So long ago was I first in Iran, that at the same time the initial heart transplants were taking place in South Africa. Once the news reached Iran, various healthy individuals volunteered their hearts for transplant. This seemed to me “the ultimate ‘taruf’.” What I wonder is, how can we understand this offer? Were the volunteers sincere? Was the offer to be taken literally? If not, what do the words mean?
Taruf more generally appears to be the use of words for effect and affect, but not in a literal sense. Visiting someone’s home, one may well hear the following: “You like this rug? Please take it. No, really, you must take it. It is nothing. Here, I’ll wrap it up for you.” Such an instruction is to convey a desire to satisfy the listener, and to show that the relationship is more important than a material object. Also that the owner does not consider merely material objects important. And that the owner values generosity above all. However, my advice would be, don’t take the rug. You are not intended to take the rug. The words are not to be taken literally. They are being used pragmatically to generate a sentiment.
We can raise the question to a more general level: Is there a heavier emphasis in Persian culture on the pragmatic use of words, than in other cultures? And, at the same time, are literal semantics less often used? If this is the case–and so far only the question has been raised, and no answer given–what are the reasons for this in Persian society and culture, and what are the consequences in Persian society?
To what extent would the reliance on language pragmatics, if this were to be established, explain a report from today’s NATIONAL POST ( about the failure of drug trials in Iran? Here are the initial paragraphs:

Canadian researchers studying the effects of a heart drug two years ago tried to expedite the experiment by farming out much of their clinical-trial work to developing countries, where suitable human subjects are easy to find and costs rock-bottom low.
But when they looked into some suspicious data coming out of a trial site in Iran, the scientists made a startling discovery. The study results there turned out to be largely fraudulent, to the point where one patient listed by the Iranian researchers as dead was still very much alive.
"It was bad, so bad we thought the data was not salvageable," said Dr. Gordon Guyatt, part of the research group at McMaster University in Hamilton. "It's a different culture, a culture with a lack, perhaps, of a long-standing research tradition dedicated to high standards and integrity."

The question here is whether the difficulties that the Canadian scientists discovered are limited to a lack of research traditions, or whether they reflect something larger in Persian culture. If the latter, what difficulties do these characteristics present to Iranians in their daily lives and in broader social and political lives?

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Ta'ruf is a ritual designed to "break the ice", usually between strangers and it is sometimes a prelude to initiating a symbolic (and transitory) form of balanced or even negative reciprocity. However, its construction is in jest. The suggestion that during an introductory social intercourse a host, out of the cold, would observe "you like this rug?" and offer "please take it.." is removed from the local Iranian cultural text. It is likely that such an observation follows "what a nice rug, great design and colors..." by the guest stranger. Such an exchange would be out of place among members of circles of kinship, friendship, and other familiar social relations. Ta'ruf-like rituals and symbolic exchanges are available in all human societies. Philip, the picture on the cover of your "Pastoralists" is so biblical, wow! You know I should not hold my breath for a free copy.

I don't understand the relationship between what produced the unsalvagable data and Iranian ta'ruf. Notions about "lack of research traditions" and "something larger in Persian culture" are familiar Western imaginings of the non-European Other. It is likely that the catalyst for the failure of the Canadian "scientific" experiment is incompetence in Iranian culture and the inadequacy of the "clinical-trial"culture of the McMasterites for crossing cultural borders.
The Nuclear Thing & Other Persian Riddles

"Farsi provides a multi-dimensionality that allows its speakers to deny truth in a most truthful way."

Dispatch from Tehran | 10 Sept 2009
[Mohammad Taqi] Karoubi's letter to IRIB

Mashrote News | Oct. 8, 2009

"It is quite unfortunate that the culture of lying has become an inseparable part of the executive branch. ... this personal attribute [of making things up]. ...the Islamic Republic's broadcasting service has also been transformed to a medium that spreads this vile culture [of lying] and the result is the lack of trust people feel towards this public medium.
....The accusations made in that interview [Ahmadinejad's] are pure lies...."

Of course, it is not unique to Iran that accusations of untruthfulness and direct lying are made about political opponents. The blogosphere is full of such accusations about President Obama and his administration, and its supporters have not been shy of directing similar assertions, as well as others, toward its opponents.



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