What makes us
are prepared to say, do, or act
however is necessary
to shift 'real' reality to our reality
December 12, 2004
In the US, being Iranian really hasn't been the thing to
be for a solid 25 years. A lot of it is due to reasons beyond our
control: a little Islamic Revolution action here, a little American
hostage reality TV show there, and a great film called Not
Without My Daughter have, in a way, offset our awesome hairdos
and outfits when we rocked in the 70's.
And, to be completely honest, most Iranians have kind of gone
have sucked worse at television broadcasting and music than Jeff
Foxworthy and Nelly put together. Hair gel has descended on us
will probably end up using that nuclear energy to power LA Looks
and DEP production plants.
Some of us have dignity; we religiously
dissociate ourselves from that side of the Tehrangeles community.
But most of us are just another set of rich, fabulously corny 'Perrrshian'
foreigners trying, and failing, to be "Amerikan". As
for future plans to be cool? Optimism does not flow through these
That said, I do think we -- as fractured a community
as we are, as much gel there is in our hair, as terrible as our
programming is -- have a few overlapping and, yes, redeeming qualities.
When I think of qualities that constitute the quintessentially
cool Iranian, what I don't envision is any kind of bloodline,
look, or musical taste.
Lots of people the world over take pride
in their family history, wear Zara shirts with the top two or
three buttons open, and have terrible taste in music. And the fact
that we really aren't all that different from them.
In fact, outside of the L.A. area, very few non-Iranians
would be able tell an Iranian from an Italian, Puerto
Rican, Indian, or Arab, especially if, like a lot of lame kids
my age, we want to be mistaken for something other
than Iranian. By no means am I saying that we are a boring
or unimpressive people;
just that we definitely blend in more than we stick out. We
are hard to pinpoint. That's a prelude to what makes us who we
are for real, a prologue to what makes us cool.
The crux of what makes an Iranian truly Iranian, in addition
to and because of the ability to blend in, is having the subconscious
tendency to see things coming and we always use everything undefined
advantage. It has a lot to do with zerangi (loosely tied
to the American 'street smarts') but it's still more
The mark of the cool Iranian personality is to see through
tinted glasses in a most clairvoyant fashion, reshape the world
to one's advantage,
and convince everybody else that they need to see an optometrist.
We are amazing, amazing bullshitters.
Arabs, Americans, Indians, they're all up there too. But
we are perhaps the only people who can express this cultural talent
in every walk of life, from the missed homework assignment to the
MCAT interview, from the first date to the forgotten anniversary
present, from arguing about the best NBA team to debating the influence
of the psychedelic drug culture in music, art, and cinematography.
The thing is, we don't care about what's really going on. We
know what we want to happen and are prepared to say, do, or act
however is necessary
to shift 'real' reality to our reality. We will deny outright facts
with persistence and eloquence that should have America's highest priced
lawyers taking notes. We will cite sources that do not necessarily have to
do with our argument. When we lose an
argument (an exceedingly rare occurrence), we will not concede; we'll
merely argue about something else that may or may not have anything to
do with the original topic.
There is a conspiracy theory for everything
us, and only we know who and what is behind it. Most importantly, we
are the masters of thinking up and pulling off Plan B, sometimes
realizing what exactly Plan A was about in the first place. We are hustlers
and we love it. Some folks would have you believe that it's
conniving, terrorist personality trait. Well... it's conniving,
but it certainly
isn't the Osama type.
Now, one could look at these traits and view them all negatively.
For all the people who are shaking their heads at this point, I
will also say that
we Iranians have an acute perceptiveness
that aids our wily aims but also make us very sensitive human
Sure, we know that taarof covers our bases socially and
professionally, but we also realize that the extra invitation after
it's been declined and the extended hellos and goodbyes make
a person smile, at the very least. Experience tells us to say thank
you for one thing on more than one occasion, because it's
a good way to get favors in the future but also because it clearly
communicates gratitude, and when we ask for those favors we will
hang out, drink tea, and talk for a while before bringing up the
other reason why we are visiting.
If we have messed up something,
we will fix the problem before we confront the person that is affected
and apologize anyway, and if we go above and beyond expectations
and do something nice, we don't sit around waiting for a
word of thanks. Finally, if the shit ever hits the fan for you,
we're great to talk to, because we are too polite to say
or act like we don't want to hear about it.
Many people throughout history, Iranian and otherwise, have exhibited
Iranian personality traits: first and foremost, there was Cyrus
the Great. In order
to consolidate power and/or achieve his imperial goals, he knew that he would
have to kick ass on one hand and pat it on the other. So, after he'd
crush a nation's army, he'd walk into the capital city all smiles,
pray to some random god, and free some oppressed people. This model, known
as "being a smooth-ass Iranian", was used successfully by many great
leaders of empire, although some people got the formula wrong recently (but
I won't get political here; I'll stick to the subject).
Other people who have employed the Iranian model to varying degrees
are Bill Clinton (although we should do a DNA test to make sure
he's really not one of us for real), Machiavelli, countless
women, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Austin Powers. Whether or not these
characters are good, evil, or smart (which they all are) is irrelevant.
What links them all together is their shared aptitude
for always having an answer to a question, for knowing what someone
else is going to do before they do it (and for reacting without
hesitation if something else happens), for realizing that the
front door is not the only way inside,
finally, for not looking like a hustler while pulling it all
On a patriotic note, we Iranians possess the wisdom
that accrues from a memory as long as our existence, of having
been victorious and defeated, open and intolerant, nihilistic and
impassioned, lively and stagnant... Our history is much like the
long life of a human being, and there is much to learn about life
and history just by looking at the past few thousand years on the
Iranian plateau and beyond.
We have a knowledge that comes simply
from seeing things happen over and over again, the knowledge of
human experience. That conventional wisdom, coupled with countless
ways in which we wear it out, is precisely what makes us so cool,
and that's why the men and women of the rest of the world
sweat the "mystery in our eyes" so hard and we get laid
a lot. More power to us.
* Taarof: It's very difficult to translate into English, but 'insistent
politeness' is what comes to mind immediately.
* For those who aren't up on American slang, "sweating" something
is akin to really liking it/being into it.