Are Iranians different?
Why am I, an American, learning Farsi?
By Kelly Hulme
November 7, 2003
I am often asked why I, a blond-haired, grey-eyed
American ex-pat living in
Canada, have suddenly and impulsively taken up the study of Farsi.
no simple answer. No, I say, I do not have an Iranian husband
Did you used to live there? No. Are you going there? Probably
not. Then why?
There is no one answer that will satisfy a
logical mind. There is only an
answer for those who accept that sometimes you just hear a little
whispering to you to do something. When that happens to me, I
don't ask hy.
I just say, "Yes, ma'am."
But lately I'm beginning
to think there is a
rational, if complex, answer...
Today my Farsi
teacher said to me -- when I remarked at the thoughtfulness of
my tutor of three weeks to have asked his parents back in Iran
to send me a
children's book to help me in my first weeks of Farsi study, "People
people and love each other."
People are people, this is true. But I have been
exposed to the cultures and
peoples of Mexico, Cuba, Spain, Germany, England, Bolivia, Portugal,
Italy and France. In university I was surrounded by students from
Bangladesh, India, China, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, among
Iranians are DIFFERENT. Or am I imagining this?
From the first moment that I was exposed to Iranian
people and a small taste
of their culture from being around them, something came over me
cannot describe. It was more than a simple fascination with a far
Sorry, I really cannot put this into words. I
don't completely understand it
myself. Part of it surely has to do with the richness of the culture
fact that the culture has roots that reach way, way back into the
is a dimension my own culture lacks, so perhaps I am hungry for
a sense of
Try to imagine growing up in America--a land so
culturally impoverished, so
young and without history, where extended family barely exists.
being raised in a culture of selfishness and greed, ethnocentricity,
and arrogance... everyone clamouring for a piece of the "pie," metaphorically
speaking. Then imagine meeting Iranians for the first time. Can
you begin to
get the picture?
I think another factor that makes Iran different
from all the other
countries I've studied and people I've been around is the fact
that it is so
misunderstood by the Western world. So few people in my world are
Iranians are not an Arab people. So few know how really progressive
Iranians are. So few know that Persia had Zoroastrianism long,
Islam was foisted upon her. (Not that there is anything wrong with
but few realize that Iranians are not originally a Muslim people.)
of mine watched a show on television the other day about Iraq.
Later he was
telling me about it as if it had been about Iran. I'm not sure
he knows that
there is a huge ethnic difference between Persians and the rest
Margaret Atwood, in her article in the debut issue
of the new Canadian
journal Walrus this month, said:
in the well-known 'axis
of evil' trio and thus a potential target for another pre-emptive
Iran is not the same as Iraq--a country hammered together during
trading that went on after the Great War--nor is it the equivalent
and mountainous Afghanistan. True, all are Muslim, all have
oil--an extremely mixed blessing--and all have experienced
of civil war, repression, invasion, and unbelievable horror.
is--and it prides itself in being--the Persia of old, once
the centre of a
sophisticated empire, renowned for the beauty of its gardens,
of its literature, and the refinement of its culture."
was the Muslim world that was civilized and inventive--'modern,'
you like--and the West that supplied the nasty barbarians,
These words are written for an audience who may
not know any of this.
But that's not all of it. If Canada produces the most coffee
eaters per capita, then surely Iran produces the most poets per
I have very warm memories of sitting in the student
union of my university
campus in 1981-82 while a knot of young Marxists around me
recent revolution and the future of their homeland. Oh, we
were drunk on
youthful zeal and idealism. We thought we could change the
I sometimes wonder where they are today, wonder whether the
mellowed them, as they have me.
These young men were different from other students
I knew from many other
places. The Saudi students I met wanted to pay me $50 to
research papers for them. The Iranians had me over to their
me to sit around the makeshift sofreh, offered me the first
piece of tadig,
and were always, always respectful. This was not the contrived
felt from men of some other countries, men I often discovered
would do as
much as they could get away with so long as they could sneak
through a loophole in their religious tenets.
No, it wasn't a respect born of fear of God or
fear that the disappointed
faces of their distant parents would haunt their sleep
that night. It was a
true human to human respect straight from the heart. These
things you feel.
These things you know.
These things are parts of my Why.
this page to your friends