The Iranian art of etiquette
You may have heard that there are some social rules in Iranian culture that are useful to be aware of. This etiquette is called Taarof, and we’re going to give you the lowdown, so you know the important basics before you travel!
What is Tarof?
Taarof is a Persian word that refers to an Iranian form of civility or art of etiquette that emphasizes both deference and social rank. It’s mainly about hiding the obvious out of politeness so that you don’t seem cold, selfish or inhospitable.
Tarof is just one part of a whole framework for communication that puts Iranian words in a completely different context compared to what Americans are used to.
What does Tarof mean?
In short, the rule is: it’s polite to decline the first time someone offers you something. If they have insisted repeatedly, then it’s fine to accept.
Top 10 Tarof to learn
Entering and exiting the building!
When a group reaches a door, they all stand around out of respect, insisting that the other, please go ahead until the most senior person eventually goes through the door first, followed by the next oldest. Women first, then men.
Tarof when drinking!
When you are offered a drink by the host, you begin with a gentle ‘no, thank you.’ or you can say “NOOSHE JAAN” means “Bon Appétit.” The host will continue to offer, and you’ll refuse back and forth a few times until the host eventually puts a drink in front of you. It doesn’t actually matter how many times you say ‘no, thank you,’ you will always get the drink.
Tarof when eating
Iranians take their dinner very seriously, and there are many customs to go along with it. Everyone usually waits for the main meal at the table and sit down and then start eating.
The host usually fills the guest’s plate. So if you see the amount of food on your plate is enough. If you, to a Persian home for a meal, you enjoyed the food and would like some more, Taarof comes into play at this point. It’s polite to say no, even if your host offers you a second helping.
In this instance, you should refuse once then accept when the offer is made after a few times so that you don’t appear greedy. You can say: Thank you! That’s enough!
You may see a stranger on the street who has bought bread or other food. Because of their hospitality to tourists, He/she may invite you to eat a piece of bread, chocolate, chips, etc.! In this situation, after two or three times, you can eat a piece of the food and thank them for showing your respect. And it is politer that you give them some of your food too!
So, if you buy something (e.g. a souvenir or taxi) the person may refuse your payment out of politeness! It is then up to you to insist despite their refusals that you want to pay. After two or three times they’ll then accept your money.
They’ll usually accept payment once you’ve gone back and forth a few times. It takes a little practice, but you’ll get the hang of it!
Bringing small gifts from home to offer your host as a thank you is a wonderful Tarof. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring anything from your hometown, other gifts such as sweets or flowers are very much appreciated.
Standing up when the host and the elderly enter
It is customary to stand up when a person enters or leaves the room. Also, remember to offer your seat up to women and those older than yourself.
Invitation to someone’s house
Some locals may insist you go to their home and invite you to have lunch or dinner with them. Don’t be surprised! This is just a Tarof, a polite gesture that often holds no meaning.
It’s best to respond by smiling and saying something along the lines of: “We’ll be coming on the next trip!” Responding this way would also be considered a Tarof.
I am at your service!
If somebody says this to you, it essentially means” I’ll be happy if you accompany me.” It’s a Taarof, which means that you can count on me whenever you need help, and I’ll help you without hesitation.
Why don’t you visit us?
This Tarof means that it has been a long time since I last saw you – basically, the person is happy to see you again and would love to see you more often. You can answer by saying thank you.
Are you complimenting?
This one is a bit more tricky.
When somebody says, “are you complimenting (Darin taroof Mikonin)?”
This is when you should smile and give polite answers, you can laugh and say: “No, I’m comfortable!”
Although this person may be a stranger, you should respond with twice as many compliments as they’re giving you.
Confused?! Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it, and locals are often quick to help you out politely. Just remember to smile!