Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder (With a Persian Twist)

Taarof is such an integral part of Iranian culture, that I couldn't help but write another post on it this week. Part of the concept of taarof is that you always compliment others, but never accept compliments from others about yourself. 

I got a haircut this week. When my Iranian friends saw me, they raved about how good it looked, how becoming it was, etc. You look so beautiful they told me. While most people have an angel and a devil sitting on their shoulders giving opposing views, I have an Iranian and an American sitting on mine. The American kept telling me to just say thank you. Really, what more do you need to say? The Iranian, however, kept reminding me of the taarof protocol. Just say thank you and accept that what they said is true? That's rude! Because taarof dictates that I never accept a compliment, I couldn't reply with a simple thank you. Instead, I replied with the standard Persian phrase used when someone says that you or something of yours is beautiful: 

چشمها یتان قشنگ میبینند / cheshmatoon ghashang mibinand (formal) cheshmatoon ghashang mibine (spoken form)

This phrase literally means your eyes see beautifully, but essentially it means thank you. This thank you, however, is reserved for compliments related to beauty. 

You look so beautiful!  Cheshmatoon ghashang mibine.
Your dress is so pretty! [Merci] Cheshmatoon ghashang mibine.
What a lovely picture! Cheshmatoon ghashang mibine.

Instead of simply accepting the compliment, you are actually saying a thank you and returning the compliment all in one. It's not me or my dress that is beautiful. It's your eyes that are so special that they see things beautifully! 

You could also get fancy here and use ghabel nadare when someone compliments something you own (the dress, for example). But ghabel nadare doesn't have the same implied thank you in it that cheshmatoon ghashang mibine has. 

Next time someone compliments you, will you just say thank you? Or will you perhaps tell them how beautifully their eyes see something?



  1. I love this phrase (along with many others that you have posted.) If i was complimented i used to say "You make me beautiful" but know I know the proper Persian phrase - kheyli mamnoon

    1. Khahesh mikonam! It's interesting that you used to say "You make me beautiful." It shows that you have the whole concept of taarof down! I'm glad you have enjoyed the phrases. Thank you for reading!

  2. This is such a sweet thing to say! I would like to check something though, which is that it looks like the transliteration and the Farsi don't match up. I might be wrong, I have not been learning for very long, but I just wanted to check if there is a reason why? I don't want to say this wrongly!

    1. Hmmm, which part did you mean? Looks right to me, but maybe I'm missing something. Was there a specific part you meant? Glad you like the expression though :)

    2. I apologise if I'm wrong here - I am only a beginner! but from my limited knowledge I would pronounce the word ' میبینند' as 'mibinenand' (or something like that), as opposed to mibine. I'm probably reading it wrong though...

    3. I see. No, you are absolutely correct!! I'm sure you know there are some differences in written and spoken Persian. The Persian is more formal. The transliteration is the way it's actually said. Thanks for catching this. I edited the text to reflect this. Thanks again! :)

  3. How interesting! This is virtually identical to the Spanish saying "me ves con buenos ojos" (literally: you see me with good eyes). It is likewise used in the context of humbly acknowledging a compliment whilst implying that the compliment is undeserved. However, I'm not sure if the implied meaning in Spanish is quite the same as the implied meaning in Persian. In Spanish, I believe the implication is that the person paying the compliment has a biased view of the person's physical appearance because they love them. Their loved one will always look good through their eyes, even if they actually look like a mess. So the Spanish way of saying "me ves con buenos ojos" is more a way of accepting a compliment whilst also disputing it, by implying that the person paying the compliment cannot offer an unbiased judgement of their loved one's physical appearance. It's a bit like saying: "oh, your opinion doesn't count. I always look good to you, because you love me." So although the words are the same, the meaning is different, because in the Spanish way of saying it, you aren't complimenting the person's eyes; rather, you're implying that they love you so dearly that they can't be trusted to offer an accurate analysis of your appearance. The Persian way of bashfully implying: "I only look good to you because your eyes are beautiful" is very nice as well. I like both ways. They both use the same words, but one implies that the person loves you, and the other implies they have beautiful eyes. All languages are interesting!


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