taarof photo

Annie Trentham / January 15, 2021

'Taarof' is a key part of Persian and Iranian culture that can be difficult for non-heritage speakers to understand.

It is the customary back-and-forth of polite gestures and cultural pleasantries used when giving and receiving gifts, food, money, and more. Considered an art form by some, proper use can amaze a Persian audience at best and offend them at worst. Similar to the “who pays the bill” charade in some Western cultures, it is done to show respect, hospitality, reverence for elders, and politeness. 

Taarof is the most common in hospitality settings, where guests are being served by a host or hostess. When presented with food or drink, it is customary to politely turn it down at first, the same as with a gift. However, no matter how many times you decline, the tea cup will be placed in front of you and your plate will be piled high with delicious food. In order to show your appreciation for your generous host, it is important to appropriately thank them for their time, effort, and care. When you try to thank your host, they will most likely respond with “ghaubeleh nadaureh” (it’s nothing), but it is customary to continue to insist on how appreciative you are. Aside from bringing flowers and “shirini” (sweets), the most common way to say thank you is “merci”, but to show your gratitude in a more formal way, the phrase “sepas gozauram” will do the trick. It is also common to say “daste toon dard nakone”, which directly translates to “may your hands not hurt”. While the translation to English does not make perfect sense, it is said to acknowledge the hard work done by the host and thank them for their efforts. 

Using taarof in the payment to service personnel, such as a taxi driver, might sound confusing at first. Even if you and the cabbie agreed on how much the payment will be as soon as you got into the car, when the trip is completed and payment is offered, it is customary for the taxi driver to refuse. “Ghabeleh shoma ra nadaureh” (for you, it is free), they might say. How kind! But if you were to hop out of the taxi with a quick “Khoob, merci!” (Ok, thanks!), they might be quite stunned. It is customary for even service personnel to refuse payment two or three times, all while expecting the payment to be completed in the end. While taarof in this instance seems to be confusing and unnecessary to those unfamiliar with Iranian culture, it shows how important it is to show the highest respect and utmost politeness to everyone, even to the stranger driving you to your hotel. 

Take a look at some of the key phrases below to help you with taarof!

  • قابلی نداره (ghau-be-leh na-dau-reh) - It's nothing, or You don't owe me anything

  • مرسی (mer-see) - Thanks

  • سپاسگزارم (se-pas go-zau-ram) - Thank you very much

  • دستتون درد نکنه (dasteh toon dard na-ko-neh) - Thank you (May your hands not hurt)

  • خسته نباشید (khas-teh na-bau-sheed) - Thank you (Do not be tired)

  • بفرمایید (be-far-mau-eed) - Here you go

  • خواهش میکنم (khau-hesh mee-ko-nam) - You’re welcome, or Please, I insist

  • مزاحم شدم (mo-za-hem sho-dam) - Sorry to bother you

  • لطفا (lowt-faun) - Please

Want to perfect your taarof? Enroll in the Education Center’s Persian group classes or check out our private tutoring. Let us help you get the job, impress your fiance's family, or prepare for a trip abroad.