While chatting with a group of women which included Susana Manukyan, who served for 20 years as chairman of the Akhalkalaki Municipality court, I learnt that no local people are employed as waitresses — women consider that job below their dignity and they’d rather suffer with hard physical work in the fields than serving in a bar.
In light of the job’s reputation, businesses end up “importing” waitresses from other regions or from neighbouring Armenia to fill the posts.
“A man would not allow his wife or girlfriend to work in a men-dominated environment. Male customers tend to drink and swear, and husbands don’t want their wives to be exposed to that, such is the mentality,” explains Manukyan.
It’s interesting that these beer drinkers are also local men, maybe someone’s husband or father, but their behavior at home differs much from when they are in the bar with friends.
Armine Albertyan, who worked for years as a hotel manager in Akhalkalaki, agrees.
“There are cafes where male customers touch the staff, harass them verbally, or insult them,” says Albertyan, who is herself prone to assume that “a waitress is an easy woman”. When she was asked to work for a few hours in a bar, just to give the owner the time to find someone, she refused.
Half-Georgian, half-Armenian, Diana Ateiani is less fussed. The 18-year-old recently moved to Akhalkalaki from her native Abastumani, a town 100 kilometres to the west, following her mother’s example. And just like her mother, Diana picked up a job as a waitress. She is married and has a three-year-old daughter.