Our Discussions

Social Blunders in America
1 (an American teacher)
I spent 5 years in Iran (1973-1978) and worked at the Free University. Now that I teach Severely Emotionally Disturbed children here in So. CAlif. I've found that I have students that are Iranian and have Farsi roots in their language. When they trigger or lose reality, I have found that talking to them in Farsi, brings them back to reality (or a sense of one). I used to have a book that I bought at the Iran American Society called Colloquial Farsi, would you know where I could find another copy, or one that is close to it.
I miss Iran and all the Shah was attempting to do, education needs to go on no matter who is the ruler. Someday when conditions permit, I will go back there to finish the work I started.
I was wondering, do you have any information on "Social blunders" that Americans (Non Iranian's) could create when talking or instructing Iranian students or talking to their parents? It would be a great help for me.
What I would really like to have is any information on cultural faux Pas that I could document for use in my cultural diversity classes. Like the common "Thumbs Up" gesture is an "up yours" gesture, the beckoning of someone with the palms down, and the showing of the soles of the feet.
There are so many cultural differences that one could inadvertently and unknowingly display to the chagrin of an Iranian person.
Thank you,
2 (a madar)
After #1 asked for information on social blunders that may be between Americans and Iranians, I looked up the term "blunder" and wished I knew the word and the cases of my blunders earlier.
I personally find one misunderstanding of Americans about Eastern cultures awkward: they often don't understand "ta'arof" and take it wrong! (I am talking about its braod meaning, i.e., whenever you offer your help or food or invite them or something) that is they assume that you must have some selfish hidden agenda behind being nice to them. they simply are not used to see strangers being nice to them. I haven't given up the habit of ta'arof, but now I say it up front that it is a cultural habit and I don't expect anything in exchange.
BTW, "ta'arof" is one of those words that has no translation in English, does it?
3 (a mother)
On that subject, is it true that one must not discusses canines while having a meal?
4 (a pedar)
Isn't the most common one showing of the "thumbs up"?
5 ( person #1 )

I'm still working on this and have written a couple of my past colleagues. First, you're right, the "thumbs up" is an "up yours" in Iran. I had an interesting conversation with Malcom Forbes about 20 years ago about that.

Also, and it may be regional, it is not proper etiquette to show the bottoms of your feet (when eating sitting down) (but I found it incredibly intimidating to see my guests wiping their hands on my persian carpets when we were having broiled lamb)..... and then of course, there is the concept of Ta' arof.

I made the mistake of telling my host how much I liked his painting of the Nivaron Palace, I couldn't believe when he took it off the wall and gave it to me. About a month later when he was dining at my place, he "Fell in love" with my crystal decanter. I was a real quick learner.

6 ( a web visitor )

I would be very interested in any book titles referencing Iranian etiquette [the modern as well as the IE:traditional/liberal and conservative] in daily life at all levels of social interaction [family,friends,relationships,work,guests,life events]-including proper behavior between Physicians/Dentists/Optometrists and their patients from first consultation onward and if the writer of the above query for a book I was unable to locate in the search engines plans to write her own to let us know at this site as well.

With the complexity of human interaction contributing to many misunderstandings and at many levels, it would be too easy for an outsider to commit a multitude of faux pas/"Social Blunders" and I'm sure any contributions in the area of book publishing or further discussion would be of constructive merit. Thanks for your replies! I can be e-mailed at

Please send your replies and/or opinions regarding this subject to madar-pedar@surya.eecs.berkeley.edu.

Back to madar-pedar