A Persian thing
I am tired of this Persian-Arab conversation, which I am
August 1, 2005
The plane circles around one last time before landing in Charles
de Gaul airport, on a cloudy and cold November afternoon. As I
look outside the tiny window, I wonder about the human condition,
my dismal experience with the females species, and J-Lo's butt...
not necessarily in that order. The plain lands a little after
pm. I pick up my luggage and take a cab to hotel Le Meridian, not
too far from the Arch d'Triumph. Forty-five minutes or so later
I am in the lobby of the hotel.
The woman at the reception has a thin face and small lips. Her
long blond hair is tied at the back. She looks slightly constipated.
We do some rudimentary chit chat -- she in French English and I
in Persian English -- before she gives me the key to my room. Room
2012. Once in my room, I put the suitcase on the bed and look around.
The window opens to the inside of the building.
I walk back downstairs and tell the receptionist that I want
a room with a view to the street.
"Sure, no problem", she says. Then, while staring at
her monitor, she mumbles something in French to the other woman.
"Is there a problem?" I ask.
"No, of course not, I thought you'd prefer a quite room,
facing the inside." Then after a pause she asks "Are
you Arabic"? putting the stress on the second "a",
like the French seem to do.
"Why do you ask? No I am not an Arab, I am Persian, from
Iran." In my mind I add,... and it seems you have mashed potatoes
for a brain, how can you not tell the difference between a Persian
and an Arab? Am I being unreasonable? I ask myself. Of course not,
I hear myself respond.
She says, "Yes, I mean from that part of the world. Arabic
people like windows to the street."
"Do they? Really? I didn't know... I just prefer to see
the world rather than the cement walls inside."
"No problem" she says, before mumbling again to the
other woman -- perhaps something like: "look at this guy,
first he doesn't want to admit he's Arabic and now he wants a noisy
Bloody French, I think to myself. She gives me the key to room
3135. I go back up and change my room. Now I can almost see the
Arch from my window.
I take a shower and shave. Before leaving for my appointment,
I pick up the phone and call Washington DC. I want to hear the
sweet voice of this lovable woman I have recently met. Of course,
she probably isn't as lovable as I imagine. I don't know. In my
experience, behind every sweet woman lurks a wolf -- quietly but
surely. She is from Lebanon. I hope this time it works out. I'm
tired of looking and nothing ever working out.
About 2 months later
At the video shop I look for House of Sand and Fog.
I hear it's about the Persians in LA. I want to watch it with her.
been seeing each other for over two months now. She's a delight
at and exciting to be with, although may be a tad too spontaneous
and fast-paced -- in contrast to my slow approach to life. I
am trying to get used to her personality. And of course she's an
I love her nevertheless. It's a bit ironic really that I am in
love with an Arab woman. Occasionally my natural Persian prejudices
annoy her. So far she has put up with them, but I know it's starting
to bother her.
In the evening I go over to her house. After dinner we put the
video on. I sit down on her new white sofa. She lies down with
her head on my lap. I run my fingers through her long and soft
hair as we watch the movie. Everything is nice and happy. Until,
that is, we get to the scene when Shohreh Aghdashloo shouts to
that anti-Christ Ben Kingsly about not wanting to live like bare-footed
backward desert Arabs, or something to that effect.
She jumps up, looking startled. "What the hell is that all
about? Is this what you think of us Arabs?"
I try to calm her: "She doesn't mean it that way. Persians
in LA are a bit racist and anyway she's referring to the Bedouins
in Saudi Arabia, people who invaded us, not Arabs in Lebanon or
Jordan or Egypt."
She is quiet during the rest of the film, but obviously pissed
off. Damn video, damn Aghdashloo. I decide to rent Lawrence
of Arabia or a video of Om Kolthum next time...
After the movie we go to a party of some of her relatives. It's
a kind of introduction to her family; she wants to test how they
react to me. They are mostly nice people but a little too Arab.
