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Persian mix of Taarof and "Go Die!"

Week 20, Episode 40

There are two extremes in Persian day-to-day language: unimaginable hospitality with excessive politeness and death wishes as signs of endearment or frustration. Have you ever heard a good joke, laughed rolling on your belly and said, "May God kill you", meaning that the person who said the joke is just hilarious? Or have you ever got a compliment on your new cell-phone (dress/watch/etc.) and offered it to the person who so kindly noticed its beauty as a way of expressing your appreciation?

It may seem weird to newbies, but Persian people do say this stuff and become pretty much virtuoso in both skills. Let's start with this over-the-top, artful politness in communication.

And here is where you discover a new word, concept and worldview. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Taarof

Spelled also as t'aarof, ta'arof, or tarof, it's a form of social behavior where people engaged in it are expected to be extremely polite and compliment each other, always returning the good words back to that who said them. And the range of the situations you can find others or yourslef taarofing is vast.

When you want to buy something in a shop and ask for the price, but hear back from the merchant, "Ghaabel nadareh (Don’t worry about it). You honor me with your presence," as if saying, "It's wothless, go ahead, it’s a gift", know it is not a gift, but taarof. Say back something like "Khahesh mikonam (Please, I insist)" and actually pay.

When you say, "Oh, it's a great new watch you have!" and the answer follows, "Thank you so much! Take it, it's yours", it is also taarof. Politely insist it looks better on them.

Ta'arof plays a key role in establishing good and smooth relationships in a number of ways. It shows Adab (politeness), Tavaazo (humility), Ehteraam (respect), Rudarbaayesti ( being shy or ceremonious ), and finally MehmanNavaazi (hospitality). It may seem quite exhausting, time-consuming, and kind of a riddle at first, but this is just the way it works.

One more concept to explore is shekasteh-nafsi (which literally means "broken self/ego", in other words "humbleness"): when receiving a compliment or praise, the receiver highly disagrees with the compliment, plays it down, returns it to the complimenter or reassigns it to a family member, a friend or even God. This self-lowering and the other-raising pattern is the commonest strategy in Persian.

Other techniques are: many ways to say "Thank you" in Persian, including "Merci", and asking lots of questions about family, life, work before actually going to business (the more questions, the more polite you will be perceived).

Cool. Now, what's the deal with this Go-Die issue? It turned out, in their speech the Persians frequently mention death, say "I'll kill you" and use death wishes, addressing them to their loved ones, children, friends, and so on. The twist is that in most cases these expressions don't really mean bad, quite the opposite.

  • Jeegareto bokhoram = "I eat your liver." This is actually, as strange as it is, an endearing statement used when you’re trying to express to someone that you love them so much that you could just eat them up! It is normally applied between people who are close to each other.
  • Marg-e toe or Toe-bemeeri = "If you die" or "May you die." This means "I value your life and swear—to it—that I speak the truth." This is often used in a casual dialogue as an emphasis on its truthfulness. "Toe-bemeeri, the movie wasn't bad."
  • Boro bemeer! = "Go die" or "Go to hell." Well, this one do mean "Shut up" or "Get out of here" and is not intended to be sweet. The softer version will be "Boro baba" that is not harsh and just shows the one who says it was offended, annoyed or tired.
  • Moosh bokhoradet = "May a mouse eat you." When something or someone is extremely cute, this is the phrase to use. In fact, they’re so freakin’ cute, a mouse should eat them. Why a mouse? Who knows, really.

Ah, there are so many more different expressions like those above in Persian. The issue of the Iranians' wishing death right and left actually causes a lot of misunderstanding between them and people from other cultures. 

Hopefully, this episode at least a little opened up the reality from the Persian language point of you: they don't really plan a murder or want to see anyone dead, it is what they inherited from so long ago, possibly noone can tell now what are the reasons to say these expressions. So no need to freak out here.

So, compliments as a ritual of social etiquette and threats that convey a message of great love and appreciation... Confusing, isn't it? :) Throughout this Langventure in Persian I was trying to present you its beauty and magic that is sometimes hidden in the most unexpected places.

Time to say my goodbyes to Farsi—بدرود (Bed-rood) Goodbye!—and start on a new journey—into Swahili!

!موفق باشيد (Mo'afagh basheed) Good luck!

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