A Brief Guide to the Georgian Supra

Posted on November 14, 2012 by

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Even a cursory reading on Georgian culture reveals information about the mythical Georgian supra, a party to end all parties that Georgians reputedly throw as a frequent social event. Although my initial expectation was to be attending a supra every weekend, in reality, Georgians treat the supra as a special occasion, reserved for birthdays, funerals, and the dearest holidays. One such holiday, Giorgoba, is on November 23rd, and therefore I thought I’d share my advice on attending a supra, learned through trial and error.

First, don’t fret if your knowledge of the language is lacking. You need only one word to function at a supra: gaumarjos. This is the equivalent of cheers, salut, or top of the morning. Get the pronunciation accurate, because you’ll be saying it many times and rarely in unison with anyone else.

Resist the temptation to clam up and stare at your plate. I did this during my first months in Georgia. It’s easy to become a fly-on-the-wall when you lack the language skills to comprehend and contribute to a lively conversation. But a supra is a social calling, a time for breaking your shyness and enjoying the atmosphere. Speak English with an expressive voice—the Georgians at the table will understand some of the meaning just from your attitude and body language, and really that’s enough.

Eat slowly. Where I’m from we eat quickly. Americans are accustomed to eating food as a mere refueling, and thus we learn to chow down in a few minutes by the dashboard lights or at the cubicle keyboard. But a supra lasts five or six hours, and if your plate becomes empty, the host will make sure somebody stacks more food on it. Also, Georgians believe drinking wine and eating food are necessary partners. Drinking without food on your plate is discouraged. Nobody will allow you to drink more than one glass of wine without eating something in between. So eat slowly unless you want your stomach to explode.

What about the drinking? You’ll drink plenty. If you’re a man you’ll be pressured to keep up with the heavy tipplers. Although your host family may discourage the other party-goers from drinking you under the table, there’s bound to be some uncle or second cousin who will make it his mission to keep your wine flowing until you’re legitimately tight. If you’re a featherweight feel free to avoid the bottom of each glass. It’s acceptable to leave your glass half full after each toast, especially toward the end of the night.

Toasting is an integral part of a supra. Georgian toasting is a standardized checklist of celebrating peace, traditional culture, deceased family members, grandparents, and siblings. You’ll begin to recognize the toasts. Don’t be surprised if toasts last ten minutes or more. Avoid eating during a toast. Pay attention to the speaker, even if you’re simply nodding your head and wondering what exactly he’s saying. At the end of each toast, everybody is expected to briefly elaborate on the topic before saying gaumarjos, clinking glasses, and drinking. If you don’t know what to say, just say something in English and then gaumarjos.

But what about that horn? You know… that big clay horn every Georgian family keeps inside their glassware cabinet. Well, if somebody busts out that thing and passes it around the table, all bets are off. You’re on your own. We must each chart that territory ourselves. Good luck and godspeed.

The next morning buy a bottle of Borjomi. It’s not a cure-all, but a cure-most.