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Culture of lying
Iranians lie just as a simple way of talking


May 16, 2006

Cultural differences between Iranians and Europeans, or Americans, are not just about how people sit, drink or shake hands. There are some things that are less of a celebration of diversity but more of a huge difference in thinking and perception. These differences are not just for the Iranians, though they usually wish to see themselves far different from others in the Middle East. The whole Middle East has some characteristics of its own that cannot easily reconcile with Western modern values. I may be considered one-sided, and actually on the wrong side, but I am trying to view my home culture critically to see where there may be issues worth re-considering.

When two Iranians meet they will almost all the time say to each other phrases such as: Chakeram, nokaram, ghorbune shoma, befarmaid manzel, mehmoone ma bashid, khooneye shoma'st, tashrif biarid chaayi nahaari, ghaabele shoma ro nadare, mokhlesam, dastbusam, taarof nemikonam, etc.

I am not actually very familiar with so many other flattering phrases that are common among Iranians. And I apologise if the spelling did not satisfy all tastes. It's not that simple to write Farsi with Latin letters, no matter how hard I try, there is nevertheless no standard way of writing Farsi in Latin.

When we say some of those to some fellow Iranian do we really really mean any of it? Most Iranians when they meet each other will say at least about three or four flattering words with no intention, with no truth in them. Translating some of them would mean that when you meet someone you know, the first thing you do is to offer yourself, your belongings, and often your family, as offerings, sacrifice or slave to your companion.

Really? Would any Iranin actually offer his slavery services to his companion? Would any Iranian actually offer freely to give up his car, his house, or most of his valuable assets whenever he meets someone he knows? I know that not all Iranians use this kind of language but no-one can deny that most of them do. And we all very clearly know that the offeror is lying and the offeree is clearly conscious of being lied. It's usually a two-way offering procession before two Iranians can start talking real issues. So they both offer to give up their freedom and their wealth to each other most of the time they meet.

Why do Iranians do this? I mean everybody knows all this are a bunch of lies. So why do people go on lying and lying and lying and being lied to all the time? Well, this is probably what a Brit or an American would ask when reading this. But Iranians wouldn't really ask this type of question because they know this is a customary way of behaving and there is nothing wrong with it. You just try to show your care and love when you offer your slavery services to someone and you show how material matters are worthless to you when you offer your belongings to someone you meet. But seriously, are Iranians so caring and altruistic? After all it's simply human nature to pursue his self-interests. This is so obvious in any body's behaviour though it may not be that obvious in everybody's words.

When an American or a European meets someone he will say "Hi, how are you?" Did he lie? As long as he did not make any offerings or supreme sacrifices, or simple sacrifices, in any sense, then he couldn't be lying. He just cares to know how well his counterpart is. Does he really care? Maybe he actually doesn't and the real thought behind that talk may be "I wish you'd drop dead." But simply asking how somebody is feeling doesn't even convey that you care about his well-being.

This is a huge cultural difference between the West and Iranian, or Middle-Eastern, behaviour. It's the difference in valuing, and not valuing, the truth. Being truthful makes friendships warmer, community trust stronger, and everybody more better off. Iranians lie just as a simple way of talking. Le's not generalise this as I just mentioned in the beginning. There are always differences among people, either in the West or in the East, anywhere on earth. This is about some cultural matters that are predominant in a society.

The culture of lying, as far as I have seen and believed, has far greater implications than just simple pal talk. In a society in which lying is not just permitted but also encouraged, for the sake of pleasantness and politeness, what generations and generations have created and fostered is far worse than what they had probably desired.

It's a well-documented fact that it's much better to live with the truth, especially when you need to live pretty long, than to indulge in the sweet accepted fallacy. Why do we need to show exaggerated politeness while we can just show some politeness without lying? The issue, as I mentioned earlier, is not just about politeness but about its greater implications. A society that tolerates lies and also encourages them in one case can very hardly defend the truth, or condemn the lie, in another case. So it's much easier to establish, just for all cases, that lying is bad for you, bad for your friend, and bad for your community.

When every morning you offer your freedom (by saying "nokaretam", meaning "I am your slave") to so many people you meet, some of whom you hardly know, how can you expect to be believable when you say that you are so bothered with all the restrictions on your freedom? When you offer you car (ghabele shoma ro nadaare) to more than one person a day, how can you be bothered to notice that your associate cheats you with much less than that each day.

It's a bit complex to separate between lying in politeness and lying in order to subjugate or steal, but one thing is very simple, don't lie! And this is why Iranians need not to think of this behaviour as something great but rather as something harmful.


For letters section
To: Ben Madadi

Ben Madadi




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