Saying hello to Iranians
Friends in Paris, strangers in Madrid
November 2, 2002
I should have known it would have meant trouble. Going to Paris and not calling
Marjaneh to let her know I was in
town was a going to be a big mistake. But I had an excuse.
I was in Paris to work. I also had a colleague with me, Paula, who has only been
with us for three months and was joining me on this trip as part of her induction.
We had to meet up with and check out around 12 households in Paris and Madrid (for
a research project) and trying to organise convenient meeting times was proving hard.
So my excuse for Marjaneh was that I couldn't fix any social meeting times in advance
and had to play everything by ear. My excuse, however, fell apart when I arranged
to meet Darius Kadivar in St. Michel
- the Latin quarter - and didn't call Marjaneh. A stupid and inexcusable thing to
When I arrived at our rendezvous, next to a fountain, I stood and waited for Darius
to show up. Suddenly, to my horror, I saw Marjaneh strutting up to me with a devious
"Felaan felaan shode meeyaay Paris va be man zang nemizanee?"
"Ehhh... Marjaneh joon chetori?"
"Boro khaahar o maadareto... " (the rest of what she said is unprintable
and biologically impossible for her to do to my ancestors)
She hugged me and kissed me as she guided me to where Darius was sitting outside
a café. En-route she would also occasionally punch or pinch my stomach each
time I tried to launch into an excuse for not calling.
We sat down and ordered some wine. It was my first ever meeting with Darius but I
have known Marjaneh for a few years. We talked, had some wine and then went in search
of a place to eat. We even managed to persuade a middle-aged American guy called,
Gary (from Nevada) to join us for dinner. Don't ask how or why we stopped him in
the narrow streets in St. Michel but he turned out to be a lovely guy, alone and
It was 2am by the time I got back to my hotel room. I was so tired that rather than
fall onto the bed it seemed more like the bed came up to meet my body. The next morning
I woke to find that whilst lying on my stomach, fully dressed, my knees had hung
off the bed at full lock. It was noon before I could bend my knees properly again.
Our last day in Paris was wretched. A few households had cancelled meetings and Paula
was badly missing her boyfriend who was travelling in Mexico. In fact she seemed
quite emotional at times. Soon, I too became emotional. So I phoned my wife Varinder.
"Hello gorgeous... do you miss me?"
"What do you mean you don't miss me?"
"You've only been away for two days and you'll be back in two days - I've been
too busy to miss you."
That was it. I decided to retaliate by missing Paula's boyfriend instead. Every time
Paula asked what I was daydreaming about I would reply that it was her boyfriend
and explained why I was no longer missing Varinder. After a while I think she became
tired of me missing her boyfriend and stopped asking me what I was thinking about.
Our next destination was Madrid. The flight was uneventful except for the part when
I left my seat to go to the toilet. Once in, I slid the lock so the light came on
and proceeded to wiz into the loo. I then grabbed the end of the loo roll and yanked
it hard to tear a sheet off. The entire assembly, including spring loaded insert
suddenly came away and fell into the un-flushed toilet. I carefully lifted it out
and replaced it so that the soaking wet half was facing away from the next user.
I then coolly flushed the loo and walked out without making eye contact with the
two Spanish ladies waiting patiently. For the rest of the flight I pretended to be
fast asleep in case anyone decided to report me.
Finding households in Madrid was going well and
Paula was proving to be a natural. She can speak five languages fluently and most
of the time I felt like a gooseberry at a party. I decided to leave her to sort things
out on her own. This included finding apartments to rent in Madrid and Paris and
negotiating the terms.
On our last evening I booked a table at a place that I was informed was the finest
restaurant in town. "The President and Julio Englasias dine there, sir"
concierge informed me. The restaurant called, Combarro really was a stylish and opulent
place. We were fed from the minute we sat down to a few minutes before we finally
left nearly three hours later. By then most of the restaurant was empty except for
a large table seating perhaps 6 people. It was while listening to their loud laughs
and snippets of conversation that I realised they were Iranian.
"Go and say hello!" Paula suggested. I couldn't resist getting a better
look. I pretended to go the gents and on my way back stopped at their table, took
my courage in my hands and said: "Salam" They all froze mid laughter at
what must have been a joke and turned their heads to look at me in what looked like
The women all looked like traditional Iranian women. Blonde hair and plastic surgery
on their noses. The men looked like clones of the 'dapper don'. One of the men nearest
me jumped to his feet immediately and shook my hand.
"Salam - shomaa Madrid zendegee meekonin?"
"Nakheir - Landan."
"Maa-ham hameen tor."
Their next question concerned what I did for a living.
I tried to explain anthropological style research of people's everyday lives but
they didn't seem to understand. Who could blame them. My own mum still doesn't understand
what I do. The brief chat came to an end with a chorus of, "Mo-afagh basheen"
I don't speak perfect Farsi but I knew that what they were saying seemed to mean
they were hoping that I would be successful.
I was taken aback slightly and felt like saying, "Man taghreeban mo-afagh hastam!"
But then I thought that saying, "Mo-afagh basheen" must be a figure of
speech more than anything else. I let it go and thanked them. They were clearly extremely
wealthy and were collected in a chauffeur driven Mercedes S class while Paula and
I waited for a taxi back to our hotel.
Only I, Varinder would say later, could bump into a group of millionaire Iranians
and have my success in life brought into question by them. Only I would take a figure
of speech and want to construct a serious reply to it. "No wonder Iranians who
know you steer clear of you... remember that Iranian family staying at our Dubai
hotel who stopped coming to the beach after you said hello to them?" I am
afraid I did. I can't resist saying hello to fellow Iranians.