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?