Tag Archives: persian

A Liar is Forgetful


This is a proverb that is commonly used among the family and friends of my informant. My informant is a coworker from my job. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with.

  • “doruygu kam hafeze ast,” or “دروغگو کم حافظه است”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • “A liar is forgetful”
    • Full translation: A liar tends comes up with a lot of fake stories, and so they need to have a good memory to keep up with all of them. So a translation of the true meaning of the phrase would be along the lines of, “a liar should have a good memory.”
    • Explanation by my coworker: “Let’s say you lie to someone about something and then you go and forget about it, and then at a later time you come back and accidentally tell them the actual truth, then that person figures out that these stories don’t match or don’t go together. So that’s why they say that if you lie to much, then you don’t have a good memory becuase you don’t remember what you lied about before.”

Thoughts: I found this proverb/maxim to be quite interesting and it kind of added a new perspective to how I think about someone who has told lies in the past and tries to cover them up. At first, I didn’t really understand the maxim, but with some thoughful explanation from my coworker, it started to make a lot more sense. I may be wrong in my interpretation of its use but it seems as though it is used by someone who has been lied to, which may open to door to the negative perspective that people of Perisan culture have towards lying.


Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MK).

HS: So can you tell me about the Persian New Year?

MK: Of course! So we celebrate the beginning our our spring as the beginning of our new year. We call it Persian New Year or “Nowruz,” which translates to “New day.” The celebrations usually happen between March 19th and March 23rd. There’s a specific day, time and second that we go into our new year, much like the American New Year. So this year, for us, it was March 20th at 7:40AM PST. It sounds like a weird time but it’s because we’re here in California. Iran is almost 12 hours ahead of us and so the that time makes a lot more sense there. So anyways, a week before the new year, we get new, fresh bills as gifts and we set a table with seven items that start with an “s.” The item spellings are from Farsi and not English so they’re not what you would expect, like apples and garlic, for example.

HS: Do these items have any sort of deeper meaning?

MK: Oh yes. So first of all, each item starts with the Persian letter, “seen,” which again, is like the English letter, “s.” Each item corresponds to the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. The Haft-Seen table and the items on it are kind of a representation of nature.


My informant is a coworker from my job. She has the same role as me and so we spend a lot of time talking in-between customers. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with. She has enjoyed telling me a lot about her culture and traditions in our time working together.


So we were just talking in-between customers when I became a little curious. I work in an area that has a large Persian population, and according to my coworker, the concentration of Persians in this area is second only to Los Angeles. So back in March about a week before Persian New Year, I noticed that a lot of her Persian clientele were coming in to buy new one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills. I was curious about why this was happening, and so I asked my coworker about it.


My first thought when I heard about this tradition, was what religion is this derived from? My immediate assumption was Islam, as that was the only religion that I was familiar with from the Middle East, besides Judaism and Christianity, of course. What I found was a lot more interesting. The tradition is derived from Zoroastrianism. I had never heard of this religion, and so I thought maybe it was some fringe religion that was particular to the region that my informant was from, but I could not have been further from wrong. Zoroastrianism predates both Christianity and Islam. Furthermore, the religion has a large following; 300 million people celebrate Nowruz every year. It is important to note though, that Zoroastrianism is considered to more of a cultural tradition in a lot of social circles, including that of my informant. The tradition of Nowruz, for example, while having its roots in its own ancient belief system, is widely celebrated by Muslims and Christians. The “book of wisdom” that is placed on the Haft-Seen table is even considered to be interchangeable. People place the Quran, Bible, and other books such as the Avesta on the table. This sparked a lot of curiosity and interest about this topic and left me with a lot of questions. Where do you draw the line between religion and cultural belief?

For an interesting article showing the popularity of Nowruz, even during the COVID pandemic, see:

Kaffashi A, Jahani F. Nowruz travelers and the COVID-19 pandemic in Iran. Infection control and hospital epidemiology. 2020;41(9):1121-1121. doi:10.1017/ice.2020.152

Did you see the camel? No you did not!


This is a proverb that is commonly used among the family and friends of my informant. My informant is a coworker from my job. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with.

