The Act of ‘Ta’arof’

Iranian culture is well-known for being warm, friendly and extremely hospitable. An Iranian will always invite you to their house for a cup of ‘chai’ (tea) or dinner. Once you accept the offer to eat with an Iranian, you will truly see the friendliness and warmth of this type of household.

If you dine with an Iranian, there are cultural aspects that you should be aware of. The most notable one, is ‘ta’arof’ which is something that fellow Iranians commonly joke about. ‘Ta’arof’ is an act of formalised politeness. When you eat with an Iranian, you will more often than not be offered food many times. The offer is made several times as this has been said to give the offerer the chance to save face, if they actually cannot provide the food.

‘Tar’arof’ can be used with virtually any food or drink item, it might be an extra spoonful of rice, another piece of bread or another type of pastry to add to your plate. You will be offered said food item many a time. The question is do you accept the offer or not.

‘Befarmaeed’ translates as ‘here you are’ in English and you will hear this many times in Iran when being offered something. If you would like to accept the offer, the key is that is that you can only say yes after the third and final time of being asked. This is seemingly common etiquette.

‘Ta’arof’ is different in the way in that it is polite and generous, but sometimes it can be perceived as quite persistent. It is persistent in the sense that you are offered so many times, and if you say no, it just spurs another offer.  Sometimes you might just simply not want what is being offered to you. What happens if you don’t want that extra rice, bread or pastry? ‘Nimishe’ is what would be said by my family, meaning ‘it’s not possible’ in English.

‘Ta’arof’ is a concept which many in the Western world may not understand. In the West, you ask once and that’s it, you might say. If somebody says ‘no thanks’ it’s clear that they wouldn’t like what you are offering. In Iran, it’s a whole different story with what seems like a set procedure. One no is not enough.

Over the years I’ve learned that even if you don’t want to accept that offer, whatever it might be, food or drink, just take it and put it on the side of your plate to please the offerer. If you refuse, you might feel like you’re being nagged, as they will ask you again and again. ‘Ta’arof’ is not meant to be annoying in any way at all, it is all part of the Iranian hospitality in making sure that you have anything and everything you want. It is ever so generous and thoughtful but after each food dish has been passed around the table to you and there are repeated food offers and you’re full, you sometimes just want to say no once, not three times.

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