Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Excerpt Of The Day

This is an interesting window into Iranian culture from Trita Parsi's Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. This would prove highly resonant for Pakistani readers:
Taarof is an Iranian social principle, a concept of insincere politeness. For instance, Iranians invite each other to dinner not necessarily because they mean it, but to show politeness. The expectation is that the invited party will respond with equal politeness -- by turning the invitation down. The impolite thing to do would be to accept the invitation on its first offering. An invitation should be considered sincere only if it has been offered roughly three times, after which, of course, it would be immensely rude to decline it. Vagueness, symbolism, and endless nuance are inherent in the Iranian culture and language. "Taarof is a sign of respect, even if we don't mean it," Nasser Hadian of Tehran University explained, in a statement Americans and Israelis would find blatantly contradictory. For Iranians, however, there is no contradiction. They understand taarof and why insincere politeness is still a sign of utter respect.

So I guess this is the Farsi term for takaluf? Or, to be more accurate, takaluf is the Urdu term for taarof?

To be honest, for someone as uber-rational as me, I actually don't mind takaluf THAT much. I think it's kind of sweet and polite that if I'm a guest in someone's house, and they offer me something, I don't say yes, but instead say no. Then they ask again, and I strategically hesitate, giving them the opportunity to be more encouraging and cajoling in their offer: come on, have some. And then I happily oblige. I don't know, but it's kind of nice.

Of course, some aunties and uncles (but usually aunties) take it to the next level, at which point I want to go home. But in moderation, I quite like takaluf.


Ali K. said...

/Of course, some aunties and uncles (but usually aunties) take it to the next level, at which point I want to go home. But in moderation,/

hahah I know what you mean. I rememeber goodness gracious me did a sketch about an aunty who would not take no for an answer and kept putting food in sanjeevs plate. Gave me goosebumps. Guess its a subcontinent wide phenomenon as well.

zeyd said...

Acha Ahsan, well, say you're a guest and you're being offered someones uni-browed daughter?

Still don't mind the cajoling?

karachi khatmal said...

what sucks is being abroad and being offered something you don't want to ever resist. immediately the takaluf instinct kicks in, and after the first refusal the white people just shut you out. i once missed out on an incredible brownie in seattle. i still miss it.

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

The mother of all takalluf is of course the fights over who gets to pay for dinner. You have to offer to pay at least 5-6 times before you let the other person pay.

Ahsan said...


Haha I was thinking more along the lines of food and chai/thandaa.


I know what you mean man. Fucking embedded norms!


That's true. I've honestly seen the "no, no, I will pay" issue drag on for five minutes or more at times.

Hades said...

I've actually been coached by me mum on this as a kid: "Don't accept food the first time; it looks greedy. But if you really want it, accpet on the third request"

Butters said...

There's a huge down side to takalluf: you can't actually refuse something. That is, if you don't want to eat it, they'll take it as takalluf and keep insisting. When you keep refusing, you're being rude, and it becomes a ridiculous, waste-of-time battle of wills that only leisurely bored Pakistanis would engage in.

Everyone should say what they mean and mean what they say.