Gollar: I was not at all familiar with the Iranian mentality, culture and ﬁgures of speech, while Sasson used to use literal translations of Iranian idioms when speaking German. So when Sasson said that someone’s arms are longer than his legs, he meant that the person is very sad or disappointed practically bent over with sadness, but I looked at their arms and legs. When he said someone’s nails were dry, I looked at their ﬁngernails, while Sasson actually meant they were stingy; and when he said someone’s eyes are very salty, I thought he was talking nonsense, and didn’t realize what he meant was a man who always looks at women.
This was not peculiar to Sasson. One day, when I was out with some Iranian girl-friends, a very nice looking man passed by. My friends giggled and said, “Look at that man’s shoes, how nice they are!” Any Iranian would have understood that they were referring to the man himself, but I really tried to understand what beauty they found in his shoes!
Sasson: Now, after 55 years of living together, Gollar’s command of the Persian language — including idioms — is really astounding. Unbelievable, even, for someone who grew up in Europe and rarely visited Iran.
Some Iranian ﬁgures of speech
pedaramo dar āvordand “they took out my father”: They made it difficult for me, they made my life a living hell (very useful for describing bureaucracy!)
rāst migi? “are you speaking the truth?”: Don’t lie!
māst māli kardan “to spread yoghurt”: Do a negligent job
be dard-e man nemikhore “it doesn’t eat to my pain”: It’s not useful for me
kojāi? “where are you?”: How are you doing?
šekast khorde “loser” (literally: having lost/failed): Experienced
Iranians also have a special type of speech called ta’arof. It’s not exactly manners or politeness, and it’s doesn’t comply with the truth-lie distinction of Westerners. Maybe it’s best to explain it through some examples:
If you tell someone about something you did without them, you must say jāt khāli “your place (was/is) empty,” that is, “you were missed,” Even if you didn’t think about them at all! (But you also say this if you did miss them. It’s tricky.) For example, jāt khāli raftim sinemā means “We went to the movies (and) your place was empty.” The answer to jāt khāli should be dustān jāye man “the friends are in my place,” that is, “I wasn’t really missed, the friends ﬁlled my place.” To which the answer would be na, jāt sabz shode! “no, your place became green,” that is, it was so empty, it sprouted grass.
If you turn your back to someone (for example, when talking to another person), you have to apologize, and when you apologize, the other person must say gol posht o ru nadāre “a ﬂower does not have a back and a front (side).”
When offered something — food, presents etc. — you must ﬁrst refuse and the giver has to insist. This can go on forever, but in the end you are obligated to accept. When you give a present, which can be very expensive, you have to say qābel nadāre “it’s worthless.” The answer for this would be (ammā) sāhebesh qābel dāre! “but the owner (=the giver) is worthy!”
mozāhemet nemisham “I won’t bother you” actually means “I’m going to bother you,” and the answer should be na, aslan mozāhem nisti “You’re not bothering (me) at all,” even if they are.
kāri nadāri? “do you have no work?” is a way to say goodbye. It’s not rude — it actually means “don’t you have anything else you want me to do for you?”
Ways to say “thank you”:
khodā qovvat “God’s power”
dastet dard nakone “may your hands not hurt” (the answer to this is saret dard nakone “may your head not hurt”)
damet garm “may your breath be warm” (warm breath means you’re alive)
And also simple words like mamnoon, sepasgozāram, motashakeram, merci…