Persian Autumn, adjusting to Tehran
Autumn has been slowly setting in Tehran. The summer dry heat that greeted me at my arrival, has given place to fresher days. Colours have changed too. The vibrant green of the trees has been replaced by yellow and golden shades. Warmer tones that better reflect the sunlight.
The mountains seem undecided. There are days you wake up to a white blanket covering the peaks. But it still melts away so fast you think you dreamt it. The only white left is from the clouds. We are about two months away from real snow after all.
For now it is just nice to sit outside wrapped in warmer clothes or a blanket, holding a steamy cup of Iranian tea sweetened by saffron sugar. If you wait long enough, you can even have some unannounced guests who like to nibble on your flower pots looking for worms.
It has taken time to settle down and readjusting. The grueling task of making a home again from scratch, adapting what you own to the new layout is always a challenge. I love it and at the same time I dread it. I know how tired and frustrated I get when something I thought would fit, does not. I’m constantly rethinking and readapting, trying to make it feel like home again.
I’m sure it will eventually all fall into place but I always feel sorry for the time wasted, when I could be writing or photographing instead. Or more important discovering the city that will be my home for the next years. Patience is a virtue they say. One that seems to elude me at this point but that will come back to me hopefully once all falls into place.
The language barrier is also quite challenging, especially in the beginning. Farsi sounds so different. But slowly, as I learn more words, I don’t feel so lost. I use a lot online dictionaries to communicate which seems to work most of the time. But sometimes, looking at people’s confused expressions, I can’t help worrying not only if the meaning might be wrong but if it could be potentially offensive.
You see there is an important Iranian cultural trait that is essential to understand how things work in Iran. It is called t’aarof. It is the art of politeness that influences all social behavior. A politeness that in general you are expected to know it means just that.
For example at a restaurant, someone refuses to accept your payment explaining you are a guest so it is a gift. You know it is t’aaroof and you are expected to refuse and insist on paying at least three times.
Or a shopkeeper tells you the item you are interested has no value, it is for free, you can give him anything you want. T’aroof rules you have to insist to know the price to open negotiations.
Or someone you don’t know tells you they will invite you or promise they will provide certain services when in fact they don’t expect you to take them up on the offer.
Someone can also tell you tomorrow he will surely help you and you realize it may take two days or more. It will be done but not at the rhythm that you expect. There is a chain of events that should not be broken.
In the West what could be closer to t’aarof is for example when you are invited for dinner and you know someone else is paying the bill. Although you know, the polite thing to do is to offer to pay as well anyway. Or when someone tells you they will call sometime and you know they are just being polite.
In Iran t’aarof is an art used mostly with people you don’t have a relationship with or with distant relatives. The more you know someone and become friends, the less t’aarof is used. Although you should always stay polite of course. As part of the Iranian culture and as a foreigner living in Iran you should try to master t’aarof to avoid misunderstandings.
In spite of everything I need to learn, I’m grateful for the people I have met so far, in particular the owners of our apartment. They have been very kind and helpful in every possible way. I’m glad I could ask questions and find out more about the Iranian way of life. The Iranian hospitality is not a myth and it has been wonderful so far. Autumn is set and my home is getting there. I wonder what winter will bring but in the meantime my first adventure to Isfahan awaits …