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Camel's neck to a dolphin's body
Disparate notes on mating, culture, etcetera

By Ataollah Togha
May 24, 2001
The Iranian

0. The marvelous idea of writing irrelevant things must be first and foremost credited to the staff of who in their infinite wisdom have now founded the tradition of wasting the precious memory of their computer by scanning those photos of things or people that one wouldn't even bother putting together in an album ["Musicman", "Mexico, USA"].

So it made me think if one can array images and pictures without intending to make any meaningful sense out of them, why shouldn't one try doing the same thing with words and paragraphs? (By the way, the reader should know that in they are sometimes very kind and re-paragraph my writings. No, they don't shuffle them. They don't even delete them, thank God. They just cut the long paragraphs to make them shorter, presumably to improve their readability. In one instance, though, they did a pasting too. Grrrr. In what follows there is one long paragraph that may prove a challenge to them, as it only consists of one sentence, peppered with parenthetical interludes. No, no, not this very one!) That's where I started flexing my literary muscles in the most arbitrary fashion in the forum which we all know and cherish under the name: Iranian dot com.

In fact, I had already committed there the sin of incoherency couple of times, but that was far from intentional, and I felt really bad after reading my own extremely vague, utterly condensed, hasty letters here . Now, I can safely ask myself, "Who the hell has the time in this world of mishmash to pause a minute and raise an eyebrow?" (Or two?)

1. Ms. Jaberi's eloquent response to Azadeh's question deserves one round of applause (or two!), but I think almost all she said could be summed up as "shared history". ("Women are, however, by no means conscious of this supreme law `in abstarcto', only `in concreto'", says Schopenhauer in his celebrated essay "On Women", but of course in a totally different context.)

And when I say "history", I mean it both in a macro and in a micro sense of the word: Not only the culture of a people, accumulated throughout centuries and in some cases even millennia, cemented in that people's collective unconscious, manifesting itself in their ways of living, thinking, feeling, their philosophy of life, etcetera, but also on the much smaller scale, which is what has been experienced during the short life-span of the individuals involved and which is also important to be share-able in such a closest form of human relationship.

For example, isn't it great to be able to talk to your spouse about your favorite cartoon broadcast by the state TV when you were growing up in Iran? I think it's even romantic! But since Ms. Jaberi has given excellent examples of this, allow me to spare you any further ado.

Having mentioned that, you should also bear in mind that by restricting yourself to Iranian men, you narrow down an already small window of hope. Hearsay suggests that a good number of the eligible female population even in the heart of our beloved motherland are nowadays quickly approaching their late 20s without their chances of getting married ever increasing.

You may blame the economy, or what has been called Iranian feminism, or globalization, or the demise of a polygamous culture, or whatnot. It doesn't matter just pick some reason according to your taste, because whatever the reason, the fact of the matter remains unchanged.

Now, by choosing to live in America, an Iranian girl shuts quite a few of her doors to meeting the Iranian man of her dreams. And that, mind you, not only because of the smaller number of Iranian fish in the American sea (or rather: "barahoot" -- arid desert.) Because if that was the only reason, Iranian men in America would suffer more, as the female Iranian population is evidently quite smaller in number than male compatriots.

I hate to elaborate on this, but I can't risk your missing the point either. When an Iranian girl lives in America by herself for a while, she unfortunately enters an irreversible process, as if she locks some doors and throws the keys in the sea (and this time not the desert!): She loses her eligibility (which rhymes with another familiar word!) in the eye of a great number of Iranian men, either from among those who still live back home or even those who've been living in the U.S. for decades. Hence, the frustrating -- on the part of single Iranian-American women -- importation of Iranian brides. If you've been raised in Iran, you know how our culture operates; don't you? These sensitivities are tied to our identity as men of the Orient.

For example, as I've noted eslewhere, the words "gheyrat", "naamoos", and the like don't even have exact translations in English , which is telling of the absence of such notions, perhaps thanks to feminism, in their culture. True, there is the word "jealousy" with a negative connotation, and the word "honor", reminiscent of the infamous "honor killings", and thus not at all politically correct in the context or modern relationships.

You should also remember that you're not going to attract men forever. If I were Azadeh, and wise, I'd forget about the Iranian/non-Iranian question. I just wouldn't have time for this. I'd get a husband, get a life. An Arabic saying puts it very beautifully: "Those who want it all are bound to lose it all." (man t.alab al-kullu faata-hu -l-kul!)

I just can't help but wonder why the factor of time is so much underplayed by the present generation of women. Isn't it perhaps because women's movement has produced a lot more illusion for them of being in control, than it has actually managed to change the real situation in that promised direction?

Anyway, having said all that, you shouldn't disregard the fact that American (and in general: Western) men are probably much less controlling than a traditional backward Iranian man, such as yours truly. They respect you a lot more and they don't treat you like manure, and they don't take you for granted.

Little are their choices. For, do you think the poor American guy, no matter how much well-off he might be, can decide when he wants to get married? No way! First he has to be lucky and meet the right person, spend a lot of time with her, not to mention energy, fall in love, convince himself, convince her, meet the parents (funny movie!), and even if he finally manages to get married and start a family with his beloved girl, then he has to worry about the at least 50% chance of becoming the victim of a heartbreaking divorce. So they'd better be careful.

It is funny, but it seems that in pursuing equality of the sexes, feminism, failing in its promises to make women happier in their relationship with men, has pursued to make men more miserable, instead. At least then we'll all be equal!

