Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Sacrificial Iranian, or The Art of Taarof, Part 4

I overheard a phone conversation today.

"Hello?... Hi, how are you?...No, I'm at work fadat besham, I'll sacrifice myself for you. How is everyone doing?"

(I faintly heard the person on the other side of the line.) "Ghorbunet beram, khubim, I'll sacrifice myself for you, we are fine. How are you?"

"Ghorbunet beram, ma ham khubim, I'll sacrifice myself for you. We are all fine, too."

So, what's with all the sacrificing? Simply put, it's just culture. These are two very common phrases we use. Both of them can be used as terms of endearment to someone you are very close to. I hear them frequently from my mom or from my aunts, for example. 

They can also be used as thank you. Ghorbunet beram is used as such in this in this scenario. 

"How are you?" "Ghorbunet beram, [thank you] I'm fine."

It's also quite common to use these phrases as goodbye either in person or when you are talking on the phone (in this case it's often followed by khoda hafez, goodbye). My mom's Swiss friend once asked what ghorbunet beram meant because she often heard my parents saying it to each other in closing on the phone. When my mom explained the meaning, she thought it was so romantic and wanted to start using it with her husband as well. 

Elahi bemiram, oh God may I die, is yet another common phrase used to express shock at a terrible event. For example, your child falls and breaks his/her leg and is crying. You say elahi bemiram! (while perhaps slapping your own face like a true Iranian mom). It's like saying why did it happen to you, it should have happened it me! 

It goes without saying that these phrases should not be taken literally (well, unless you are a mother talking to your children in which case it very well may be true). They are very commonly used, especially ghorbunet beram, and more of a form of taarof. The use can vary depending on the speakers (male to male, male to female, female to female), and intonation also plays a role in how much you mean what you say. They can be used sarcastically, but I'm sure sarcasm needs no explanation. Adding elahi in front of any of these phrases makes them stronger, and they would probably be used with someone you know well. Simply saying ghorbunet is used either with a close friend or more of a taarof with someone you don't know well. For example, you are leaving a restaurant and instead of goodbye, you say ghorbune shoma. It's the same logic Iranians apply for refusing payment the first time. It's rude to accept without at least offering ghabel nadareh. Same here- it just seems more polite to at least offer to sacrifice one's self before leaving than to just say... goodbye. So then, is it rude to only say goodbye? Not at all. But we Iranians have a bit of a flair for the dramatics.

With phrases like these, it's no wonder that Persian is the language of poetry and literature. It's no wonder that that German guy I met a few years ago was learning Persian just so he could "finally read Sa'adi and Hafiz in their original language." (and might I add- what a refreshing reason to learn a language.) Then again, maybe it's because of phrases like these that Iranians are often misunderstood and words are lost in translation...

Until the next post, ghorbune shoma beram.

♥ Pontia

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