More Letters to Debbie Lee: Etseri, Svaneti

Dear Debbie Lee,

I’m considering kidnapping a bride, as is popularly done up here in Svaneti (or was until it was officially outlawed). She’s entirely unaware; sometimes they do know and go along with it, as a form of elopement or to avoid an expensive wedding, but this isn’t one of those times. Of course, once I’ve forced myself on her, she’s no longer considered marriageable material by anyone else, so her fate is sealed. Usually, at this point she’ll surrender to her fate and, if I don’t end up in prison, we’ll remain together for better or worse. Thoughts?



Dear Debbie Lee,

I’ve was bitten recently by a dog here, on my own property to boot! Quite badly, too: I needed stitches. Although I’m not naturally afraid of dogs, it has made me much more cautious. He was off his chain, far from home, and could’ve killed me if he’d knocked me down, being quite aggressive and weighing more than I do. How should I take this up with his owner, being that I’ve made a 100% positive ID?


Twice Shy

Dear Anonymous,

Just as well I don’t know who you are. And they call me Debbie Lee! Get a life, and stop contemplating ruining someone else’s for the sake of your own lusts! You don’t even mention that you love her, or she you—or does this not enter into it at all?



Dear TS,

Here’s what I would recommend. 1) Tell the owner that you want him to kill the dog (after the 10-day rabies observation period is over, of course), or you’ll call the police. 2) Say that if the dog gets loose again before he can do this, and you see it again on your property, you’ll strike first this time. 3) Arm yourself at home with pepper spray to render it harmless in the event you do see it on your land again, and, having issued the warning, carry it through if need be. I’ve heard too many such horror stories up in your neck of the woods, and something has to change! People need to realize that dog bites can not only be fatal, but also traumatizing for life.

Best of luck,

DL (not Dog Lover, or Dog Loather either...)

Dear LC,

Well, can non-Svan Georgians understand much Svan when it’s spoken, or when they read it? (How much more can they understand, for example, of the Khevsur dialect of Georgian?) I understand that Georgian and Svan are related, but so are English and German, for example, the former being called a Germanic language by the experts. I know that Svan isn’t normally written, and that some people say that means it can’t be a language at all but merely a dialect. If they mean that it doesn’t have its “own” alphabet like Georgian so proudly does... well, again, neither does English have its own alphabet: we pinched the Latin one, as did most of the languages of Europe. So what? I’m also aware that there are four dialects of Svan itself, which further bolsters its case for being called a language... And finally, the language vs. dialect debate is an old one, with skirmishes of various kinds all over the world from ancient times until today, and agendas, and politics, so don’t expect it to be solved by anything you can contribute.


DL’s 2 cents’ worth

Dear Debbie Lee,

Is Svan a language or a dialect, in your opinion?


Linguistically Confused

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1300 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

26 May 2016 14:57