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'Tarof' on This American Life

Leyla Shams
March 31, 2011

One of the most important traditions in Iranian culture is the tradition of ‘Tarof.’ Tarof can be described as a specific form of Iranian etiquette or politeness, and comes with a very specific set of rules of how to interact with other people. Sometimes it can be extremely frustrating and seem disingenuous, but at other times, it provides a nice framework of how to interact with other people in an extremely polite and respectful way. A good example of tarof is that when you visit someone’s house, they must offer you something to eat or drink. Even if you are extremely thirsty or hungry, you must refuse the offer. They in turn must keep reinstating the offer, and indeed bring you food and drink, even if they are not prepared to give it to you.

This American Life is one of the best radio programs in the United States, airing on public radio throughout the states. They tackled the tradition of tarof a couple weeks ago in their program. As their program description stated-

“Nazanin Rafsanjani [speaks] about the Iranian custom Tarof, which leads people to constantly offer things they may not want to give, and to refuse things they really want. Nazanin is a producer for the public radio show On The Media 

You can listen to Nazanin’s report here (the entire program is interesting, but to hear the part on Tarof specifically, fast forward to 34:30 minutes)-