“Your words are so beautiful that I’m going to put them in my eyes so that I can see them forever” and other common expressions in Iranian tarof

 

One day I was listening two of my Iranian friends talking with each other:

– I’ll sacrifice myself for you! Ghorbunet beram!

– My dear, I’m gonna eat your liver! Azizam, jigareto mikhoram!

– May your breath be warm. Damet garm!

Ok?

Actually, before going deep into what may seem like a pretty macabre rendezvous with a horrifying outcome, let’s look at the word ‘ok’ first, ok? Chashm is a Persian word which is commonly used to say ‘ok’ but it actually means ‘an eye’. It comes from an expression ghadametaan bar rooye chashm, your footsteps or words upon my eye. As if this wouldn’t be poetic enough a friend of mine once added: “Basically by chashm you say that ‘your words are so beautiful that I’m going to put them in my eye so that I can see them forever’!”

What a nice thing to say, I thought! In fact, a lot of the idiomatic expressions in Farsi are, largely, because many of them derive from the cultural system of tarof. More precisely, tarof is a system of politeness which obligates all parties to show humility and respect while simultaneously allowing them to avoid being direct. Simply put, you are supposed to offer things you don’t want to give away, and deny things you want. The ritual of offering and denying goes on until the other party gives up. Both parties should understand this from the beginning.

So imagine a situation in which you are visiting your friend’s house and you say, “I love your house!” for which your friend replies, “I am so happy you like my house! You can have it!”

Now, you are supposed to know that by accepting such an offer you would most probably cause a personal, not to mention economic, tragedy to your host and his/her family. Be insistent no matter how many times you have to deny an offer.

When it comes to food, however, the opposite is true. In a similar manner, you are supposed to deny the food offer no matter how hungry you are. Even though you’re about to faint you always say, “No, no thanks. Please don’t go through the trouble for me. No, no, no really, I’m full.” You repeat these words until your host has shoveled your plate full of food. No matter how hungry or how full you are, eventually you always eat. And no matter how much you’ve already eaten, you always eat some more. If you lose weight while living in Iran people start asking, “Don’t you like Iranian food?” By gaining weight you’ll show that you love Iranian food which is the ultimate expression of respect of the culture.

Illustratively a friend of mine once told me about her German friend who travelled for one month in Iran without knowing a word of Persian. By the time he left the country he had, nevertheless, learned one word, bokhor, bokhor, imperative tense of the verb ‘eat’. Food is such a central ingredient of everyday life in Iran that it is no wonder many of the Farsi expressions are related to eating and food.

One such expression is jigareto mikhoram, literally, I’m going to eat your liver. If someone says this to you, you don’t need to worry though. Instead of trying to eat your liver this person just likes you so much that s/he ‘could eat you’. Generally not thought to be an appropriate thing to say to your partner, this expression is mostly used between people who know each other very closely, familiars or friends. To your partner you can say jigare mani, ‘you’re my liver’, instead.

Along with the multi-functional jigar, liver, another interesting body part is del which is a specific term for heart-stomach – both of which have their separate words in Farsi (heart ghalb, stomach mide). As such del doesn’t have a direct translation into English but in the body it would refer more or less to the area of abdomen.

Del is a versatile term and thus has various usages. One of them in the context of tarof is the expression of desires, wants, and dislikes. For instance, you can say delam mikhad be tehran beram, my del wants me to go to Tehran, meaning “I want to go to Tehran”. Within the system of tarof all desires and wants are seen in a negative light which is why it is extremely convenient to blame your del for them. Ultimately it isn’t me, it’s my del who wants those chocolate brownies!

So, after having lost the battle of denying the food, you should now express your gratitude. Here you can say dastet dard nakone or daste shoma dard nakone (more formal) which is one of the myriad ways in Farsi to say thank you, and means literally “may your hand not hurt”. Such is wished, obviously, when someone offers you something s/he has carried in her/his hands, particularly food or tea. Damet garm is another common way to thank or to say you appreciate something. Literally it translates as “may your breath be warm”. Use this expression especially when somebody’s doing you a favor or says something nice to you.

When leaving your friend’s place, ghorbunet or ghorbune shoma (more polite form), I’m your sacrifice, is a common way to say goodbye. It is good for you to know that goodbyes in Iran take anything between three hours to three days. During the period of leaving just remember to repeat ghorbunet at regular intervals to demonstrate you’re going to leave sometime soon.

Ghorbunet beram, I’ll go sacrifice myself for you, instead, is another expression used to say thank you, or according to a context, to express that you adore or love someone.

So, as you may have learned by now, both of my two friends I cited at the beginning are alive and well. Going back to the conversation between them, what did they actually say?

– You mean the world to me!

– My dear, love you!

– Thanks, I appreciate it!

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