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    * Taarof *

    تعارف


    Iranian_Flag_Hand_Love_Heart.jpg
    (The Atlantic) -Talk Like an IranianAs the author learned in Tehran, yes sometimes means no.By Christopher de BellaigueI may be wrong, but I believe I am the only Englishman to have applied for Iranian citizenship since the 1979 revolution. “We would be happy to receive such an application,” said the smiling man from the Department of Alien Affairs. “It would be an honor to consider your case, and I should say, given your accomplishments, that you stand a good chance of success.” I happily filled out some forms, gathered the required documentation, and went home to tell my Iranian wife the good news. “What accomplishments?” she asked.Six weeks later, as requested, I returned. The same official received me, with obvious pleasure. He called for tea, asked after my health and that of my family, and spoke to me of this and that. Then he informed me with an air of great confidentiality that my case was “going very well.” “Do me the kindness of visiting again in six weeks,” he said.I visited the same official four or five times over the next eight months, and on each occasion the pattern was the same—elaborate courtesies, tea, and encouraging words. I had every reason to believe that my name was sailing upward to those regions of the Iranian bureaucracy where decisions are made.I cannot say exactly when doubt took root. Despite all the courtesies, however, there did seem to be a lack of verifiable progress. I decided to learn more about the citizenship process, and was dismayed to find out that, for all intents and purposes, there wasn’t one. Only the Iranian cabinet could award me citizenship—a prospect that seemed rather unlikely. The forms and documentation and the repeated visits had been a polite fiction. For well over half a year of blissful self-delusion, I had been suckered by ta’arof.Ta’arof comes from an Arabic word denoting the process of getting acquainted with someone. But as with so many other Arabic words that have entered the Persian language through conquest and acculturation, the Iranians have subverted its meaning. In the Iranian context, ta’arof refers to a way of managing social relations with decorous manners. It may be charming and a basis for mutual goodwill, or it may be malicious, a social or political weapon that confuses the recipient and puts him at a disadvantage.Ta’arof is the opposite of calling a spade a spade; life is so much nicer without bad news. As I discovered in the Department of Alien Affairs, ta’arof can also be a way of letting people down very, very slowly. It often involves some degree of self-abasement, through which the giver of ta’arof achieves a kind of moral ascendancy—what the anthro­pologist William Beeman has called “getting the lower hand.” Thus, at a doorway, grown men may be seen wrestling for the privilege of going in second. For years in Tehran, we had a cleaner who insisted on calling me “Doctor” as a way of lifting me up the social scale. “I am not a doctor,” I snapped one day. Undaunted, she replied, “Please God, you shall be!”Sometimes it takes two to ta’arof. If someone you meet on the bus invites you to dinner, for instance, you should recognize that this is merely ta’arof and say no. If a shopkeeper refuses to accept payment for your purchase, you must persist; once the right gestures have been made and honor satisfied, your money will eventually be taken, with infinite regret.Some scholars believe that ta’arof has roots in the Sufi disapproval of worldly recognition and riches. It may also be connected to the practice of ta­qiy­ya, or concealing your true religious beliefs, something Shia Islam encoura (Wikipedia) - Taarof
    This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2012)

    T''aarof, Ta''arof, or Tarof (Persian: تعارف‎) is a Persian form of civility emphasizing both deference and social rank, similar to the Chinese art of etiquette, limao. The term encompasses a range of social behaviours, from a man displaying etiquette by opening the door for a woman, to a group of colleagues standing on ceremony in front of a door that can permit the entry of only one at time, earnestly imploring the most senior to break the deadlock.

    The prevalence of t''aarof often gives rise to different styles of negotiation than one would see in a non-Iranian culture. For example, a worker negotiating a salary might begin with a eulogy of the employer, followed by a lengthy bargaining session consisting entirely of indirect, polite language – both parties are expected to understand the implied topic of discussion. It is quite common for an Iranian worker (even one employed in an Iranian neighborhood within Europe) to work unpaid for a week or two before the issue of wages is finally broached. Likewise, a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for an item, suggesting that it is worthless ("ghaabel nadaareh"). T''aarof obliges the customer to insist on paying, possibly several times (3 times), before a shopkeeper finally quotes a price and real negotiation can begin.

    T''aarof also governs the rules of hospitality: a host is obliged to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times (3 times) before the host and guest finally determine whether the host''s offer and the guest''s refusal are real or simply polite. It is possible to ask someone not to t''aarof ("t''aarof nakonid"), but that raises new difficulties, since the request itself might be a devious type of t''aarof.

    At times, t''aarof can lead to one performing a task that one does not want to perform. For instance, if one friend offers a ride to another friend only because they are being polite, they may become stuck in the situation if the friend agrees to get the ride. Of course if one was going by the rules of t''aarof, one would refuse the offer many times before accepting.

    It is a way of denying your will to please your counterpart, although sometimes the will is only denied because of the custom and not just to please the counterpart. But there are situations where t''aarof persist upon a request to make the counterpart genuinely satisfied. T''aarof may cause misunderstandings between both parties and can be a source for awkward situations in a social setting.

    Contents

    History

    Some political theorists have argued that during the period of serfdom, at princely courts, t''aarof regulated diplomatic discourse. It involved a sharp curbing of one''s comportment, speech, and action to make people, honour, and prestige calculable as instruments for political advancement.

    According to D. M. Rejali, for the feudal elite the ornamentation of speech symbolises prestige. With the advent of capitalism and its scientific paradigm, communication became more precise and the formality of t''aarof a hindrance in the pursuit for rapid capital accumulation.

    In the West

    The closest one can come to tarof in the Western culture is the question of "Who''s paying the restaurant bill?" This is an awkward situation where everybody in the company is reaching for their wallets and it''s usually resolved by social status, the one with the highest income, the most legitimate reason, or most power pays. But, still everyone insists on paying.

    Vocabulary Further information: Persian language

    Common words used in tarof:

    ExamplesFake tarof

    A customer comes to the cashier to pay for groceries. The cashier says “it''s okay, you honor me with your presence.” When the customer insists on paying, the charade of tarof continues with a customary word exchange which is culturally learned from a young age. The discussion concludes with a minor argument and the cashier is finally paid the full amount of the groceries and the customer leaves. The cashier wants the cash and the customer just wants to pay but this is a cultural and social game.

    Genuine tarof

    A person will offer guests every comfort available by discomforting him/herself. Sometimes this leads to offering things above one''s means. As an example, the host will use the last funds to buy groceries to make an overly pleasant stay for the guest. This may have dire consequences for the host, but this is the generous side of tarof and its only purpose is to satisfy the guest. The host is satisfying the guests and feeling good about being a generous and humble person, independent of its consequences.

    Awkward tarof

    A host insists upon a request for the guest to sleep on the main bed while the host him/herself sleeps on the floor. Or a host piling food on a guest’s plate since the host is believing that the guest is tarofing, but the guest is actually full and satisfied. The guest feels awkward by putting the host in an uncomfortable situation. The guest might finish all the food to show respect to the host.

    At times, not doing tarof can be considered very rude and almost offensive. For example, if one offers a present that you already have, telling the truth would be very rude. Likewise, if someone offers to take you for dinner, you must refuse at first, professing their great kindness. This is normally be two to three times, but one must be careful not to do it in excess, and to always end in a yes, so as to avoid offence. It is not expected of young children to tarof, but most Iranian children over the age of ten are aware of, and engage in, the custom.

    Tags:Arabic, Atlantic, Chinese, Europe, Iranian, Islam, Persian, Shia, Shia Islam, Taarof, Tehran, The Atlantic, Wikipedia


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