  • “šotor didi? nadidi,” or “شتر دیدی؟ ندیدی”
    • Transliterated proverb:
      • “Did you see the camel? No you did not!”
    • Full translation: This maxim is essentially indicating that if you see something that is obvious that you were not meant or supposed to see, then you should act as if you didn’t see it. Put in other words, its true meaning is along the lines of, “you see nothing, you hear nothing.”
    • Explanation by my coworker: “So lets say you’re trying to hide someone from knowing something that they see or hear. We use a camel in this maxim because it’s a large animal and easy to spot, obvious basically, just like something that you may have just seen or heard. So basically, you obviously saw or heard something that is as obvious as a camel, but you’re making the concious decision to hide that information.”

Thoughts: I thought it was really interesting that a camel was used as an obvious sight. It shines light on the regional uniqueness of the maxim and perhaps illustrates that the saying goes far back in history. In modernity, there a lot more large, obvious things that could be used to replace the role of the camel in the maxim, yet it persists because of its place in the history of the region.

Iranian Gin Rummy

Main description:

AB: “Are there any other Iranian card games you can tell me about that are special to you?”

DB: “I don’t know. Um. I guess there’s one called Ramee, it’s like the Iranian version of gin rummy. Play it a lot at family reunions with the extended family.”

AB: “How is it different from gin rummy?”

DB: “Uh, let’s see. I guess the first difference is the dealing. You deal the cards out three at time three times to each person, so that’s nine cards. Then you deal out a pair of everybody, bringing it up to eleven. Oh yeah, and then you give two extra cards to the person that starts. Then the next thing is that you don’t keep your cards in your hand. But you can’t put any of them down until you can put down a combo that adds up to thirty. So if you had like, three nines, and you hadn’t come down yet, then you can’t play them, because that’s less than thirty. But if you also had, like, an ace-two-three of the same suit, you could play with your nines, because that’s more than thirty. Then you can just play cards normally for the rest of game. Oh, and then you can add your cards to other people’s stuff. So if somebody played three fours and your have the last one, you can add it to theirs. Oh, and the final crazy part are the jokers. You play with jokers, which are wild, and they can be any number you want, so you could play like two-joker-four and that’s cool. But, let’s say someone else has the three that matches your straight’s, it’s um, suit, they can swap in their three for your joker and then use it however they want. Well, not totally, they have to play it that turn with cards from their hand. So you also can’t add a joker you take to something that somebody else has already played.”

AB: “Awesome. So, you said you normally play this game at family reunions, right? Can you tell me about that.”

DB: “Yeah, so we usually play whenever there’s a lot of us together, for a birthday or a holiday or something. Oh and there’s lots of betting. At the end of the game, you have to give the winner money corresponding to how many points are left in your hand. So if you haven’t come down yet, you’re screwed, lol. One time I was really lucky at Christmas and made like fifty bucks off of our relatives. Now they don’t wanna play with me anymore.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “What can you tell me about why this game means to your family?”

DB: “Um, I guess I’ve always thought of it as like. The grown-up game. The kids always play pasur because it’s easy as long as you can do basic math, but only the adults play rami. That game takes strategy. I was in high school when they taught me how to play and I started betting with them, and I just remember feeling so cool sitting at the adult table and winning some money in Rami while my cousins watched me. They were so butt-hurt, lmao.”

Personal interpretation

Most societies distinguish between children’s culture and adult’s culture, and rami seems to be one such distinction. The informant notes that it’s not only that children are prohibited from playing rami because of gambling, but rami is inaccessible to young children in the first place because it requires substantial strategizing to win. In this way, playing rami may be an important mark of adulthood.

Nader Shah – 10,000 Goats

Nader Shah was a very powerful Persian ruler… One day heard news that a large number of enemy forces were preparing to attack one of towns. He knew he couldn’t get enough troops over there in time. So that night, he ordered all the farmers to gather 10,000 goats. He then had the farmers light their livestock’s horns on fire and direct them toward the enemy forces. The attackers saw from distance what seemed like a massive army approaching their camp, but they didn’t realize that it was just a bunch of goats. Fearing for their lives, they ran away, and the town was saved.

Context: Informant was born in Iran, and insists this story was an actual historical event.

Analysis: This story parallels another Armenian war story  I have heard (see Armenian Donkey Laser), although this version takes place hundreds of years before the other one. In both versions different animals motifs (goats/donkey) were used to outsmart and scare enemy forces from an attack using light motifs (fire/flashlights). Being that Iran and Armenia are neighbors, it is not unlikely a story like this would be shared between cultures and adapted for their own use. Initially I believed the Armenian version was possibly true, because it sounded plausible and I was biased. But, having heard two different variants of a similar plot, I’m dubious as to whether the events in either legend are true.