Speak / Lesson 52

Navigating 'Tā'arof' in Different Social Situations

In this lesson, we continue our discussion of the Persian concept of 'tārof'- we learn different situation in which 'tārof' comes into play, and how to successfully navigate through these situations. These situations include being paid a compliment, making a financial transaction at a store, interacting with guests and hosts, and much more.



how are you?

Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’

Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.


I’m well

Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.

Persian English
salām hello
chetor-ee how are you?
khoobam I’m well
merci thank you
khayli very
khayli khoobam I’m very well
khoob neestam I’m not well
man me/I
bad neestam I’m not bad
ālee great
chetor-een? how are you? (formal)
hālé shomā chetor-é? how are you? (formal)
hālet chetor-é? how are you? (informal)
khoob-ee? are you well? (informal)
mamnoonam thank you
chetor peesh meeré? how’s it going?
ché khabar? what’s the news? (what’s up?)

Leyla: Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation Lesson 52

Matt: Welcome back to Chai and Conversation!

Leyla: So last week, we started talking about the concept of tarof in a host and guest situation. We explained that tarof is a code of etiquette that helps us navigate through social situations. Matt, after we recorded the lesson, you were telling me about running into tarof at your mother in laws house, and being particularly flustered about it at the beginning of your relationship.

Matt: Right. Every time we would eat for instance, she’d insist on filling my plate- amounts I really couldn’t eat. I would assure her that I love the food, which I always did, but I would honestly be full and couldn’t eat any more. I could tell it would be rude not to eat what she’d put on my plate, so I’d be way over stuffed in the end.

Leyla; Well, this is definitely a common form of tarof. A host will always fill your plate, even if you insist you’ve had enough, because this is the way of showing love and kindness. So basically you have a tricky role as a guest. On the one hand, you have to insist that you can’t eat food, that you’re full, because as we said in the last lesson, you are trying to show that you’re there to see the host, not to be given anything. You also have to make sure that the host knows that you really appreciate the food that’s been given you, without encouraging them to give you more than you can eat. So you have to toe this line. So, try something like this: Na, khayli mamnoon, zahmat nakesh, seeram! We of course know, khayli mamnoon, which means thank you very much. And zahmat nakesh we learned in the last lesson means ‘don’t go through the trouble.’ So let’s repeat these one more time together. Khayli mamnoon.

Matt: Khayli mamnoon.

Leyla: Which means thank you. Zahmat nakesh

Matt: Zahmat nakesh

Leyla: Which means don’t go through the trouble.

And finally, seeram means I’m full. Seeram

Matt: Seeram

Leyla: To give the ‘seeram’ a little bit more validity, you could add the word vala, which is an Arabic word adopted into Persian to mean ‘really’. It actually means something closer to ‘by god’, but it’s used all the time in the Persian language to show that you really mean something. So, ‘seeram valah’, means ‘by god, I’m full’, or ‘really! I’m full!’ So ‘seeram vala’

Matt: Seeram vala

Leyla: If you’ve already been given food and you want to say you can’t possibly eat more, you say ‘nemeetoonam beeshtar bokhoram’ meaning, I can’t eat more.’ Nemeetoonam beeshtar bokhoram

Matt: Nemeetoonam beeshtar bokhoram

Leyla: I can’t is ‘nemeetoonam’

Matt: Nemeetoonam

Leyla: More is beeshtar

Matt: beeshtar

Leyla: And I eat is bokhoram

Matt: bokhoram

Leyla: So I can’t eat more ‘Nemeetoonam beeshtar bokhoram

Matt: Nemeetoonam beeshtar bokhoram

Leyla: So again, this tells your host you can’t possibly eat any more. So again, the tarof purpose of this phrase is to be less of a burden on the host, so even if you do want more food, this is what you tell the host. They’ll probably give you more anyway. If you’re actually full,  just take a spoon or two to be polite, and if you really can’t finish, it’s ok to leave a little on your plate. Don’t forget to always end a meal with complimenting the chef by saying ‘dasteh shoma dard nakoneh’

Matt: Dasteh shoma dard nakoneh

Leyla: Do you remember the meaning of this, Matt?

Matt: It means ‘I hope your hand doesn’t hurt, literally but really it’s just a way to say thank you.

Leyla: Right.  Let’s learn a couple more ways to show your appreciation for your host before moving on to other topics in the vast world of tarof. A simple way of showing your appreciation would be to say ‘that was really delicious!’ We’ve learned the word for delicious before, but it was a while ago- do you remember this Matt?

Matt: It’s khoshmaze

Leyla: Great. Either Matt’s been studying or Kimiya is eating food. So ‘khayli khoshmaze bood’. It was really delicious. ‘Khayli khoshmaze bood’

Matt: Khayli khoshmaze bood

Leyla: And again, to say thank you, or your hand doesn’t hurt, you say ‘dasteh shoma dard nakoneh

Matt: dasteh shoma dard nakoneh

Leyla: Every time I eat at my family’s house, I’ll say ‘khayli khoshmaze bood, dasteh shoma dard nakoneh

Matt: Khayli khoshmaze bood. dasteh shoma dard nakoneh.

