While it may appear curious to some Western folk, Georgians1 take their traditional toasting very seriously. What outsiders may consider a very relaxed activity, the Georgians take quite seriously. There is a structure and balance to a Georgian toast. This may be partly due to the area's worship of the Greek god of wine and revelry, Bacchus who was the centre of the Bacchic cult in the first century. The cult's traditions affect Georgian manners and rituals to this very day.
During a formal dinner (supra) Georgians propose a toast, led by a toastmaster (tamada). He or she will lead the many toasts, some of which may be to:
- Being together
- The reason for being together
- The hostess
- The guests
- Absent friends
- The toastmaster
- A safe journey home
Toasts are made with either wine or brandy (either local or imported), and nothing else4. Georgians are in fact very proud and generous with their wine, and since toasts are the only occasion when one is supposed to drink their wine, there are many toasts. In fact, Georgians will use just about anything as an excuse to toast. A foreign visitor is a great excuse to do so, which presents an etiquette problem for visitors to Georgia.
If you are being toasted, you are supposed to wait until the tamada has finished, then stand up and thank the toaster. Then, you should wait until everyone else is done before drinking your wine in one go. If the tamada says Alaverdi! to you, you should elaborate on his toast. If a large ram or goat's horn (called the khantsi) is brought out during the meal and filled with wine, then an honoured guest - perhaps you - is supposed to drink it to the bottom.
If someone else is being toasted, the easiest advice is to wait until everyone else is drinking to drink your wine. Other than that, it's good advice to be quiet while the tamada is talking, and remember the various other rules of etiquette in Georgia, some of which are, not putting feet on the furniture and not chewing gum in public.
Following these tips will help you have a happy and enjoyable visit.