Kabul Diaries: lost in translation


by Princess

Having the local artisans so close to where we worked was very convenient. It meant that we could draw up a detail of a door handle or latch, walk down the street to the blacksmith and ask them to make it for us. As most local artisans did not know how to read drawings, often our ideas had to be communicated to them verbally.Taking advantage of my ‘Farsi skills’, my colleagues often asked me to accompany them to various workshops. 

A few days before my departure one of my colleagues, Mike, walked into the office and said, ‘I am just coming from the blacksmith. He was asking after you.’ Surprised, I asked, ‘What did he want?’ The reply came with a big grin, ‘I don’t know. He was just asking me where the American lady was?’ Everybody in the office broke into laugher. I waited for them to quiet down before I added jokingly, ‘Oh no! My life is in an even bigger danger than I had originally thought. He thinks I am American?’ Mike replied, ‘I think he believes he has been speaking English to you all this time.’

Although Dari is considered an older version of Farsi, it is spoken in a different accent and, as I soon found out, many everyday objects have different names in Dari. While my communication skills with the locals were much better than my European colleagues’, they were by no means as perfect as they could have been. So I was rather pleased with myself to find that my Dari skills seemed to improve rapidly during my short stay in Kabul. After all, my comprehension seemed to steadily improve every day.

All would have been well, if only I had stayed away form the site on that last Thursday. On my final day at work, when going around to say my goodbyes, I found out that as word had began to spread that I was of Iranian origin, completely unbeknownst to me, many locals who had spent years in Iran had begun speaking Farsi to and around me. In other words, not only were my Dari skills not improving at all, apparently I couldn’t even tell the difference between Farsi and Dari! 


Recently by PrincessCommentsDate
Love Crimes of Kabul
Aug 10, 2011
When you come this way
Apr 06, 2011
Kabul Bank Shooting in Jalalabad
Feb 24, 2011
more from Princess

Thank you, dear friends!

by Princess on

Bajenaghe jan, you are being very kind. Thank you!

Dear Yolanda, thanks for being so enthusiastic.

Ari jan, your generous comment warmed my heart.

Benross, thank you very much for sharing your stories. That was really funny. Did you know that in Dari, changal is 'panja'? so now I know what both fork and spoon are in Dari. :)

Anonymous jan, yes my Farsi is definitely better than my Persian too!

Red Wine aziz, thank you my friend. I very much enjoyed the clip!

Abarmand, I am glad you have been enjoying the diaries. Believe it or not, everybody wanted to talk about Tehran with me. :) I have a couple of more diary entries to post in the next few days, and then I am going to stop with this round until my next trip. Thanks for reading.

MPD jan, yeah, what is that all about?? I get that, too in Iran! But this is different, I mean, sure the guy can tell I am a foreigner, but American? And no, I definitely don't look American. You have to dress American to look American, and I don't. :) 

Nazy jan-e aziz, thank you very much for your warm words and kind encouragements. They mean a lot to me. 

Have a lovely Thanksgiving everybody!


Let's agree to disagree.

by Princess on


Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment and share opinion. I respect your right to refer to our mother tongue as Persian. I hope you respect mine as well.  

Thank you for your interest!  

Nazy Kaviani

Excellent writing, excelleting storytelling!

by Nazy Kaviani on

Princess Jan, you have done a superb job of chronicling your trip to a land insufficiently known and revered by Iranians. Thank you for taking your big, beautiful heart with you and for filling it with all these sentiments, and for sharing them with us. Very touching and very important information my friend. Kudos!

Multiple Personality Disorder

It's like whenever I go back home...

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

...even strangers know that I am a "foreigner".  When I questioned one of the merchants from a bazaar in Esfahan about how he knows I've been living abroad, he replied, "It's so obvious.  You must have lived there at least for twenty years." and left it at that.  I guess we begin to look differently.  I guess you look American.

Thank you for another good writing.


Thanks for another nice blog

by Abarmard on

I enjoyed your Kabul series very much. Please let us know what the individual wanted to talk about :)

Happy travel

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

Very intresting and nice.

Thank you Princess jan :=) .

Dedidate it to You .


Nice story! I now feel my Farsi is better than my Persian!

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.


It reminded me a story of

by benross on

It reminded me a story of many many years ago, before all these troubles and at the time of Zaher Shah.

I friend of mine had a trip to Kabul. Iranian movies were very popular in Kabul he said. And they were all comedy movies, even if they were not intended to be. For example an Afghani was quite entertained when in a movie someone was shouting 'pedareto dar miyaaram'!

He also mentioned an amusing experience in a restaurant. He was communicating in Persian with the waiter and there was no problem. But at the end he indulged himself using an English word, asking for the BILL.

The waiter stayed perplexed for a while, then he figured it all out with a big smile. He went back to the kitchen and came back with a spoon!

Ari Siletz

3 H

by Ari Siletz on

Humble, humane, humorous.    Your refreshing and eye-opening blog diary is the use of language at its noblest. 



by yolanda on

 Hi Princess,

      Thank you for the blog and thank you for answering my question from the other blog, so apparently no big difference between Dari and Farsi.

Hi! Pejman7,

      Thank you for your post and link. I read the reference you provided............... It is interesting that California offers "Farsi" test for bi-lingual teachers, they did not call it "Persian":


Delaram Banafsheh (Yolanda)

"Cactus in the Desert"

bajenaghe naghi

Princess jan

by bajenaghe naghi on

Your story was realy interesting and I did not expect the ending in hezar saal. :-)


In English it's called "PERSIAN"

by Pejman7 on

"Farsi" and "Dari" are local names of the Persian language. In English the name of this language is "Persian". Do you use the native term of "Deutsch" instead of "German" in English? no. then how use "Farsi" instead of "Persian".

Meanwhile some mistakably believe that, in
English, the official language of Iran should be called “Farsi,” while
the language spoken in Tajikistan or Afghanistan should be labeled as
“Dari,” and “Persian” should be utilized to refer to all of them!
However, the difference between the Persian spoken in Iran,
Afghanistan, or Tajikistan is not significant and substantial enough to
warrant such a distinction and classification. Consider the following
case. An Egyptian and a Qatari engage in a conversation in Arabic. They
will encounter a great deal of difficulties in comprehending each
other. Despite this fact, however, the language used in their
conversation is referred to as “Arabic.” No one will even attempt to
classify their respective dialects separately and refer to them as
“Qatari” and “Egyptian”! On the other hand, Persians, Tajiks or Afghans
can converse in Persian and easily understand each other. Then, why
should their dialects be classified separately and referred to by
different names?

MORE INFO:  //heritage.chn.ir/en/Article/?id=88