Iranian-ness (2)


Saideh Pakravan
by Saideh Pakravan

Condemned to be only Iranian?

When people ask me if I’m happy to be Iranian, my response is that the part of the world I was born in is an accident of birth, not something to be happy or unhappy about. Then comes the follow-up question: “But are you proud to be Iranian?” I’m not sure I understand. What is considered here? Is my being Iranian an award bestowed on me for some exceptional achievement? Is it the result of a particularly trying and grueling effort on my part? Are the splendors of ancient Persepolis and of Ispahan, the magnificent and fairly continuous Persian art and thought, the physical beauty of Iran, and the importance of the country in world history and as part of world heritage partly or entirely my doing?

The short answer to these questions is that I am Iranian. Does that commit me in some way to be, think, and act -- specifically and always -- within a framework of Iranian-ness? Here’s an example: Many cultural events occur in the two cities where I live -- Washington and Paris -- and I attend quite a few. I have learned to minimize these activities when I talk with most fellow Iranians. Not only do they resent the fact that I and my family speak French -- as we have for generations for reasons too complicated to go into here -- but they don’t understand that I would be interested in anything non-Iranian. Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I don’t tell them that my house has many rooms.

By now, I know better than to take visitors on a tour of the Louvre or the Metropolitan without heading directly to the Persian sections. One family I was showing around the Art Institute of Chicago made long faces until one of them said, “Don’t they have anything Iranian here?” At a dinner in Paris recently, I mentioned attending a tremendous performance of Rigoletto in the Luxembourg Gardens. An acquaintance present, a cultured woman who knows her Verdi, looked at me with a blank expression until I mentioned that the cast had been diverse in the extreme. Perking up, she asked me if I had seen any Iranian name, only to lose interest again when I said I had not.

I’m also expected to apologize for not writing in Persian. “Don’t you want Iranians to read you?” people say. I won’t apologize. First of all, a great many Iranians are fluent in a number of languages. And then, writing in another language -- French, my first, and English, my second -- is not an insult directed at my fellow country people. I am lucky enough to live in countries where freedom exists so I am free to express myself in any language I choose. My being Iranian doesn’t condemn me to have only Iranian interests.

I was recently spoken to severely because I’d not read the books or even heard the name of an Iranian novelist apparently well-known in France. I read all the time but there is no way I can read everything. Is a novel by a new Iranian writer a priority when there are so many tremendous novelists, essayists, and poets -- of many origins -- that I want to read? Not necessarily. Does my being Iranian obligate me to consider it so? You tell me.


Recently by Saideh PakravanCommentsDate
Good cinema, bad history
Nov 18, 2012
My house has many rooms
Oct 24, 2012
Radical Islamism falling apart? Inshallah!
Sep 30, 2012
more from Saideh Pakravan
persian westender


by persian westender on

There are some evidences that acculturation may be associatd with better mental health. For Iranian immigrants, it has yet to be proven.



Iranian-ness = napping Elliott Ness!

by Anonymouse on


Are we the only ones?

by divaneh on

I think you will find that type of attitude everywhere and in all nations especially those with long histories. I have come across many French people who loved everything French and seemed to show more interest in anything that was linked to their culture.

This feeling may be especially strong in the case of Iranians arising from the common feeling that the world has undermined the Iranians contributions in all fields of science and humanities. There are different reasons for this, from the Western writers of history and their unintentional bias, to the Arabic names of the Iranian scientist and philosophers, to the bad name and reputation that we have unfairly endured for the last 30 years. We yearn for that missing appreciation.

maziar 58


by maziar 58 on

when some peoples ask me where I'm from ?




You're not obligated to

by Vishtaspa on

But you seem to take pride in avoiding your heritage, which makes it not your heritage. I understand your distaste for being told how you "should" act, but it simply seems like you're childishly attempting to thumb your nose at the more nationalistically-inclined Iranians here.

If you don't associate with our culture as much as other Iranians, and it's a personal problem for you (which it obviously is) then the solution is simple: Don't call yourself Iranian. No one is begging you not to do so.

Go ahead and be a proud, ghormeh sabzi-eating, farsi-accented "Frenchwoman".

Jahanshah Javid

The rest of the world

by Jahanshah Javid on

I know what you mean. I think this may have something to do with the large exodus from Iran since 1979. Most of us miss Iran and we compensate by seeking and devouring anything Iranian.

But I know how overwhelming it can be. One of the reasons I have lived in Mexico for more than a year is that there are no Iranians or Iranian events. I left the San Francisco Bay Area for Chihuahua because it was impossible for me to appreciate Iranian friends, relatives and events every single day.

I spend most of my day, every day, on I give my all and get a lot of satisfaction in return. But beyond that, I need a break from everything Iranian.

I've also lost the desire to go back to Iran. I can't see myself ever going back. And it's not just because of the Islamic Republic. It's mostly because I want to see the rest of the world. To experience cultures other than my own. We are human, before Iranian.

Azadeh Azad

Despotism + National chauvinism

by Azadeh Azad on

What you are relating to us seems to be a combination of psychological despotism that is hostile to people's individuality and narrow-minded national chauvinism that rejects all things non-Iranian. The good news is that this is a trait that is sometimes found among the older generation. The new generation of Iranians, both inside and outside of the country, are much more internationalists both in their values and in their openness to all things global village.

Citoyenne du village global,



There are many of us...

by Princess on

and no you are not obliged. I totally sympathize with the following sentence,

"I have learned to minimize these activities when I talk with most fellow Iranians. ... but they don’t understand that I would be interested in anything non-Iranian."  

but would add that not all Iranians are that way.  I would also add that I resent being told what I should care about, what I should like, or how I should feel just because I am Iranian. I can't stand being pigeon-holed, be it as an Iranian, a German, an American or .... I may be any number of things, as long as its not expected of me, but go out of my way to be none of them the moment I feel it is expected of me.

Thanks, I enjoy reading your thoughts. 

David ET

No You are not obligated !

by David ET on

If it was not for those like Ferdowsi who in the midst of Arabism committed his life to make Iranians proud of their past and presence(through history and literature ).... the term Iranian may have been a thing of the past by now as many nations who have come and gone.

Some have to hold the torch or it will eventually die and no you don't have to be one of them. 

Enjoy the freedom that is given to you in the West , but also remember that it did come at a price paid by "French", "Americans",...

since you asked :-)