Taarof is a kind of social behavior embedded in Iranian culture. On a very basic level, it's a form of politeness or polite refusal. It's the often maddening going back and forth of meaningless banter in which the person never reveals his or her true feelings. Sometimes it also shows social rank. But there are also subtle variations of taarof and taarofing.
Taarof is a very unique aspect of Persian culture, and I'm going to try to break it down and give some starter phrases so that you can really impress.
A lot of taarof also has to do with the kind of relationship you have with people. For instance, I personally wouldn't taarof with my aunts, uncles, or cousins because I'm really close with them (but also partly because I was raised in the U.S.) but the best way to explain taarof is through examples. Let's start with 3:
1. Say you were invited to someone's house and they made your all time favorite- fesenjan. You eat and eat, but you still feel like you could have a little more. They offer you more, but you politely refuse saying that you can't eat anymore. You do this at least a couple of times before you give in and say, ok I'll have a bit more. Then at the end of a meal, you say to the cook daste shoma dard nakoneh- a very polite form of thank you, literally meaning I hope your hand doesn't hurt. To which the cook replies nooshe jan- which is kind of like bon appetit, meaning that they are glad you enjoyed the meal. They can also say this at the beginning of the meal.
2. I was once at my aunt's friend's house. She went around offering everyone some fruit. She brought a big bowl of freshly cut watermelon to my aunt and offered her some, to which my aunt politely refused. Befarmaeed-please/here you are/I beg you-, the host said, and my aunt politely refused again. She did this 3 times before she finally took a piece. I remember watching this and being surprised when she actually did take a piece of watermelon. The way she was refusing, I never would have guessed it was just taarof. I find this kind of insincere taarofing over a piece of fruit annoying, but that's the way it is. That's the rule of 3 in taarof- offer 3 times/refuse 3 times and then you can take what you want.
3. You are on the phone and at the end of the conversation when you are about to hang up, you say ghorbunet beram- literally, I'll sacrifice myself for you. In the U.S., we just say "take care." But in Iran, we will sacrifice ourselves for you. Ok, so we also say "take care"- movasebeh khodet bash, but in most cases, we Iranians like to be more poetic and dramatic.
I hope this lesson in taarof and all its variations has been helpful. This is just the beginning of the culture of taarof, so there will be future posts to come. In the meantime, if anything is not clear or if there are any questions, please feel free to comment and ask me, or contribute your own taarof examples. Remember that Iranians love and are thorougly impressed by a foreigner who can taarof. Even if you use it incorrectly, they will love you for trying!