By Behrouz Bahmani
April 25, 2004
I am lucky. I am able to regularly
see my best friend Fardad, someone I have known and grown up
with since we first met in the 10th grade in the Tehran International
School better known as Iranzamin. Last week, Fardad and I, as
we often do, decided that, despite the warnings of our wives
that we need to start watching our waistlines, would go to the
local Chelokababi for a nice longer than usual lunch.
So we did. I drove.
We got on the freeway a bit, then
onto an expressway a bit, then took a boulevard a bit, and finally
the yewie at the light, and parked right in front of the Chelokababi
located behind a carwash. Why is it that the best chelokababis
are always located behind a carwash?
We went in and it was packed. A
healthy mix of non-Iranian and Iranians filled the multi-roomed
restaurant adorned with the usual decoration. Two smallish Persian
carpets mounted crookedly on the wall, a few posters of faux
miniature paintings in gaudy Louis the whatever-teenth fake gold
frames. Photographs of the same two Ghashghaie girls weaving
a carpet, and the rest of the tribe "kooching". A golden
samavar from Iran in the corner complete with the 220v cord dangling.
And under the glass tops of each table, beneath the white tablecloth,
the fringed edging of the khatamkari cloth. The usual.
We signaled with our fingers wiggling "2",
indicating to the lady in charge of seating, how many was in
our party. She left to hunt out a spot. While she was gone, we
did what all Iranians do when they go to a restaurant, namely
scan the joint to see if anyone they know is there. A quick pass
initially showed no one.
I did notice the now common Indian/Pakistani
tag team of programmers. You can always spot the Indian/Pakistani
patrons at Persian restaurants. Not because of the color of their
skin or anything like that, but because they are often the ones
really chowing down! Apparently people from India and Pakistan,
really like our food! Which I think is kind of cool, because
I really like Indian food! These two gifts to the coding world
had both cheeks full, and were going at it faster than a 3gigahertz
processor or whatever is really fast these days.
The seating lady came back and asked
us how many, to which we responded again, "2". She
left again to find us seats.
A few minutes later she returned
and asked us one more time how many, and as we raised our fingers
to signal "2" again, she said, "Aha, 2" as
she turned and went off again. The third time, must have been
the charm, because she returned with menus in hand. She extended
her free hand up, out and away into the room, with a perfectly
As we moved through the crowded
room, I noticed that right in front, was a local friend Behzad,
sitting looking at his PDA phone thingey, either checking email,
or surfing the web, or opening and closing his garage door, or
whatever other magic you can do on them now.
I stopped at Behzad's table and
nodded to Fardad to go ahead.
"Hello!" I said. Pumping
the gas pedal once.
"Eh! Salam Chetori!" he
said. Gunning his engine.
"How are you doing?" I
said, accelerator securely under foot.
"Fine, fine, how are you? Are
you busy?" he said, letting out the clutch.
And we were off, we got quickly
updated and caught up with the important stuff friends need to
know from each other when time is short. I apologized for interrupting
his meal, to which he said, "Not at all", and I said
goodbye and left him to finish eating.
Initial frontal attack, a probing
parry from either, a counter attack, a defensive block, and then
the mutually respectful disengagement. The 5 basic moves of Taarof
when faced with the standard what-to-do-when-you-see-a-friend-in-the-restaurant
That's right, Taarof for us is a
kind of martial arts battle, but with a major difference. It
is all about outdoing kindness towards each other. It often ends
up with the craftiest winning. But with one very strange difference,
the winner loses and the loser wins. Let me explain.
As I sat down at the table where
Fardad was waiting, he said, "Why don't you ask him to come
and join us?"
"Good idea!" I said.
As I walked over to Behzad's table,
I remembered that Behzad played golf and that Fardad played golf,
I realized that would be a perfect way to get the two warmed
up if needed.
It is important to note that Fardad
has a special problem. Not that kind of problem. His problem
is that he cannot stand to see someone eating alone. It drives
him nuts. I told Behzad to grab his joojeh and come on over.
Behzad's eyes lit up a bit, indicating that Fardad was right.
After the introductions were made,
I could tell they would hit it off so I parked the golf topic,
in my back pocket just in case I noticed a lull in the conversation.
There wasn't one.
Now another thing to understand
about the art of Taarof, is that the craftier and subtler you
are, the less likely your opponent is to suspect what you are
really up to and discovering your move, maneuver to counter.
The goal of Taarof is not just to beat someone at this wonderfully
Iranian game, but to beat them soundly, mercifully but preferably
leave them mouths agape if possible. Often you will not see the
agape mouths of your opponents, because having vanquished them,
you will have successfully absconded, victory in hand, leaving
to fight another day. But you know they are sitting there mouths
agape. When done expertly, it is a beautiful thing.
As our food arrived and as we began
eating, while we continued talking about our all sorts of things,
Behzad was finishing his food and talking about his all sorts
of things, and since he was ahead of us by about a half a plate,
and even though Fardad and I were gaining on his lead, largely
due to that day's unusually outstanding quality of the food,
nevertheless, Behzad, continued on ahead, finished his meal,
and jumped into the Chaie portion of the ritual.
The conversation continued fast
and fun, and with us about a quarter of the way left to go, Behzad
downed the last drops of tea.
He then turned and said, "Hang
on guys, I need to go wash my hands, I'll be right back" Nonchalant,
Now it is precisely at this point,
that try as I might, I cannot for the life of me replay that
move in my head, to find where he may have given us a hint of
his next intentions. I cannot see it. We never saw what was coming.
Behzad returned cool as a freshly
picked young khiar from your uncle's patch, and was about to
sit down, when he looked at his watch, and said, "Well guys,
it's been great, but I gotta get back to work."
Fardad and I stood up, shook his
hand and he turned and was gone. Fardad, said, as we sat down, "What
a nice guy!". "I know, I really like Behzad, he's cool",
The waitress came to clear our plates
and said, "Shall I bring your teas now?"
Fardad looked at me and asked, "Are
you done?", I nodded. He smiled at her and said, "Please."
As she turned to go get our tea,
Fardad's mouth suddenly fell open. Agape. I was wiping the last
few slurps of diet coke from my mouth when I looked up and saw
the look of horror on his face. Fardad is always a synapse or
two quicker than me, and at first I wasn't sure what happened,
until it suddenly hit me. My mouth fell open. Agape.
"Holy shit! I bet he paid for
our lunches!" he said.
"No Way!" I said, knowing
it was only true.
The waitress returned with the tea,
a growing sly smile on her face, as she must have seen both our
mouths. Agape. Fardad was closer and took a shot anyway, knowing
it was pointless, "Can you also bring the bill when you
get a chance." he said.
"No need, your friend has already
taken care of it." she said, full on smiling now.
"Ah Shit!" Fardad said,
"That Bastard!" I said,
laughing "Agha, don't worry, I swear I will track him down,
find him, and we will buy him such a lunch, even if it kills
"You'd better. Or I will kill
you!" Fardad said, biting his lower lip.
So run Behzad run. Because even
if you don't stop running, which you will, we will catch up with
you, and when we do, you'll pay for your move, with a lot more
than a measly joojeh-kabab. You may have bested the two of us
with your mighty and masterful move, clearly you are a Pahlavan
worthy of our salute and respect. But know this, we will find
you and repay your kindness, with a kind of kindness you can
only dream of. You will come to fear our kindness the next time
we meet! And it will be soon!
I asked Fardad later in the car,
if at any time during lunch, if he ever saw it coming, and he
"Only when the tea arrived."