USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Farsi’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Persian Proverb

RN is the informant, PH is myself. Our conversation began as follows:

PH: Do you know any legends, jokes, proverbs that you especially like?

RN: Proverb?

PH: Yeah

RN: Can it be in another language?
PH: Yes

The informant then told me of a Vietnamese proverb which is documented in a different entry. Afterward, the conversation continued:

RN: A Persian one I really like is… My friend taught me how to say it…
[says in persian], [it means that] the walls have mice and the mice have ears.

The proverb in Farsi/Persian is:

دیوار موش داره٬ موش هم گوش داره

The phonetic spelling is:
divār muš dāre, muš ham guš dāre

The informant was taught this proverb, both its pronunciation and its translation, by a friend he went to high school with who immigrated to the U.S. (Irvine, CA) from Iran at age 6.

Folk speech
Tales /märchen

“Yeki bood, yeki nabood”

My friend Panteha is of Iranian descent on her dad’s side. She recalls a phrase in Farsi that her dad would always use to begin stories or fairy tales he told her as a kid.

The phrase is, in the original Farsi:
یکی بود یکی نبود

It is transliterated as “Yeki bood yeki nabood,” which roughly translates to “once there was one and once there wasn’t one.” This phrase is used in essentially the same manner in which many english speakers use “once upon a time” to begin folk narratives, particularly tales. Although these phrases have different literal translations, they serve the same purpose: to establish the fantastical or fictional nature of a folk narrative.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Proud Eagle

“This is a story about an eagle and the issue of pride that has been, uhh… told generations after generations to caution the young generations about not to be too proud of themselves and be humble. I’ll say this story in Farsi first, and then translate it in English. [Tells story in Farsi]

Now translate in English, the story about a proud, extremely proud eagle. And as he was flying, I… says to himself, ‘I’m so proud of myself, and my power, and how I can see things, and I’m the strongerest, the strongest eagle on Earth, and anything down there, if it moves, I can tell, I can sense it.’

As he was flying, a hunter down below, using bow and arrow, aimed at her… uhh… and sh… sh…, you know, aimed an arrow at her. Uhh… so causes the eagle to start falling. As… he was, uhh… I’m sorry, I changed my pronouns! You know, I went from he and she; can we redo that?”

No, it’s fine, you can keep going!

“[Laughs] Okay. As he was falling down, uhh, he was looking at the arrow that caused him to fall, and noticed that the, uhh, the important thing that was guiding the arrow was a feather of another eagle. That caused his fall. And eventually his demise.

So the story goes to explain that, uhh, most of the things that are happening to us, are as a result of some of the things we’re doing, uhh, due to our neglect, due to our incompetence, that’s happening to us.”

 

Analysis: This story is very similar to tales and proverbs in other parts of the world relating to pride. I am reminded of the English phrase, “Pride comes before the fall,” which is itself derived from the Bible. It seems to be a very common belief that excess pride often results in one’s own misfortune, but it is interesting to note that in this case, the story is told from the perspective of the Eagle. Not only this, but the hunter is not seen as good or evil, he is instead a merely neutral actor. This places all of the responsibility for wrongdoing on the Eagle’s pride, instead of the entity that caused the Eagle direct harm.

Narrative

Mullah Nasreddin and Growing Older

“Okay, umm… I’m gonna tell you about the Mullah Nasreddin. He was a wi- wiseguy, and he was always say things that sound like stupid, but really it had a lot of meaning. Uhh… Mullah Nasreddin, umm… he… one day he was walking in the street, and the guy, friend, came and he says, ‘How old are you, Mullah?’

And Mullah says that, ‘I’m 40 years old.’

‘Oh, okay. I thought you told me that 10 years ago you’re 40 years old. What happened, you’re not getting old… older?’

He says, ‘No, even if you come hundred years from now ask me, I’m still gonna be 40 years old.’

And he says, ‘Why?

He says, ‘Because a man doesn’t change his mind. He is always what he says and what he’s gonna be.’

So, umm… Gonna tell you the Farsi. [Tells story in Farsi].

So, is just telling about how stubborn mens are [laughs].”

Analysis: Mullah Nasreddin stories are very common in Persian culture because they are a humorous way to impart life lessons, especially on children. Mullah was famous for playing the fool, but always having a bit of hidden meaning or wisdom in what he was saying or doing, as is present here. This story comments on how pointlessly stubborn many people can be, to the point of ignoring facts, and how humorously childish it is to do so rather than embrace reality.

