The art of tarof

The art of tarof

It’s a beautiful part of many Eastern cultures. The warmth and welcoming gestures. The feeling that you are friends even with a complete stranger.

I might have grown up in America, but I am Pakistani, and we always saw our parents treat our guests and others like they were the most important thing. And likewise, it’s a big part of Iranian culture, too.

One thing many joke about here is the way Iranians greet others. You can’t just say, “Salam, how are you?” and call it a day. Nope. This is how an average conversation might start. And not with your neighbor. But even with a mechanic, or a pharmacist.

Salam. Khaste nabasheed.” (Salam. May you not be tired)

Walaikumsalam. Salamat basheed! Zindeh basheed!” (Be healthy, be alive!

Shoma khoobeed? Khanvadehtoon khoob hasteed? Khoda hifzish koneh!” (Are you well? Is your family well? May God protect them!)

And then comes the real tarof. Like when you happen to stop by a friend’s house for something and they invite you in for tea or a meal.

“Befarmayeed!” (Please come in!)

And you start thinking, no way, I can’t impose. But they insist. And insist. And insist…

Some might say, how very pretentious. Because naturally how can anyone just be ready and willing to host a guest at a moment’s notice?

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But in many Eastern cultures, especially those that adhere to Islamic customs, there is a concept that guests bring sustenance. That even if you don’t have enough, but if you share, there will be enough in the end. Personally I have witnessed this many times in my own life. Hosting spur-of-the-moment guests that actually brought more benefits to our home, than headaches. It’s really all in how you take it.

And there is an understanding among people that even if someone insists on inviting you, you politely decline, and they insist, and still you decline….

Do we really need all that? No, not really. Hence the “art of tarof.” And, yes, at times it might be too much. But it really does build a culture of love and warmth. And Iranians are some of the most welcoming people I have met.

One of our first neighbors is such a man that when he says, “Qorboonet beram!” (I will be sacrificed for you), he really means it. I remember one day he and his family were traveling to Tehran and he stopped by to tell us they wouldn’t be all home all day, but that his house was our house, and if we needed anything we could go and take it. Even though we are no longer neighbors, he remains one of our greatest friends.

My husband recalls a time when he was younger and living in Pakistan, and they had guests visiting them from abroad. When the guests arrived, he and his family stood up to welcome them, and didn’t sit down until the guests were seated. After seeing this, one of the guests responded at how “ridiculous” this tradition was.

While sometimes it may seem like too much, for example the constant insisting to take one more serving of food, or the barrage of questions about your family, or the fighting to pay the bill for another, these traditions do build brotherhood and love. Something we seriously lack in many other parts of the world.

What happened to caring for each other? What happened to looking at those different than us as just friends we haven’t met yet? What happened to the art of being nice? I am not talking about trusting everyone, but there is something to be said about thinking about others, instead of just ourselves.