When it comes to Iranian taarof, I'm a little torn. The simplified definition of taarof is a politeness system in which a person tries to conceal his/her true feelings (read more in the post The Art of Taarof, Part 1). With Iranians, I find it a little maddening at times. "If I wanted that clementine, I would just take it. Why would I act as if I didn't want it." With non-Iranians, I find it a little maddening. "I can't believe he didn't even offer! How rude!" Yes, I am an American in Iran and an Iranian in America.
One of the things that I've always found humorous during my trips to Iran is the fact that people taarof over paying for something. Now, I'm not talking about the kind of paying when you are at a restaurant with your friends and you are close to blows over which one of you is going to pay the bill. I'm talking about when you are buying something, say a piece of jewelry, and you ask the price and instead hear those two words- ghabel nadareh, it's nothing/you don't owe me anything. What they are trying to say is that you are so important that the jewelry is not worthy of you. Ghabel nadareh is said almost as a reflex to the question how much is it? Say you are at that same restaurant with your friend (before you come to blows), and you ask the waiter for the bill. Ghabel nadareh. You are in a taxi and arrive at your destination and ask how much the fare is. Ghabel nadareh. Now, unless it's an extreme circumstance in which you actually know the person because you saved his child from a life threatening illness, and he truly wants to somehow return the favor and absolutely refuses payment, you always pay.
Gift giving is similar. When Iranians give gifts, they usually say, "This is something naghabel (unworthy; This is a gift unworthy of you.) Here's the tricky part though: You should be careful about what you compliment because Iranians will force you to take it saying ghabel nadareh. For example, if you tell your aunt that you like her antique ring, she will respond Ghabel nadareh. She'll insist that you take it, that she has no use for it, that it looks SO great on you- better than it ever did on her.
Receiving money for your services is quite standard throughout the world. Can you imagine the reaction if the next time you asked for the bill at a restaurant in the U.S. the waiter said, "Oh, don't worry about it!" For Iranians, though, it's as if they feel it's incredibly rude to name the price right off the bat. Of course, if you were to just say thank you and walk away, there would be hell to pay. But that would never happen. It's an unwritten rule. You say ghabel nadareh, but you know that no Iranian would ever even conceive of accepting. It's only my American mind that wonders..."What if....".
But does this unwritten code also exist outside the borders of Iran? It seems as though the Iranian can't help but transfer this habit into foreign lands as well. I was on a kabob strike for about a full calendar year because I had had too much in a short period of time. But recently I've been making up for those months, and I can't seem to stay away from it. So this week, I found myself at a kabobi (kabob restaurant) for the fourth time in two weeks. As I went to pay, in true Iranian fashion, I heard ghabel nadareh. Perhaps it was because they had been seeing so much of me lately, and this was their idea of "buy three kabobs, get the fourth one free,". I was a little taken aback, though, hearing this phrase used outside of its habitat. I simply replied khahesh mikonam, please, I insist, and my credit card was swiped.