Be aware that you can't plausibly expect your American husband to love your children the way an Iranian men would. Children, it seems to me, have a rather transitory role in American family. Remember that familiar scene in American TV when the guy comes home and gives a passionate kiss to his wife, but only pats the little boy on the head. Well, maybe that's because he's not 100% convinced that it's his real son, and for good reason!

Whereas in Iran, children are their parents' expected proverbial "asaa-ye dast-e piri" (walking stick for when the parents are frail). This may explain how much Iranian parents feel like losers when they are left alone back home, their children gone abroad for good, all hopes and dreams of being with them shattered, wondering whether any of their children would be at their death bed, and their only source of joy being the thought of their children having made it to a supposedly happier state of being.

2. You often hear from shock-struck immigrants that they are trying to collect good attributes of tw cultures, mix them well in a pot so that finally a universally good culture is cooked up. (See for example, Rasheed's response to Azadeh's plea.)

Aside from the philosophical problem that this simple-minded, albeit well-intentioned act of cookery faces (Briefly: good and bad are defined WITHIN each culture and you may have a hard time standing outside all cultures with an open -- or rather, blank -- mind and deciding what is good in them and what is not so good), and also aside from the fact that what I've witnessed so far among my beloved Iranian expatriates as the result of such attempts has often been a repugnant mixture.

Example: We never seem to learn to respect each other's right, say, in the morning line for freshly baked noon-barbari, but we are in such a hurry to do away with whatever is left with our sexual morality, in order to become as quickly modern as possible. It is ridiculous how we get more Catholic than the Pope himself, and reprimand American people for making such a fuss over their president's loose fly, every student of elementary anthropology knows that, although with no sharp and well-definable boundaries, each culture has its own inner "logic", behaves like a separate organism and neither can be forced to change drastically, nor can you just transplant, as every first year medical student concedes, a camel's neck to a dolphin's body, or something.

The closest you can get is to develop skills to tolerate the strangeness of the Other, but you can't possibly hope to make it part of your already shaped self, in case you are born into and raised under the sovereignty of a certain well-established culture, no matter how much you splay your mind open. You simply can't embrace both that culture and an alien culture, or arbitrarily mix them together. Plain and simple: As a human being, a cultural creature, you are basically doomed!

It's not a bad idea to use something like a little simile here. If you haven't been exposed to an English-speaking atmosphere as a child or a young adult, you can never ever shed your accent completely, unless you are a verbal genius. Why is that? Are people's voice boxes anatomically different? Nonsense! And language is but one cultural component, though a very concrete one.

So, I tend to assume that same is true of all other components of culture, from customs and values, sense of beauty especial to each culture (How many Westerners can relate to -- rearrange the letters of "relate to" to get at "tolerate"! -- Persian music?), religious convictions, etcetera. Let me borrow an example from Dr. Eslami-Nodoushan: You may have seen otherwise scantily-clad Iranian women, whose dancing with this and that strange men doesn't prevent them from throwing sofre-ye hazrat-e Abbas parties!)

3. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: I've contradicted myself and you've caught me there. If that exemplary (not really) Iranian girl, who is an avid lambada dancer, vows to ask her mom to make shole-zard and give to neighbors if her boyfriend proposes to her in the course of next six months, then it's just an instance of what Dariush Shayegan aptly coins as "Cultural Schizophrenia". Even if this horrendous confusion is not a psychosis, I think it sure embodies some symptoms of neurosis. At least it inflicts some pain!

4. I would gladly analyze for you this phenomenon of cultural estrangement (if not schizophrenia), but I'm afraid I'm running out of hoseleh. Besides, I'm not sure if will publish this. Sorry guys, maybe next time someone writes a provocative article in The Iranian which I get a chance to read, I'll tell you about it. (I liked some of Mr. Baniameri's humorous fictions, but I can't find time -- or hoseleh? -- to follow his work recently, but I guess from the Letters Section that they must be pretty cool!)

Fortunately, unlike the's editor, my editor is equipped with a spell-checker and so I have tried to minimize the errors in this writing, but I hope the intelligent readership forgive all the remaining English mistakes, but take the time to get me out of the dark if they thinks I'm in the dark. I also hope the readers appreciate the literary genre of bursting things out as they come to mind, in a har-che-mikhaahad-del-e-tang-at-beguy manner and without making an attempt at seeking coherence.

But if not, just blame Musicman who started all this, or the springtime scenes and scents! By the way, I would've written these anonymously, but refuses to publish anonymous postings, or at least so they claim. You know, for some time I was really curious to figure out the real identity of xAle, speaking of whom, I don't know why goes out of his way to "correct" my transliteration of Farsi words into English, but doesn't care enough to change "xAle" to, say, "khaaleh". Do they really bother to read and "correct" all this stuff?! Jesus! And good for them! But maybe they just read the interesting ones, or just the dubious ones? Anyway, I prefer my own standardized method of transliteration, thank you very much. [Too bad -- editor]

5. If you enjoy ramblings of similar form and content, I encourage you to read the last chapter of "Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women", by Elizabeth Wurtzel with an intriguing title: "Did I shave my legs for this?" It's much more well-written than this siyaah-mashq of mine. It starts with a sentence which reminded me of the first amazingly captivating sentence of Hedayat's "Blind Owl": "dar zendegi zakhm-haa-'i hast ke mesl-e khore ruh raa aaheste dar enzevaa mikhorad va mitaraashad..."

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