Leyla: As a host, the response to ‘dasteh shoma dard nakoneh’ is ‘sareh shoma dard nakoneh’

Matt: Sareh shoma dard nakoneh

Leyla: And this means ‘I hope your head doesn’t hurt’. So I hope your hand doesn’t hurt, I hope your head doesn’t hurt. It’s just a cultural saying. You can also say that the food was ‘great’, or ‘aali bood’

Matt: Aali bood

Leyla: Ok, I think that’s enough tools in your toolbelt on the topic of thanking someone for a meal. Now, let’s move on to different instances of tarof, and how you can navigate this particular trait of the Persian culture. You’ll see tarof playing out in a lot of different ways in Persian culture, and if you don’t know how to react, you’re often seen as rude or insensitive. One prevalent usage of tarof is when paying a bill after a meal. In American culture, you often split the bill, or sometimes someone insists on paying for some reason, and you let them. Not so in Iranian culture. Iranians often have a bit of a war when the bill arrives- but rather than fighting to get out of paying the bill, they fight to pay it. If you go to a restaurant where an Iranian family is dining, you’ll see this every time. When the check arrives, everyone asks the server to give them the bill. It often results to very physical attempts at grabbing the bill. Sometimes, one of the family members will be tricky, and give the waiter their credit card before the bill arrives. And sometimes they’ll find out they’re too late, that someone else from the table has already done the same thing. I’m telling you- sometimes it gets absolutely crazy. So, we’re not going to go over a whole dialogue of getting the bill at a table- you can see an example of this on our youtube video, which you can find the link of by going to chaiandconversation.com/lesson52. But, when you’re in this situation, your goal is to pay the bill because you’re being generous to those around you. It’s seen as a source of pride to be able to treat your friends and family, and Iranians take this very seriously- some would say a little too seriously! So when you’re out with an Iranian friend or family member, they’ll immediately insist on paying the bill. Instead of being surprised and saying ‘oh, well thank you’, as many westerners have the tendency to do, you should immediately insist on paying the bill yourself. One word you can use in this circumstance is ‘nemeesheh’, which means it’s not possible. Nemeesheh

Matt: Nemeesheh

Leyla: You can also use the phrase ‘nobateh maneh’

Matt: Nobateh maneh’

Leyla: Meaning, it’s my turn. ‘Nobateh maneh’

Matt: Nobateh maneh

Leyla: So ‘nemeesheh, nobateh maneh’

Matt: Nemeesheh, nobateh maneh’

Leyla: Another really popular instance of tarof which is confusing to westerners is the concept of peeshkesh. This is when is wearing something or owns something that you compliment, and they in turn offer you that thing. So, for instance, if I tell my friend, ‘I love your earrings’, in western culture, the friend will just say ‘thanks!’ In Iranian culture, however, the person will say ‘Oh, well, they’re yours then! They’d look way better on you anyway!’. This is called peeshkesh, and again is a form of tarof. The person doesn’t literally mean to give you the earrings- it’s just their way of being humble, and complimenting you in return. A lot of times, they’ll say the phrase ‘peesh kesh’ as a response to your compliment, and peesh kesh means exactly that- it’s your. Peesh kesh

Matt: Peesh kesh

Leyla: Again, this can lead to a lot of awkward situations with westerners, because they often don’t know how to respond. But remember, this is just a form of tarof, extreme politeness, not to be taken literally. I do want to note, this form of tarof isn’t only used with items of clothing, by the way, it can also be used in someone’s home. For example, if you go to someone’s home and they have a painting you compliment, they can say ‘peeshkesh’. Again, they don’t literally mean you should grab the painting off the wall and take it home with you. They’re just being polite. So one last time, the phrase for this form of tarof is ‘peeshkesh’

Matt: Peeshkesh

Leyla: Moving on with examples of tarof, another confusing form of tarof comes with the phrase ‘ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh’. This literally means ‘it’s not worthy of you, and is used in a lot of different situations. One of the most prevalent of these, and one that’s super confusing to westerners, is when you have a transaction in a store. Now, here in the US, when you make a financial transaction, things are really straightforward. Generally, you decide what to buy, go up to the cash register, and pay money for the thing, and leave the store. In Iran, or when dealing with Iranians out of the country, it can be a little more complicated. When you take the item you’re purchasing up to the register, the store owner will often say ‘ghableh shoma or nadareh’- this is not worthy of you. So what the store owner is saying with this strange strange phrase is, ‘you are more important than your money. I may be a store owner, and we may be about to have a financial transaction, but I see you as a human being, not just as a financial transaction. So, this item is not worthy- you’re worth more than that. Does this make sense Matt?

Matt: I guess so- I guess it’s kind of like if the store owner says ‘don’t worry about it’ when you go to give them money- like they’re being polite.

