One can easily be both: English & Iranian
September 27, 2003
Inspired by the highly entertaining exchange between
Roudabeh Faghri [Dumber
than me] and Siamack Baniameri [Sick
and tired], much of which I am assuming
(hoping!) was tongue-in-cheek, I thought I'd share a few
of my own observations about this whole issue of our identity.
I was born in Tehran and raised in west London and
of course it is possible to be of both nationalities. If someone
treads on my
toe, I apologise. That's the English in me. If a female relative
decides to talk about how big my butts got and throw the topic
into an open forum, I don't bat an eyelash. That's
the Iranian in me. The English in me finds it acceptable to drink
two bottles of wine and fall asleep in my jeans and the Iranian
in me is somewhat disgusted. So you see, one can easily be both.
Now and then I meet non-Iranians who are kind of
A woman approached me at a comedy show recently,
just as I came off stage. She was an English woman, who, despite
it being obvious
that speaking English was easier for both of us, insisted on
speaking Farsi, the conversation was really stilted and awkward.
Not wishing to sound unkind, but this kind of behaviour
infuriates me. I politely declined her offer to buy me a drink.
that she has been married to an Iranian for years, and therefore
knew I was 'tarofing'. I wasn't. I just didn't
want to hang-out. Some people who fall in love with an Iranian
and are introduced to our language, food and culture in a superficial
way, assume a kind if kinship with every Iranian person they see
and embrace all things 'Persian'. These are often the
people I avoid at parties.
People who corner me to talk about Persian
mysticism and ask think that every word that comes out of my mouth
is linked to the ancient culture of my ancestors. These people
often ask me questions about Iran, which are the same as me asking
a random Englishman what the population of Manchester is. Don't
get me wrong, I realise that some people just have a genuine interest
in anthropology and the history of that part of the world and know
twenty times more about my country than I do.
These are not the
people I am talking about. I'm talking about those who think
you will be endlessly flattered and amused to find that they have
learned to say 'damet garm' and talk about 'tarof' as
though it is something other than basic politeness as we see it.
Equally baffling are those of Iranian heritage who
make a song and dance about 'not liking Iranians'. I recently struck
up a warm acquaintance with a young half- Iranian dentist who came
to quite a few of my stand-up shows. We swapped numbers. I invited
her to a picnic and she replied that she'd love to come 'as
long as it's not an Iranian thing'. I promptly replied
that it was actually a National Front event and thought it best
she stay away.
I don't know of any people who are as obsessed with their
identity as us Iranians/American -Iranians/British Iranians/Anglo-Iranians/Persians/Zoroastrians
and various other 'ians' that I may have missed. An
Argentinean friend of mine noted recently that when ever he spends
an evening with Iranians, he is guaranteed that the subject of
that evening will be 'Iranians'. I jumped to my kin's
defence and enquired why, if it bothered him so, did he spend so
much time with us. He answered 'the food, of course'.
He was forgiven.
While I am here, I'd like to address this notion of critisizing
elder Iranians for 'abusing' healthcare systems. I
willing pay my taxes so that any one who needs to use our British
National Health Service does so. If we are only to give medical
help to those who pay for it, what about the unemployed crack-heads
or the weekend drunks who drain our resources every Saturday night?
Where do you propose we draw the line? Frankly, if some old guy
wants his piles removed at my expense, good luck to him. People
who rant about their 'rights' when it only by sheer
good fortune they are living in the wealthiest nation in the world
should have just a little more humility.
Shappi Khorsandi is a standup comedian in the UK.
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