What is Taarof?
In Iranian culture, Taarof is an act to show your mutual respect emphasizing another person’s social position. It happens when you say something nice to a person or offer something for free, but you don’t necessarily mean it. It’s just out of politeness.
Some examples of Taarof:
Note: The pronoun “You” in the following examples refers to an Iranian person.
-You are having dinner or lunch with another family in a restaurant. In the end, when it’s time to pay the check, you insist to pay the whole check, while the other family is doing the same.
-You are entering a door with another person at the same time. You would insist the other person enter first, while the other one refuses your offer and insists you back to do so. This goes on until one of them agrees to enter first.
-You wanna pay the salesman after buying something, but he won’t accept the money at first and says “You are worth more than this” or “Be my guest”. You will pay him by offering again. This also happens when paying the taxi driver.
-You offer another person a drink or something to eat like a bar of chocolate, but he/she refuses the offer and says “No, thanks” Although he/she may want it. You will offer again and he/she accepts eventually if he/she liked your offer.
-On the other hand, when someone is offering you something, you say “No” for the first time and take the offer in case the other side repeated it.
-You are walking in a valley and passing in front of a person’s house. The owner offers you to come in and have a cup of tea. You say “Thank you very much, but I got a business to do”. You don’t say “Yes” for the first offer.
A traveler’s experience that didn’t end up good:
If you don’t learn about Taarof you may find yourself in an awkward (or a confusing) situation when meeting Iranian people. Here is an example:
-Two travelers are walking through a valley. A woman is standing in front of her house. When she sees them, she invites them in for a glass of tea. They just accept the invitation and go in. Guess what?
The tea was not even ready. It was just a Taarof from that woman. The woman was feeling so sorry afterward.
What was the solution to this situation?
They should have said, “It’s nice of you, but we have to go”. They could have taken the offer only if the woman was insisting too much.
Should we Taarof too when we are meeting Iranian people?
If you are in a hotel or with a guide, then No. Most probably they know the different cultures and don’t put you in an uncomfortable situation.
But if you are with normal Iranian people, then Yes. In some cases, it might sound disrespectful if you don’t know how to react.
What are the tips in the Taarof situations?
It’s hard to learn how to understand Tarrof only by reading an article. But some tips may help you in more common situations.
-When you are entering a door with an Iranian at the same time, say “Please, after you”. But if he/she insisted then just say “Excuse me” and go ahead.
In Persian: please = lotfan, excuse me = bebakhshin (read our article about Persian travel phrases)
-When you are paying a salesman or a taxi driver and he won’t accept the money, just say “Thank you” and give him the money. He will accept it.
In Persian: thank you = mamnoon
-If you offered someone something, like a bar of chocolate and he/she said “No thanks”, then offer again. He/she might have said no just out of politeness. If he/she refused the offer again, then probably it’s a real no.
-When someone is offering you something for free, don’t say “Yes” for the first time and say “No, thank you”. Wait for the second or even the third time. Maybe it’s not a real offer and it’s just out of politeness. But if he/she was insisting, then it’s a real one.
-Consider you’re having a meal with an Iranian family or a friend at a restaurant. If you were invited for the meal, then it’s easy, you’re not gonna pay. If not, they will still insist to pay your share too. First it’s better to say “It’s kind of you, but I will pay my share”. But if they insisted, then try to sneak the money somewhere 🙂