The men have thin moustaches and the women big butts. The gathering
is in a characterless party room in an apartment building south
of the Potomac. Coca-sCola is the only drink, served with lots
of greasy Arabic food. The people are nice to me though, they seem
to approve of me. But, hell, shouldn't they feel honored? I am,
after all, Persian. I don't express my thoughts, but she can read
Back at her house, things are calm
for a while. Sitting on the white sofa, we are affectionate to
each other. I softly kiss her
young-Julie-Christy lips. She calls my name lovingly in my
ear. I playfully make fun of the Arabic way she pronounces my name,
especially the heavy H sound... Then blast... she explodes. All
her repressed anti-Persian feelings come out, mostly in the form
of unintelligible Arabic swear words -- I assume. She's livid. "How
can you make fun of my Arabic?" I try to explain. I was only
kidding, I love you, but she doesn't want to hear.
After a few minutes of this she finally switches back to English: "I've
had it, I'm not going to put up with your Persian s**t anymore...Go
marry a f**king Persian bitch". Wow. What can I say to this?
Where can I find a Persian bitch? And at this late hour? My response
is a bit more measured: "I hope you marry Saddam Hussein."
The relationship lasts another 30-40 seconds. I pack all my stuff
from her house -- a total of one toothbrush -- and leave the house,
fearing she might throw the TV at me. She is a woman after all.
A few weeks later
I meet an old friend for dinner at a Mediterranean
restaurant near DuPont. I am still trying to get over my breakup.
very tough. Why can I not ever make any relationship work? I have
been thinking of moving to the dark side -- Dart Wader or something.
"Your problem," says my friend "is that you think
Persians are God's gift to humanity. That's why you lost her."
"Oh please..." I interject "Can't you see I am
suffering? Is that all you can say? And I am tired of people like
you who put us Persians down. Isn't it enough that everyone else
in the world is so negative about us? Contrary to what you think,
we Persians are noble and Persia was a great country. Have you
forgotten all our great kings, Cyrus, Darius, Anoushirvan, and
the rest of them?"
"OK buddy, no need to get excited. But for your information,
when this Anoush guy was king, Persia was no paradise. In fact
it was a kind of theocracy. Ansar-e Hezb-e-Ahuramazda ruled. And
believe me they were not cool. In fact they were not any nicer
or sweeter or more titish mamani than Ansar-e Hezbollah. They killed
lots of non-Zoros....".
I stop him, "That's bullshit. This is all Arab and Western
propaganda. I pee on Alexander and all the other uncivilized stupid
morons who ever invaded Persia. Persia has always been great. Even
the name sounds great. In fact I think it was a huge mistake to
change the official name to Iran."
My friend laughs: "What difference would a name have made?"
"Have you no brains? Persia was an old nation with a great
history and was respected around the world. But what do we have
now? When people hear of Iran, they think it's another British-made
Middle Eastern country from the 1920s, full of Moslem fanatics.
A country with no identity otherwise, no history..."
He interrupts: "Suppose they hadn't changed the name, what
would people have associated Persia with? Exactly what they associate
Iran with now, i.e. oil, revolution, fundamentalism, terrorism,
and so on. These things are not static. In fact, if we hadn't screwed
up later, the name Iran might have done good for the country, because
it meant to suggest that this was now a modern country, unlike
Persia, which was very dirty and backward and dusty, with ill-looking
kings who had no visions, and thought of nothing but opium and
women in their harems. Read any European traveler's account. For
God's sake, what's in a name is what's in the thing itself."
I am tired of this conversation, which I am not winning. I wish
she was sitting in front me instead of him. What a painful existence.
Why is life so hard? Why do I miss her so much? "Ok, let's
order food, I am hungry. What you say may be true, but who cares?
I still want to be Persian, not Iranian, not Arab", I say,
as I turn toward the waitress who's approaching our table. She
looks pretty. Could be Turkish, or even Arab. I smile at her.
"You will never learn. You will never grow up. Maybe you
should move to Tibet for a while…and find a guru, it might
do you good," my friend says before ordering his usual Adena
The characters in this story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance
to real characters is purely accidental.