Arash Sameti: Cultural differences can be funny and interesting. There are many rituals in one culture that are not practiced in other cultures, and can also seem silly to people from other places of the world.
One particular ritual in Iranian culture that is not practiced in the west is called Taarof. It is to suggest things to a guest or friend, or to refuse something kindly and not frankly. It includes a vast category of behaviours, actions, and words in relation with others. Usually the intention is towards a guest or an older, respected person. In other words, when you use the power of Taarof, you are showing attention and respect to the other party. That is in fact interpreted as respect. For example when a Persian host offers you something to eat, let`s say some fruit, he/she will not just leave it on the table and expect you to help yourself. Usually he will call upon you to take some for 3-4 times. It is the same thing with offering food. The host might try to add food to your plate, even though you do not want to have any more! Taarof as a part of Persian culture should not be considered as lying. Not practicing it can harm a relationship. A friend of mine had a problematic feast with his family because he believed that they did not Taarof him enough and he considered it as an insult. Based on a true story that happened to me personally, I am going to try to explain this cultural behaviour in words. One day after the regular working hours, I went to my bosses house to explain things to him about a conference he’d be having the next day. When I rang the bell at his apartment, I expected him to show up by the door and I would hand him the necessary papers and have a few words. Instead I heard his voice that was calling me to go upstairs to his apartment. I explained very respectfully that I am fine down there, but his words were so strong and motivating: he really wanted me to be inside and not just by the door. Basically he was not using Taarof when he asked me to go upstairs. He was waiting for me right by the door when I got to the door way. With a nice little smile he invited me to go inside. I had to Taarof again but he overpowered and pushed me inside. Passing a door can be a time-killing process in Iran. You should wait for the older person to go first, while as a guest he wanted to give me the privilege with a little push forward on the shoulder. While I was explaining my suggestions to my boss, his attractive wife entered the room. She was holding a tray with three cups of steaming tea on it. I got up from my seat. It is another show of respect to an older, respectful person or a woman. You should fully stand up to say hello. She asked me to remain comfortably and put the tray on the table. ''Please take some'', she said warmly. And added that the cup of tea is made for me and there is no need to practice Taarof on that. She pulled out a box from underneath of the table, where there was an opening. She opened it and I saw colourful, tasty looking Baklavas covered with tiny pieces of pistachios. “Oh God, I do need some sugar”! She brought the dish close to me so I could pick some. '' It looks so delicious'', I said and took just one. Enthusiastically they told me to take more. The first Taarof must be politely refused. ''I am fine, thanks'', I answered. I have to wait for the second Taarof to see what is going to happen. He insisted by adding, ''Come on, don’t Taarof here''. So I helped my self with some more. When my word was done with my boss, I looked at my watch. I guess it is an international gesture meaning that I have to leave. Another version of Persian Taarof involves in how to say goodbye in a respective manner. While saying ‘‘With your permission, I have to leave now'' in such situations, the host will definitely insists that you should stay longer. My boss and his wife did the same thing. Very kindly they asked me to stay for dinner. ‘‘Where do you want to go?'', he said and his wife added, ‘‘Dinner is almost ready.'' Now it’s up to me as the guest to figure out between regular Taarof or a real will. Their words are strong enough and the lovely fragrant coming from the kitchen is tempting. However I have things to do. I thanked them and explained for them that I have to go. '' I just hope that you are not Taarofing'', she mentioned. ''No, never'' I replied. I once had a visitor from the United States. He was a fellow journalist and photographer. We travelled to the ancient city of Shiraz, which was the capital of ancient Persia, so he could make some photos from Persepolis. He was also interested in the old Bazar of the town which has more than decade old architecture. We found an old shopkeeper in Bazar. Sitting in his small shop, he was selling medical plants or as it is called in Persian, Attari. He was very nice and hospitable. After taking some pictures he asked me as a translator to ask my American friend how he likes Iran and what he thinks about the country and people. Than, very warmly he invited us to his home for dinner. ''Go head, take your photos and then com back here so we will go to my place for dinner.'' he said. Of course my American friend knew about Taarof issue very well since we had already discussed that. So he put his right hand on his chest, just like what Iranians do, and replied, '' I appreciate your offer so much but there are things we have to do. '' I translated and then the shopkeeper said in Persian,'' Tell him that we Iranians have no Taarof!!'' After I interpreted word by word for the American journalist, we both exploded into laughing. It was the ultimate Taarof!