Legends
Narrative

The Persian King and the Plate

“Uhh, I am going to tell you about the, one of the, Iran’s king. That… umm… He loved France and he used to travel over there. And so finally they send a salesperson to his castle to sell, sell him some china from France. And they bring their best china and say, ‘Oh, you need this, you know, for when you have a party and this.’

And he just picked it up, and look at it, and he says ‘Okay, let’s go outside.’

And the guy just look at him and say, ‘Why do we have to go outside?’ [laughs]

He says, ‘Well, we just, let’s just go outside.’

So he goes outside and he tells one of the, uhh, uhh, person that it was was selling him, go get some of the, umm… the plate we use. So he goes and bring the, the plate they were using that time, it was, uhh, made from, umm, copper. And they would put the, umm, zinc over it, they would make it really hot, and put the zinc over it, umm… with a cloth they would just go all over, and it turns white, just like a silver. And they had to do that every year.

So he, they go and bring a set of that, and then, he’s sitting on the horse, and going around, and then, he just picked up the china, and keeps throwing them, and then they would break. And then he gets the, the, umm… copper one, and he keeps throwing it, and it doesn’t break.

And he says, ‘Why do you think I’m gonna pay all that money for the things you throw it, it breaks, and I have this, I’ve been using it for years, and it still looks the same?’

And then, the, the salesperson just look at him, and he just leave the uhh… umm… castle, and he just goes and never comes back. So that’s the story of the Persian king that he didn’t want to spend his money for something is not good. It just, like, to him, it was like wasting money. If it can use those plate instead of that. [Tells story in Farsi].”

Analysis: This legend is told in order to teach people the value of thrift and tradition. Its central moral is similar to the English phrase, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” The King of Iran, as the protagonist of the story, attempts to illustrate that traditions exist for good reason, and that just because somebody else thinks something is nice, it doesn’t mean that you should, too. While a nationalistic tale of sorts, the story is used to impart important lessons to the audience.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Devil in Angel’s Clothing

Informant Tahereh Behshid is 78 years old and recalled a proverb she was taught as a young child.

I wanted to know if you could possibly talk about some proverbs you might have used when you were a child in Iran, and the context that you would use those proverbs in. So… do you have an example for me?

“Yes, my name is Tahereh Behshid, and the thing we usually heard from parents, it was [speaking in Farsi] ‘shaytan delah baseh fereshte.’ The devil in angel’s clothing. That means you watch out for the people, they come to you, around you. When they act very nice to you, you have to see what their intention is. So… that’s what it was.”

Analysis: Like many proverbs passed from parent to child, this one deals with imparting a valuable life lesson in very few words. Tahereh grew up as a poor woman in a rapidly modernizing urban area of Iran’s capital, and so with the influx of strangers to her hometown, this advice was likely to be especially valuable. She taught the same lessons, albeit in English, to her own children in the United States, who then passed them on to their children.

Proverbs

A Wolf is Still a Wolf, even if Raised among Humans

Do you have a proverb that you were taught as a child that you would like to share?

“The translation is like this… The wolf is still a wolf, even if raised among humans. Probably should say by humans, huh?… [speaking in Farsi] ‘Al-gorbetteh ghorgzadeh ghorg shabat… gar chabeh a debi bezorghche’ .”

And what context would you use this in?

“Uhh, generally used in the areas that you uhh… you work hard to uhh… eh… to change somebody’s nature, and uhh… you never succeed because it’s change people’s nature. Something to that effect.

Note: For a published version of this proverb, see Simin K.Habibian, 1001 Persian-English Proverbs, (Bethesda: IBEX, 1995).

Analysis: Like his wife, Tahereh, Masood spent a great deal of time in a poor but rapidly modernizing region of Iran’s capital. The strains of living in such an environment were likely reflected in the sorts of proverbs they were taught, which emphasized double-checking people’s motives and avoiding treachery. As mentioned with regards to TB’s childhood proverb, MB also taught his children with proverbs similar to this, and those messages were passed down farther.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Persian New Year

Okay, so Persian New Year, it lasts seven days…So, basically the Tuesday before or during, everyone goes to a special place or they do it at each other’s houses and they make fires, like small fire pits.

 

Inside or outside?

 

Outside, it’s always outdoors. Like in an alleyway, or if you have a big backyard, or they do it at the beach. And then people jump over it and they say a saying that’s kind of like, I don’t know how it’s translated but it symbolizes throwing your bad energy or anything bad from the past year into the fire, or like from other people, into the fire. That’s basically it.

