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What makes us
We 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 downhill. We have sucked worse at television broadcasting and music than Jeff Foxworthy and Nelly put together. Hair gel has descended on us like the plague: Iran 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 veins.

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 satellite 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 is 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; it's 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 to our advantage. It has a lot to do with zerangi (loosely tied to the American 'street smarts') but it's still more than that.

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 that stumps 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 before completely 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 some 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 beings.

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, and finally, for not looking like a hustler while pulling it all off.

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.

American/FOB Glossary
* 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.

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