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MEA Weekend: Iranian vs Western Etiquette

I left Iran at the age of fourteen. The year was 1987. At that age, and with the experiences of living in a country surrounded by memories of revolution and war, I arrived in the UK with all the mannerisms and etiquette of a conservative Persian. I was told that British people are polite, so I automatically expected them to understand all of our traditions, which show politeness.

One such Iranian tradition is ‘Tarof’. According to this tradition, you must never accept food which is offered to you, until it has been offered three times.

Soon after my arrival, more than once, I left the houses of British friends starving hungry. I used to turn up there, and they used to offer me food. Of course according to British tradition, they politely offered once, and according to Iranian tradition I had to refuse, because the whole goal of Tarof is to show dignity and restraint. In some cases some even offered twice. I stuck to my Persian traditions. They did not know any better, nor did I. So after a while, I started stuffing my face before going to houses of my British friends, knowing full well that this is the only food I am going to get for the whole evening.

After a while I just had to stop because I realized that I was offending some people by not eating at their home.

That was one of the difficult aspects of adapting to life in the UK. Sharing classes with girls and openly going on dates (something I could not do in Iran back then) was a much easier one, which definitely made up for it. Thats another story for another day. But as Gerry Seinfeld said “I always even out”.

Here is a fantastic clip by the famous Iranian – British comedian Omid Djalili, explaining his experiences with the tradition of Tarof in Britain. Enjoy and have a great weekend. Regards,  Meir Javedanfar


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Posted on : Apr 29 2010
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