Speak / Lesson 53

Respect in the Persian Culture

Respect is a big deal in Persian culture- respect for your family, respect for elders, among other things. We've learned about tārof- but this type of etiquette is just one aspect of showing respect for others. In this lesson, we learn other ways respect is demonstrated in the Persian culture.


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: In this lesson, we’re going to talk about the concept of ehteram, or respect. This concept is key in Persian culture, and to interact with an Iranian household, you need to be familiar with it. The last two lessons were devoted to the concept of tarof, which is a form of ehteram. So, first let’s begin with the word itself. Ehteram

Matt: Ehteram

Leyla: Iranians have a very ingrained sense of ehteram which is taught to them from the time they’re children. One important concept is ehteram barayeh bozorgtar. Let’s repeat that, ehteram barayeh bozorgtar

Matt: ehteram barayeh bozorgtar

Leyla: So you might remember from unit 2, bozorgtar means older. So in this phrase, it means elders. So respect for elders. ehteram barayeh bozorgtar

Matt: ehteram barayeh bozorgtar

Leyla: This plays out in several forms in Persian culture. Generally Iranian families are very close in a multigenerational way. Families stay together in the same city, and often visit with older family members. Children are encouraged to listen to stories and be respectful of their older family members. This all plays into the concept of ‘ehteram barayeh bozorgtar’.

Matt: ehteram barayeh bozorgtar

Leyla: So this definitely plays out in family relations, but it extends to all older people in general. Elders are seen to have wisdom that comes with years, and are generally very well respected. They’re listened to, given first place in line, given seats, and treated generally kindly. Another important use of ehteram is ehteram barayeh khanevadeh. khanevadeh means family, so respect for the family. Ehteram barayeh khanevadeh

Matt: ehteram barayeh khanevadeh.

Leyla: As we’ve said, Iranian culture is very family oriented, and Iranians take special care to show respect towards their families. This is done in several ways, such as maintaining close ties with family, through constant communication, and visiting often. The concept of boundaries with family members really doesn’t exist in Persian culture, so to a lot of westerners this may seem to be a bit much, but it’s a fact of life for many in the Persian culture. So those are two very important concepts, ehteram barayeh bozorgtar, and ehteram barayeh khanevadeh.

Matt: Next, I want to go through other ways that Iranians show their sense of ehteram, which may be a bit different than in Western culture. It’s important to know these things so that you don’t appear rude or misguided around Iranians. One phrase you’ll hear often in Iranian culture is ‘bebkhsheed poshtam behetooneh’. This means ‘I’m sorry my back is to you’. So, it’s important when you’re with other Iranians that you’re never sitting with your back to someone else. This is seen as quite rude by Iranians, because it means you’re excluding them from your circle of conversation, and thereby disrespecting them. So make sure to always sit facing everyone that you’re interacting with. If this is not possible, for instance, you find yourself in a gathering where there’s a group of people sitting behind you and having their own conversation, you must turn to them and say ‘bebakhsheed poshtam behetooneh’

Matt: bebakhsheed poshtam behetooneh

Leyla: again meaning, ‘I’m sorry my back is to you.’ I’m sorry is babkhsheed. Bebakhsheed

Matt: bebakhsheed

Leyla: and this literally means ‘forgive me’. Bebakhsheed

Matt: bebaksheed

Leyla: And posht means back, so my back. poshtam

Matt: poshtam

Leyla: and behetoon means to you, or in relation to you. Behetoon

Matt: behetoon

Leyla: So I’m sorry my back is to you- babakhsheed poshtam behetooneh.

Matt: bebakhsheed poshtam behetooneh.

Leyla: This is actually a good point for a little language lesson, since this unit is all about language as well as culture. We haven’t covered this word ‘behetoon’ before, and it’s a good word to know. So like I said, it means to you, and it’s formal. It’s actually a combination of be shoma. behetoon

Matt: behetoon

Leyla: So I could use this word to say ‘I gave you a book’. You could say be shoma ketab dadam. This would be to you I gave a book. Be shoma ketab dadam

Matt: be shoma ketab dadam.

