Ta’arof is a Persian word that has no English equivalent, referring to the art of etiquette ubiquitous in everyday Iranian life. “You go first,” says Mr A as he meets Mr B at the doorstep, as they try to enter a building. “No, it’s not possible, you go first,” Mr B insists in response. Ta’arof dictates a ritual that may see them both waiting for a couple of unnecessary minutes before one steps forward to enter.
It is an etiquette that is seen almost in all aspects of Iranian life, from hosts insisting on guests taking more food from the table, to the exchanges in the bazaar. “How much is this carpet?” asks Ms A after choosing her favourite in the shop. “It’s worthless, you can just take it,” responds the seller, quite disingenuously.
Although Ms A in reality cannot take the carpet out of the shop without paying for it, the seller might insist up to three times that she should just do that, until the amount of the price is finally mentioned.
The awkward exchanges may have originated out of politeness; ultimately, they may work to the seller’s favour, as the buyer feels a certain obligation to respond to such deference with a purchase, even if the final price is more than she expected.
Another example: you are walking with a friend and you end up doing Ta’arof, asking him to come to yours for lunch, even though you don’t have anything prepared and you don’t really want him to accept.
The friend insists out of Ta’arof that he wouldn’t come because he knows you’re tired and doesn’t want to be a burden, even though deep down he really wants to have lunch at your place. “Oh, don’t Ta’arof,” you say in a Ta’arof asking your friend not to Ta’arof. He ends up accepting your reluctant Ta’arof. You’re a bit irked, but you’ll have to be all smiles. Not all Taa’rofs are insincere; some are, some aren’t. You’d Ta’arof even if you badly want something, saying you don’t want it; you’d Ta’arof if you really hate something, pretending you want it. Saeed Kamali Dehghan - the guardian ————————————-
Photo by @eli_naz1985 ————————————-
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