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Is Russian so widely known in Georgia, that one can expect to be able to communicate with people in Georgia in shops, buses, hostels etc.?

Older people should know Russian well from the times of Soviet Union, but what with younger people? Is it safe to assume that the knowledge of Russian is enough to cope with traveling alone to Georgia and handling everyday's situations?

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  • Yes. I've been in Georgia in February for snowboarding and confirm that you get 50/50 chance that people will understand you. But beware of politics... – boldnik Jul 22 '20 at 19:10
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This answer is from my experience having just lived seven and a half months in Georgia, mostly in Tbilisi but also for a month and a half in Batumi.

Yes Russian is widely known and used every day by the majority of people in Georgia aged in their 20's and above.

Most people are fluent (they can talk quickly without translating in their heads) but would make lots of grammatical errors that native Russian speakers would pick up.

In fact many people love the Russian language and tell me how beautiful it is. (I'm Australian so they're not just being nice to me.)

Certain words are exceptionally common even when otherwise speaking Georgian. Some that come to mind are "маршрутка", "молодец", "похмелье" meaning "hangover", even though there are often native words like ნაბახუსევი (nabakhusevi) for "hangover" and ყოჩაღ (qochagh) for "bravo", etc. I've also come across "изжога", "в общем", and "именно" mixed in with Georgian.

There are some shops I go to regularly where the staff speak Georgian and know that I know more Georgian than Russian, yet they always talk to me in Russian and I always respond in Georgian! (-:

But children are no longer being taught Russian in school and there is a two-year-old program which imports hundreds of native English speakers to work as English teachers in towns and villages throughout the country.

My impression is that people still perceive Russian to be "cool" along with English. All of my friends listen to both English and Russian music, but none of them listen to Georgian music. So I assume younger people will continue to pick up Russian without being taught for some time yet, but I would expect the quality to continue to decline.

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Having been to Georgia for more than 15 times in the past several years, here's my experience:

  • Most older people understand Russian

  • Many younger people understand Russian

  • Many people speak Russian.

The knowledge of Russian in Georgia is weaker than in neighboring Armenia or Azerbaijan. Things are also complicated by the political relationships between Georgia and Russia, and some people simply pretend not to understand Russian, when in fact they do.

English is a much worse bet in any case, since only educated young people may speak it more or less. Anyway, since I don't speak Georgian, I spoke only Russian in Georgia and I was fine, so will you. So yes, knowledge of Russian is enough to cope with traveling to Georgia.

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I totally agree with everything in the other two answers. I also want to add that most educated people would teach their children Russian. Regardless of what the political situation is, the economical reality is that Russia is the largest, most powerful, most influential and most economically developed neighbour Georgia has. Therefore the need to communicate with it will always exist. Even those with deep hatred of Russian and Russians but with decent enough brains to analyse the situation will consider it a very useful trait indeed, if not a necessity, to know Russian language.

While this is not nearly as visible in rural areas, in larger cities (naturally capital Tbilisi and resort Batumi) and even in smaller ones (Rustavi, Gori and many others), the tendency among the better-educated people is to know Russian themselves and teach their children as well.

My mother-in-law is a teacher living in Tbilisi, teaching Russian and Math. She offers private lessons, including Russian language - and she never has shortage of pupils.

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    I would like to emphasize that, contrary to my naive expectations before I came to Georgia, that nobody I've met has harbored any animosity towards either the Russian people or the Russian language, despite the recent skirmishes over the breakaway northern regions. Certainly people don't like the Russian government, policies, or Putin; but I've been told over and over that people here love the Russian people and language. This is quite different to other non-Slavic-speaking former Eastern Bloc countries I'm familiar with such as Hungary and Romania. Proximity, Soviet vs. Bloc? A bit of both? – hippietrail Jun 14 '12 at 13:49
  • @hippietrail Georgian-Russian ties go back quite a bit, we shouldn't forget that when considering post-USSR relations between the 2 countries. – kotekzot Jun 14 '12 at 15:37
  • @kotekzot We also shouldn't forget that if it were not for Stalin, Georgia would never become part of the USSR. It's just that Stalin became the head of the Soviet government, it would look rather bad if he were born abroad. There wasn't much he could do about where he was born, but he could do something about the "abroad" part, i.e. make it "not abroad". At the time at least, Georgians didn't mind this at all, as they got all the benefits of being part of a huge and very-well (by comparison) developed country without really giving away their culture and what-not. – Aleks G Jun 14 '12 at 16:01
  • @AleksG that's one way to deal with the birth certificate issue. – kotekzot Jun 14 '12 at 16:19
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Most of us have как минимум a passive knowledge of Russian; that is to say, nearly everyone will at least understand what you're saying. Since the mid-2000's, schools have changed the status of Russian from a language required from grade one onward to an optional foreign language beginning in grade seven. The youngest generation now primarily learns Russian from listening to music, watching TV (especially movies), and hearing "street Russian" in Tbilisi; therefore, their speech tends to be more colloquial and they tend to make more mistakes than the older generations. However, since this change happened so recently, virtually all Georgians you'll meet who are in their mid-20's onwards will be well-schooled in Russian and will speak in a perfectly intelligible manner.

So yes, a working knowledge of Russian вам хватит в Грузии. I'd still learn a few words of Georgian if I were you, because there's nothing we Georgians find more delightful (and surprising!) than a foreigner who knows a word or two of our language! Some words you can try are: მადლობა (mad-lo-ba) meaning "thank you" and გაუმარჯოს ბატონო X (ga-u-mar-jos ba-to-no) meaning "Hello Mr. X". Note that the equivalent for a woman would be ქალბატონო (kal-ba-to-no) and that in both cases you should address the person by first name.

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