Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I Am So Awkward

I'd like to devote this post to a particular quirk of mine, a ballet of grace, studied movement, and high theatre.

By this, of course, I mean the Almost Not-Quite Sort-of I'm-Not-Really-Crossing-Myself Cross.

It is customary, as it happens, for Georgians to cross themselves when passing or viewing a church (possibly any cross - I haven't figured out the intricacies of when it happens). The practice seems near-universal, regardless of the actual beliefs of the people involved; a sort of Durkheimian articulation of Georgian-ness.

Which puts me in a rather precarious position: do I cross, or not cross? As a Christian, wishing to be respectful of church tradition, and frankly moved by the idea of "reminding"myself, in some way, of that identity (I'm similarly drawn to Jewish dietary laws or Orthodox fasting rituals or Muslim daily prayer - orthopraxy that reminds one, in daily life. "Oh, that's right, I'm Christian/Jewish/Muslim," which in turn makes one aware of God). On the other hand, I'm not Orthodox, and more pressingly I'm not Georgian, which immediately makes me convinced that:

a) I will of course in some way get the crossing-myself wrong. And
b) That every Georgian within a 10-mile radius is staring at me hawk-eyed to make sure I don't screw up said crossing-self because
c) If I get it wrong, people will silently smirk and laugh and decide I'm an ignorant poser*

This results in me doing the awkward Almost Not-Quite Sort-of I'm-Not-Really-Crossing-Myself Cross, in which I play with my hair, scratch my face, fix my sweater, and otherwise get my fingers to the four "points" of the cross in the most uncomfortably unobtrusive way possible, desperately hoping nobody notices that I'm trying to cross myself (which, of course, I'll get wrong regardless) and therefore decides I'm just a silly foreigner who is trying to play along:

"No, I'm not crossing myself! I'm just - erm - twirling my hair, yeah, and now I'm just picking the lint off my sweater - nope, no crossing here."

I realize this is completely neurotic and ridiculous, and there's no reason for me to either fail to cross myself in the Orthodox manner or for people to laugh at my failures, but, in its way, the degree to which crossing or non-crossing is an issue for me (insofar as it requires thought) is just another reminder that I'm not Georgian. Not, in and of itself, a problem, but another element of foreignness to negotiate.

*I have a lesser version of this condition in Catholic churches, although my Very Catholic Boyfriend is quite helpful in getting me through this.


Nick Devonshire said...

Couldn't help but notice this post on facebook! Having grown up Ukrainian Catholic and having just had dinner with my great-uncle the former Arch-Bishop, I had to remind myself of a few very particular rules from the east:

1. Be very careful of the order of shoulders... Ukrainian Catholic (and orthodox I think) folks tap their RIGHT shoulder first, then left. The Roman Catholic church (or at least the Americans) taps left shoulder first and it's a dead give away of a foreigner if someone taps left first.

2. Sign of the cross is made with the thumb, index, and middle finger pressed together, as you would girp a pencil. Roman Catholics use their entire hand which would be another give away.

I'm not sure if Georgia does the same, but in my experience Greece and everything to the east follow these rules.

The traditions can be fun so go with it! Older generations tend to be so happy to see young practitioners that they'll excuse just about anything... Hope your travels are grand!

Anonymous said...

I think in Georgia it is just one finger and the thumb, but I'm not sure which finger... The frescoes inside the churches should be a pointer (sorry)

Invisible said...

> The practice seems near-universal,
> regardless of the actual beliefs
> of the people involved

That is one thing which I find quite awkward. If a point of a religion is to _believe_ then this visual ritual is show off and gesture for public's pleasure rather then representation of believes.

Am I wrong? What is the point to do something except to show - 'I'm like everyone else'?

Soviet times have deformed people so badly that even after 20 year it affects people's behavior.

Fleur Flaneur said...

That's one way of seeing it, Invisible, but I think a case could be made that there's nothing wrong with crossing onesself as a means of rearticulating one's Georgian identity (although I suppose another case could be made that a necessary link between Georgianness and Georgian Orthodoxy is exclusive/shuts out Georgian Jews, etc.)

I don't think necessarily it's a show-off thing (ie, exclusively for others); if anything, it comes across as an instinctive "this is what we do' thing. It may be more cultural than religious, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to equate that with being shallow or hypocritical.

Then again, you also have the Jewish tradition, which is that "good practice" even without the "right" belief is positive in and of itself, and will lead to "right" belief over time, which is a whole 'nother way of considering it.
The same way, for example,

Saint said...

Georgians don't mind if you don't cross yourself. They already know you're not Georgian. And as a Catholic, when I cross myself, I just do so in the Catholic manner, and it really doesn't phase many Georgians too much. Though, I've been on a phase of deliberately NOT crossing myself, and when with religious friends, pointing out as many churches as possible. Which is easy in Tbilisi. I think God probably thinks this is funny too.