 

Do you know the phrase in Farsi?

 

Yeah, but you’re not gonna get it. It’s like, “sorheitaz…?” I don’t even know how to say it, you’re kind of just saying whatever is bad is going into the fire. And you kind of say it with a friend, like whatever’s bad from each other, your relationship goes in too.

 

When is Persian New Year?

 

Our calendar is different, the Persian calendar is a little different. It’s first day of Spring, so it starts on March 21st, and then it lasts seven days. And we always set a table, it’s called the Hafseen, and Haf means seven, so like everything starts with an “S” you can look this up, I don’t know what each thing symbolizes.

 

So there’s a lot of symbolism involved?

 

Yeah, there’s seven things, there’s like a fish, and then there’s a specific thing you grow, it’s like a grass, and then there’s flowers… It’s really specific but it’s all with Spring and has to do with new beginnings and stuff like that. So it lasts a week, and then after that you get rid of the table and everything, and they throw out the grass thing, they’ll go to the river and get rid of it, there’s like special ways. And they celebrate after too.

 

ANALYSIS:

The informant is clearly engaged in her family’s and culture’s traditions and customs surrounding New Year, although it is clear there is a generational gap – she speaks Farsi, but doesn’t know exactly what she’s saying or what it means when they jump over the fire. She also participates in the traditions and knows the general gist of how things are set up, but doesn’t know specifics about the symbolic elements of the festival. However, she is aware of how the ritual is done, participates in it, and has a general idea of why these things are done and what they mean. The new year festival is about being away with or burning away all the old, stale, bad things from the past year, and bringing in the new year. There are very specific things that must be present and actions that must be done to ensure good luck, success, happiness, good relationships, etc. in the new year. This also corresponds with the earth cycle, and not with the biblical calendar.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”

 

 

 

 

 

 

which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Irani stereotype joke

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. He attended a private Islamic elementary school and a public middle and high school in the South Bay area. He relates the following story told to him by one of his friends, a young man whose parents are originally from Tehran, Iran.

Inf.: So when [friend]‘s family went back to Iran to visit you know, like his grandparents and his cousins and stuff…but they live in Tehran, and supposedly–there’s a stereotype that people from Tehran are generous but like people from this other city–I think it was [...] Isfahan, right? Isfahan is the place where they’re supposedly really stingy.

Me: Is that what he told you? Like I mean does he believe that or is it like a stereotype in his family…?

Inf.: No, i mean i guess everyone believes it. Like if you’re from Tehran, you think people from Isfahan are crooks. Like how if you’re from Pakistan you think Pathans are really stupid and people from Lahore are really rude and stuck up.

Me: Ok, ok. So then what?

Inf.: So then…so he–his family went to Isfahan and his dad went into the store, and he’s like, ok i’ll talk with an Isfahani accent so the guy won’t make me pay extra–like you know how people will charge tourists three times whatever it actually costs because they’re tourists? [I nod] Like that. So if he talks with the accent the shopkeeper would think he’s from Isfahan and tell him the actual price. So…ok, for some reason bananas were really expensive at the time,ok? So he goes up to the shopkeeper and he asks, How much are those bananas? And the shopkeeper goes, You’re not from Isfahan. And the dad goes, how do you know? And the shopkeeper said, If you were from Isfahan, you wouldn’t even bother asking how much they cost.

Analysis: The informant says he enjoyed the joke because it was very similar to and illustrative of the kinds of stereotypes that exist not just among Americans/Europeans/Westerners about other races, cultures, and ethnicities; but also among non-whites about other ethnicities. He mentioned the fact that many Pakistanis tell Pathan  jokes with the punchline being that somehow that particular ethnic group is stupid and only they could do something like whatever is told in the joke. The fact that the joke is predicated on the stereotypes between cities, a much smaller demographic than an entire ethnic group, is interesting; because while ethnic/racial stereotypes might seem plausible because of the supposed “biological connection” (i.e. DNA)  shared by all members of a race; any possible connection between members of a city is much less obvious, unless the population of that city is mainly composed of a single ethnic group and that is what the stereotype is (covertly) referencing. This joke, in order to be funny, relies on the audience knowing two pieces of information: the stereotype of Isfahanis as stingy people, and the fact that bananas were for some reason very expensive at the time. This is an example of requiring an emic point of view in order to understand the humor, or at least to fully appreciate the cultural context within which the joke/anecdote is situated.

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