Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Humble Iranian, or The Art of Taarof, Part 5

*Updated on 5/4* What was going to start out as a simple word of the day is, alas, part 5 of The Art of Taarof series. (Check out the Language section if you missed parts 1-4.) In the first part, I explained that taarof is a form of social politeness in which the goal is to never reveal your true feelings. Another aspect of it, though, is being humble. Sometimes, the banter goes on so long that it seems like a competition for the most humble man of the year. 

First, you will hear people refer to themselves as بنده bandeh, servant/slave, instead of من man, I. Men or women can use it, but I feel like it's more commonly used by men. (You may have even heard some people use ما mā, we, to mean I. This is not a sign of humbleness. It's fine to use with friends and family jokingly but sounds pretty pompous if you are serious when you say it. The Shah of Iran was known for using mā, we, when he meant man, I.) In this clip from the movie To Va Man, Behnoosh Bakhtiari uses bandeh instead of man when she offers to stay with her friend, saying bandeh khodam mimunam, I'll stay myself.

Once I met someone, and after telling me his name, he followed up with [کوچک شما [هستم, kuchike shomā [hastam], literally, [I am] your small. Clearly in these examples, the person is trying to be humble and acting as your inferior. Sometimes people will even drag their poor children into this mess and say they are your inferior, too. You can respond with something like noore cheshme m
ā hastin, you are the light of my eyes, or āghāin, you are a gentleman. 

When people are proud of you or want to express just how special you are for them, they may say, tāje sare mā hastin, you are the crown on my head. In a way, they are implying that they are inferior to you. You can reply, اختیار دارید ekhtiār dārin, you have the authority to do with me what you will. This, in turn, shows your inferiority to them. See the game?

Another popular word is nokaretam, I am your servant. I've been hearing this a lot on the much-loved TV series Pāytakht. One of the main characters, Naghi, says this to almost everyone he meets. As he says it, he places his hand over his heart, which we know is a gesture of sincerity

So, the word of the day that I initially planned on writing was the slang چمن chaman, literally grass. When my cousins taught me this, I thought they meant that they were like grass and you could walk all over them. But it's actually an acronym for چاکر chāker, obedient servant, مخلص mokhless, devoted friend,  نوکر nokar, servant. They can all be said individually (in fact, they are used more individually than they are by this acronym. The acronym is mostly used joking around with friends.) Every time my dad answers the phone and it's one of his friends or brothers on the other end, he always says, Salām ____ jān, mokhlessam, Hi ___ jan, I'm your devoted/sincere friend. 

On a bit of an unrelated note, this past weekend, a friend asked me how long I had been blogging, and I said for about a year now. It got me thinking, so I came back and checked my posts only to find out that I missed my own one year anniversary on April 21! (And my second post was The Art of Taarof, Part 1- Way to keep some balance!) So after one solid year, I'd like to say thank you to all of you who read, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google+. From the bottom of my heart (and I place my hand over my heart as I say this) Bandeh nokare shomā hastam! 



  1. Happy Anniversary! This was a great post, thank you so much for it. I love your website, don't stop blogging!

    1. Thank you so much Yasamin joon! And thanks for reading <3


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