Georgian readers react with rage, disbelief to critical travel article
By Mikheil Svanidze
Friday, August 1Not all visitors to Georgia are charmed by the magnificent scenery and proud hospitality—but don’t tell the Georgians.
In September 2005, Britain’s Daily Mail published a sharp critique of Georgia as a tourism destination, pegging it as the land where “everyone…seems to look like a gangster, even the babies.”
The determinedly negative article—its title: “My Red Breakfast Hell”—gloried in the hapless and unpleasant situations an uninitiated foreigner is likely to stumble into: the six-hour ride in a cramped, sweaty minibus from Tbilisi to Batumi; finding cheap but soiled accommodation in what is probably a brothel; a brush with the Georgian habit of smoking in airplane restrooms; force-feedings of khachapuri.
Writer Tanya Gold shook her head at Georgian cuisine, noting the country’s penchant for ballooned waistlines.
“There are electronic weighing machines at every street corner but almost everyone is fat,” Gold wrote.
A posting of her travel review recently and belatedly leapt to the top of the page at the largest Georgian-language internet forum, Tbilisis Forumi (www.forum.ge), which has 528 registered users and 230 guests online as I write this sentence.
The forum’s users represent a more educated segment of Georgian society—roughly seven in ten competent internet users claim higher education versus three in ten of the general population, according to 2007 data from the Caucasus Research Resource Center's Data Initiative, a comprehensive annual household survey.
The online commentators’ reactions ranged from insulted rage to mocking irony, with the occasional begrudging agreement.
Some found it inconceivable a genuine tourist could perceive Georgia so poorly. Forum posters accused the English writer of engaging in “tourist terrorism;” she must be in the employ of Russians—or maybe the Armenians—and tasked with tarnishing Georgia’s image.
A separate discussion grew over a passage in the Daily Mail article that seemed to praise beach resorts in separatist Abkhazia, which broke away from Georgian control in a 1992–1993 conflict.
“The region to the north, Abkhazia, recently seceded from Georgia during a vicious civil war. It's clear that it took all the best beaches with it,” the review read.
She took “enemy Russian money” for the article, Georgian respondents alleged. One user, with the account name sandroa, judged that the travel piece “in fact calls for [tourists] to go there [to Abkhazia].”
Some of the criticism centered around misinterpretation of an idiomatic phrase used to dismiss Georgia’s bid to be the next European tourism hotspot: “Costa Crimea, my grandmother,” wrote Gold.
“That woman just hates Georgia and Georgians, because 90 percent of her writing is plain lies and spitefully written,” posted Jolly Roger Fan. “I think the article is written under orders. I think she writes she’s from Crimea originally?”
“This is not English psychology, an English person would not write like this,” Johnnie Walker agrees. “England is infested with people from Russia who have taken citizenship and made comfortable lives for themselves. Some of them even work as ‘journalists.’”
Others wonder what the writer imagined she would find.
“I don’t thing it’s that bad, she went to a GEL 15 hotel and what did she expect? You cannot go to a bathroom for that money in England. Excuse me, is it like the English don’t have alcoholics and maniacs, or fish and chips?” asked Natuca.
Another set of users, while noting the polemic tone of the article, acknowledged that some of its observations may in fact be fair.
“Maybe the article is a bit tendentious, but to tell the truth, I could not find blatant lies there. The fact that there’s a total ‘Khachapuromania’ here, that a large part of the population is in poor shape, walks around with a frown on their face, etc., is probably true,” BIG_EGO wrote.
Recalling the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ postulate, a few hoped the article ultimately drummed up more interest for Georgia.
“There’s nothing bad written there. It’s all exotica. Now we’ll see a huge inflow of tourists,” karlsoni wrote, perhaps tongue-in-cheek.
It may not be thanks to the merit of Ms. Gold’s article, but the number of foreign tourists visiting Georgia did in fact rise from 560 000 in 2005, when the article was published, to a projected 1 300 000 people this year, according to a state tourism department spokesperson.
In the end, “the land of contrasts” cliche fits Georgia well, according to gioalhaz.
“It’s a pessimist and optimist thing. [She] saw the bad, wasn’t interested in the good,” he wrote.