the western part of the globe... Not anymore! It seems that the "Russification" of Europe and the US has become a norm in certain aspects, except the problem is that a lot of cliché misinformation tends to go hand in hand with it, as well.

I spent the evening chatting about this with a British friend of mine who happened to spent quite a bit of time in Russia during the last few years - in fact, she lived and worked in Moscow for a while. I am always rather surprised (though I know I shouldn't be - that's the norm, after all!) to hear my friends and colleagues talk about where they come from - very rarely do they ponder over a straightforward question like "Where are you from?" like I do...

Don't get me wrong - I am very aware and very proud of my Georgian roots, but having moved to Russia with my family at the age of 9, I got slightly confused as to which of the two places I could actually call "home" in all confidence and the due nostalgia.

Traveling the world and living all over a sufficient part of the western hemisphere over the years has really been a blessing in disguise. On the one hand, it is fascinating and enriching for the character and the inner being to be able to grasp the variety and diversity of the different cultures and also making them all a part of oneself in some small way. Yet, not forgetting who you are and where you come from (sounds corny, I know!) is a very important factor for discovering and nurturing one's own identity.

I do feel very lucky to have witnessed at least the tiniest part of the end of a Soviet era as we knew it and the transition into a new more westernized world as we now know it. The silliest things that may come across as trivial to a European or American reader made it so exciting and memorable even at a tender age of 7 onwards: the first grand opening of a McDonald's "restaurant" in Moscow, a pompous event, a ridiculously long queue and insane prices; a first Pepsi Cola invasion; the ability to buy any foreign record (the reign of piracy had just kicked off over there!) at a dingy Gorbushka Park in the outskirts of Moscow, etc. All of that and more made it quite an experience for me - and I think I actually appreciate it more now than I ever did before.

Whenever I go back to either Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia) or Moscow (no need for clarification here!!) I do feel a strange sense of coming home, yet having spent all these years away from the nest, I genuinely don't know if I'd ever be able to go back to square one and settle down back where I started for good... But then again, who knows...

It's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the innermost importance and emotional bond between myself and these two homes where, at the end of the day, I took my first steps both literally and metaphorically. Seeing Red Square or any other typical Moscow sight on television is a thrill for me each and every time. And yet, I met a lovely Georgian girl through an American producer that I am working with at the moment and have become friends with, at a bar next to the record company yesterday and I thought to myself, "I know I've been away a long time, but there's something special about two Georgians really clicking with each other miles and miles away from home." I was genuinely happy and proud in a patriotic sense to have been introduced to my compatriot... Oh, did I ever mention that Georgians are notorious for being a little too heavy on the patriotic side? :-)

As I'm writing these words, I can't help but remember that classic line from the Beatles "Back to USSR":

"Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the West behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind...."

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