Leyla: Or you could shorten it to behetoon ketab dadam

Matt: Behetoon ketab dadam

Leyla: So dadam means I gave. So ‘to you a book I gave’. Behetoon ketab dadam

Matt: behetoon ketab dadam

Leyla: And let’s quickly go over the other iterations of this word. To me is either be man

Matt: be man

Leyla: or behem

Matt: behem

Leyla: So to say ‘you gave me a book’ you’d say ‘behem ketab dadee’

Matt: behem ketab dadee

Leyla: And for this we also had to change the conjugation of to give to second person informal, which is dadee. So behem ketab dadee

Matt: behem ketab dadee

Leyla: And what was I gave you a book, formal again?

Matt: behetoon ketab dadam

Leyla: Great. So to you informal is either be to or behet

Matt: behet

Leyla: So can you figure out I gave you a book, informal?

Matt: behet ketab dadam

Leyla: Perfect. So behetoon ketab dadam, behet ketab dadam. And you gave me a book is-

Matt: behem ketab dadee

Leyla: Great. The say to us, you either say ‘be ma’ or behemoon.

Matt: behemoon

Leyla: So then you gave us a book is

Matt: behemoon ketab dadee

Leyla: exactly, behemoon ketab dadee

and finally to them is either be oona or beheshoon

Matt: beheshoon

Leyla: so I gave them a book is beheshoon ketab dadam

Matt: beheshoon ketab dadam

Leyla: Ok great. So let’s get back to ehteram and say ‘bebakhsheed poshtam behetooneh’

Leyla: Bebaksheed poshtam behetooneh. And since we learned that this is formal, and to you informal is behet, how do we say I’m sorry my back is to you to a friend?

Matt: Bebakhsheed poshtam beheteh

Leyla: And a common response to this phrase is ‘khahesh meekonam, rahat bash’. Khahesh meekonam is please- khahesh meekonam

Leyla: The word rahat means comfortable. Rahat

Matt: rahat

Leyla: And rahat bash means ‘be comfortable’. Rahat bash

Matt: So let’s do a quick dialogue with this Matt. We’re at a party, and I notice I’m sitting with my back towards you. I’ll turn to you and say ‘Matt, babaksheed poshtam beheteh’

Leyla: Khahesh meekonam, rahat bash

Matt: Great. So this is just something to keep in mind at a party that’s a little different than in Western culture.

Leyla: Let’s go over another example of ehteram in Persian culture, and that’s how to take a compliment. In Iranian culture, there’s a right and wrong way to take a compliment. In the last lesson, we learned that because of tarof, when someone compliments something you own, there’s the concept of peesh kesh, where you offer to give them that thing. What if they compliment you on the way you look? To be humble in the face of this compliment, you can say ‘cheshmetoon ghashang meebeeneh’. This literally means ‘your eyes see nicely’. So you’re saying ‘the thing you’re complimenting isn’t necessarily that beautiful, it’s your eyes that see beautifully. Cheshmetoon ghashang meebeneh

Matt: cheshmetoon ghashang meebeeneh

Leyla: So this is used when for example, someone tells you you look really nice tonight. Cheghadr emshab zeeba shodee. And instead of just replying with thank you you say ‘cheshmetoon ghashang meebeeneh.

Matt: cheshmetoon ghashang meebeeneh

Leyla: You can also reply to a compliment with ‘lotf dareen’, which is the equivalent of ‘you’re too kind’. Lotf dareen

Matt: lotf dareen

Leyla: Iranians also have a concept called ‘cheshm khordan’, which is equivalent to being given the evil eye. ‘cheshm khordan’

Matt: cheshm khordan

Leyla: So when something is complimented a bit too much, some superstitious Iranians will burn incense to keep the evil eye away. If you haven’t heard this concept before, it’s basically the feeling that something can be the subject of other’s envy and jealousy, and that this can lead to negative effects. This is a culturally pervasive concept, so even modern and non-superstitious Iranians are wary of giving something the evil eye. Cheshmesh nazaneem- let’s not give it the evil eye! ‘cheshmesh nazaneem!

Matt: cheshmesh nazaneem.

Leyla: And with that, we’re going to end this short and sweet lesson about ehteram, or respect. Hopefully you’ve learned something new about Persian culture in this lesson, and we’ll continue the lesson next week. We’ll be learning about ehteram in the house!

Matt: And until then, go to our website at www.chaiandconversation.com, with chai spelled CHAI to get more great lessons and information. Until then, khodahafez from Matt

Leyla: and beh omeedeh deedar from Leyla!