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Taarof

Iranian Culture - Taarof

The Art of Taarof

Mariam Noronha

Persian culture is characterized by Taarof (the art of excessive politeness and humility). The art of Taarof has its roots in the Persian tradition of treating your guests better than your own family and the insatiable desire to be the best hosts.

Taarof is best described as a play of words between the offerer and the recipient until one of them agrees. It is an Iranian cultural phenomenon in which you refuse something that is offered to you more out of politeness and not wanting to come across as greedy rather than accepting something even though you want it. As the offerer you might be offering to give something that might be too expensive to give away just like that or for free.

For instance if you are invited to a Persian home for a meal, the food is delicious and you have eaten enough yet wouldn't mind eating some more, Taarof demands that you say no even if your host offers you a second helping. The factors at play here are, your host wanting to be gracious and ensuring you eat more than your fill and you wanting to eat some more without appearing to be a glutton. In such a case you may refuse once but accept when the offer is made a third time so that you don't appear greedy.

Taarof is a big part of the buying and selling that goes on in stores across Iran, particularly in small shops selling low priced items. When you enquire about the price of a certain product, the shopkeeper will tell you "it is nothing much" instead of quoting a figure. Taarof demands that he say this because while the shopkeeper wants you to buy the goods on offer they must tell you that you are worthy of much more. That is the reason why shopkeepers may say the price is nothing.

Taarof can be quite irritating and frustrating at times, more so if you are not familiar with it. Most people are known to ask their guests not to do Taarof (Taarof Nakonid) when they refuse something.

Taarof brings to life the dilemma of "to be or not to be" and can create sticky situations where hosts can end up feeling insulted if a guest refuses to eat some more leaving the cook mortally wounded. That is precisely why it is an art with Taarof hat one should know where to draw the line and relent.

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