My daughter and I went to a friend’s house to visit his mother — paying respects?! She comes to the US every year to maintain a valid Green Card and her American residency status — I also enjoy some of the goodies she sometimes brings and I was hoping she’d have something for me this time too — some Pesteh (pistachio nuts) or some Shirini Khosk (cookies) from Ladan bakery.
She is a very together 75-year-old lady. My parents’ generation, and a typical older traditional Iranian woman. The type who believes and does because that’s what everyone else does. Instead of referring to scientific or proven facts she regularly uses “Migan this … and Migan that”. Who are these people?!
Anyway … there are a lot of different phrases in Farsi to ask how someone is doing. We also sometimes use all of them in one encounter with the same person! The following is the actual conversation I had with Khanoom Naz, my friend’s mother: Bahram: Salam, Khanoom Naz Moshtaaghe Deedaar! (eager/happy/delighted to see you Khanoom Naz)
Khanoom Naz: Salamalekom Bahram khan, haale shomaa, ahvaale shomaa? Khoobi? Haalet khoobe? Ahvaalet chetoreh? Cheekaar mikoni? Salaamatee, chetoreen shomaa? Khoob hasti? Khoshee? Chetoree pesaram? Cheekaaraa mikoni … Cheh ajab!” (How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you? What a surprise to see you! )
She said all this in one breath. (Now you try exhaling and saying all that in one breath.)
“Cheh Ajab?!”, I thought. We made plans 2-3 weeks in advance through a few phone calls and several email messages — In fact when we went inside, she even had tea ready with cookies and Toote Khosk (dehydrated mulberries). She was as ready as one can be, yet, customarily she says “Cheh Ajab” — “What a surprise”!
Bahram: Baaaleh – man khoobam. Shomaa haaletoon khoobe? (Yes — I am fine, how are you?)
This was too intense a conversation, even for me. She sounded like a answering machine recording that repeated the same words over and over again. I think for the nearly one hour that we spent with Khanoom Naz, she did not say anything else and we did not figure out how her flight was, or anything else for that matter.
The “Cheh Ajab” phrase, regardless, reminded me of an experience I had a few months ago and how we sometimes use certain expressions and phrases in Farsi: My daughter was going on a short trip with a couple of her friends to Northern California. Making sure that her car won’t break down and they won’t get stranded, I took her car to a local Persian mechanic.
Also to make sure that I get the best of service, I told him and explicitly emphasized that my 17 year old was going on a trip and I brought the car to him to be specifically as preventive as possible.
Well, I went back later that day to pick up the car. Raymond (e.g. his real name is Rahman) in a very complex caring, demanding, and surprised combination of body language and facial expression said: “Agha, mikhaasti in bachche baa in machine bereh Tahoe?” (Did you want your kid go to Tahoe in this car?)
… I think there is something about this question that is either missing, confusing, or wrong, particularly when mixed with that body language and tone of voice. I myself and voluntarily brought the car to him. It wasn’t the case that he intercepted the trip and said: “Hey Bahram, before she leaves, let me check out this car in case there is anything wrong and AMEN … aren’t we lucky that I stopped you before you send your kid away in this badly broken car.” No, that was not the case. I TOOK IT THERE MYSELF!