Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AM).
CB “So how do you know this story?”
AM “I know this story because growing up my grandma and I guess my mother used to tell it to me. I guess its a Persian folk story that has resonated among many Persian families, and I know because many of my Persian friends have also heard this story growing up. And so the story follows as such: a man is trying to convince this woman that there is a ghost at the bottom of this sewer. And so in the street there’s this manhole cover you move it, and you go down the stair and at that bottom there is a ghost, and so to the woman says ‘There is no ghost there, I do not believe in ghosts, you are lying to me’ and so the man says ‘if you go down there and you hammer this nail at the bottom of the sewer, or the floor when you get there, I will give you $100’ (or you know that’s the equivalent). So then she says ‘okay i will do this’ and what Persian women tend to wear is this very much like, pretty much a burka, like a very long hijab. And so this women goes all the way down she goes and hammers this nail to the floor, and it’s very very dark in the sewer, and so then she goes and tries to get out and she felt something pulling her and she started screaming, and she ran up the stairs, she took off her clothes and ran up the stairs after she felt something like grabbing her and pulling her and she says ‘oh I believe you’ and she does not end up getting the money and now actually believes that there are ghosts. But what actually ended up happening was that when she nailed the nail into the floor using the hammer, she nailed her burka to the floor using the nail, and so it was kinda like burka here and then nail through it to the floor. And so what was pulling her was actually happening. It was the nail she planted herself that was grabbing onto the burka and so what was the moral of the story? You should not base entire conclusions off of one experience because that one experience might be faulty and if she would have gone back and done it again chances are that she would not have nailed the burka and she would have gotten her $100 equivalent.”
My informant is a Persian-American, first generation American citizen. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother, and aunt who all spent a majority of their life in Iran, and all communicate mainly in Farsi. He heard this story many times growing up as an example of why his family isn’t religious. His family uses the belief in ghosts as a metaphor for the larger social situation in Iran. This story encourages the listener to really think about why they believe what they believe.
I know this informant fairly well, and we have often talked about his culture. When I was given this assignment, he was the first person I thought to ask. I interviewed him over Zoom, and we chatted a lot about the role of culture for immigrant Americans. We had a very comfortable conversation, as we had many times before.
This example is a sort of amusing story that likely would have been told to children, however the moral and context reveals more about the culture. The story teaches you to be careful what you base your beliefs off of. It’s a warning against being too gullible, and also teaches you to be critical about who is benefiting from your beliefs. When the story is analyzed in the context provided by the background information, it is clear to see the connection to the socio-political situation in Iran. Because his parents used this story as an explanation for both why they left Iran and their atheism, it is clear to see that the story warns people to be critical of the information that the authority figures present. It teaches people to defy the masses, and decide information on their own, or else look like a fool.