Saying what you don’t mean

Cultural Insights — By on August 31, 2007 at 8:05 am

There was an interesting cultural snippet in a recent NY Times interview of novelist Dalia Sofer, who was born in Iran but now lives in New York. It came when Sofer discussed the communication style of Iranians.

I would think that Iranian-born women see memoir-writing as a kind of protest against a society that demands so much stillness and silence of them.

Perhaps. Even Farsi, as a language, is elusive and indirect. There’s this whole idea of taarof – you say something you don’t mean, and the other person is supposed to pick up on it.

For example?

If I am visiting you, I may say, “It is getting late; I must go,” and you say, “No, please stay,” and I am supposed to know that you really want me to go. People have to pick up on codes.

Saying what you don’t mean, but with the assumption that you will still be understood. One more example of how communication styles differ around the globe.

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