To many Americans, Iran is a land of mystery. At once strange and beautiful, the Persian world has entranced people for centuries, particularly in this era as people around the world struggle to grant Iran human rights. But if you’re going to find out why Persian-American culture is so fascinating, you need to look deep into the day-to-day life of the Iranian people.
It can seem very complicated, but the tradition of Târof is an essential part of Iranian and Persian-American culture. A type of deference to Iranians, it’s a form of interacting with other people in which one doesn’t reveal their true feelings. For instance, if you’re offered something, it’s considered acceptable to sweetly decline three times before accepting, or otherwise, you might seem crude. Conversely, it’s understood that you must offer three times.
A Traveler’s Blessing
When a family member or a dear friend is about to embark on a trip, their friends or family prepare a ceremony for their journey. First, everyone must prepare a tray where they place a Quran and a glass of water. Then the person departing for the journey must kiss the Quran three times, and pass under it for protection. When they exit, the water is hurled at them to ensure their speedy return.
As they approach Nowruz (the Iranian new year) Persians can expect to see a happy little fellow known as Hâji Firooz. Wearing a red suit and his face covered in soot, he travels through the streets of the city with his friend playing a bongo, while he plays a tambourine and sings little ditties. While it may appear as if he’s in blackface, in reality, the soot represents his role in helping people burn their old possessions to make way for renewal. It’s his way of reminding people that Nowruz is an opportunity for a fresh start.
Such traditions may seem odd to those of us in the west. But, they make up an intrinsic part of the Persian character and what it means to be Iranian.