Leyla: Right exactly. ‘It’s yours, don’t worry about it’. So  you may ask a store owner ‘how much is this block of cheese,’ for instance. And they’ll just reply ‘oh, don’t worry about, it’s yours’. So knowing what you know about tarof, you should know by now that the store owner doesn’t literally mean it. You have to insist on paying. The vocabulary for this is ‘khahesh meekonam’. We’ve learned in previous lesson that khahesh meekonam is equivalent to ‘you’re welcome’ in the English language, but literally, it’s a plea- it’s more a direct translation of please. So let’s practice a typical dialogue in a store Matt. I’ll start as the person going into the shop, and Matt, you can be the shopkeeper.

Leyla: Salam- mazerat meekham, ghaymateh een paneer chandeh?

Matt: Ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh

Leyla: Na, khahesh meekonam, chandeh?

Matt: na, befarmayeen.

Leyla: Khayli mamnoon, mageh meesheh? Ghaymatesh chandeh?

Ok, let’s unpack this conversation. So first I started by saying ‘mazerat meekhaam’. This is equivalent to ‘excuse me’, so I’m getting the shopkeepers attention. Mazerat meekhaam

Matt: Mazerat meekham

Leyla: Then I ask how much the cheese is. Ghaymateh een paneer chandeh?

Matt: Ghaymateh een paneer chandeh?

Leyla: This gives the shopkeeper a chance to tarof. He uses our phrase ‘ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh.

Matt: Ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh.

Leyla: So this cheese is not worthy of you- don’t worry about it. Ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh

Matt: Ghabeleh shoma ro nadareh.

Leyla: And so then I insist- khahesh meekonam. Please. Khahesh meekonam

Matt: Khahesh meekonam

Leyla: And I ask, again, chandeh?

Matt: Chandeh

Leyla: So you can say ‘ghaymatesh chandeh’ which means how much is the price, vs. just chandeh by itself which is more like ‘how much is it?’ So chandeh

Matt: Chandeh

Leyla: And ghaymatesh chandeh

Matt: ghaymatesh chandeh

Leyla: The storekeeper tarofs one more time, saying ‘befarmayeen’

Matt: Befarmayeen

Leyla: This word is used in tarof often. We’ll go over a few more cases of its use in a second. But basically, it means ‘go ahead’. Befarmayeen

Matt: Befarmayeen

Leyla: So the shopkeeper is using tarof saying ‘go ahead, take it’. Befarmayeen

Matt: Befarmayeen

Leyla: And I, the buyer respond first by thanking him ‘khayli mamnoon’

Matt: Khayli mamnoon

Leyla: And I ask ‘mageh meesheh’. This is a little difficult to translate. Basically, it’s saying something along the lines of ‘how would that be possible’ or ‘is it possible’. So in this case, it’s like ‘no way, that isn’t a possibility’. Mageh meesheh

Matt: Mageh meesheh

Leyla: This phrase is used when you’re incredulous about something. So someone’s trying to give you something for free in this case, and you’re saying, no way, that’s not possible. But literally, you’re asking ‘is it possible’? So again, mageh meesheh

Matt: Mageh meesheh

Leyla: And again, I ask ‘ghaymatesh chandeh’, what’s the price. ‘Ghaymatesh chandeh’

Matt: Ghaymatesh chandeh.

Leyla: So this will continue for a bit, with the shopkeeper and the customer going back and forth, with the shopkeeper insisting the customer can take it, and the customer insisting to pay. It always ends with the customer paying, by the way. But sometimes, ironically, the shopkeeper will then quote a price that’s outrageously high, and a reverse back and forth ensues, with the customer trying to negotiate a lower price. So again, the point of all this is for the shopkeeper to show that it’s not just a financial transaction, that he or she cares about the customer as a human. So, now, to end this lesson, we’re going to talk about the other instances of tarof where the word ‘befarmayeen’ is used. Like we said, befarmayeen is a very versatile tarof word, and just means ‘please go ahead.’ One common use of this term is when you approach a doorway at the same time as someone else. You don’t just go in. You say to the other person ‘befarmayeen’.

Matt: Befarmayeen

Leyla: Since you’ve been in an Iranian household so long Matt, do you know other instances of tarof using the word befarmayeen?

Matt: Yes, I do know that you’re always supposed to offer your seat to an older person. So, if they enter the room, and you’re already sitting down, you get up and say ‘befarmayeen’ to let them have your seat.

Leyla: Right, so you can say ‘befarmayeen besheeneen’, please sit.  ‘Befarmayeen besheeneen’.

Matt: Befarmayeen besheeneen.

Leyla: Yes, exactly. And, when food is being served, you never just go to the food to get something, you offer for those around you to get food first. So you tell other, ‘befarmayeen bekesheen’, which means ‘please go ahead and take food. Befarmayeen bekesheen

Matt: Befarmayeen bekesheen.

Leyla: All right! So three more examples of tarof using the word befarmayeen. Try to look around and see if you find other examples of tarof in your interactions with Iranians. Remember not to take everything at face value, and always question whether something is literal, or just a nicety!

Matt: And you can leave us examples of your experiences with tarof in the comments section of this lesson at www.chaiandconversation.com/lesson52.

Leyla: And one our website, you’ll find bonus materials for this lesson and all the others as well as much much more. Thanks again for listening, and until next time, khodahafez from Leyla.

Matt: And beh omeedeh deedar from Matt!