I'd hazard a guess that most of us are familiar with the word chutzpah; it takes a certain amount of it to have a blog and to think that what you have to say or share is important enough to demand the time and attention of a universe of potential readers.
Thanks to author and political analyst Trita Parsi, however, for bringing to my attention a more detailed understanding of the Yiddish word, and by comparison, illuminating another word and concept that was until now foreign to me - the Iranian term taarof.
As Parsi writes, "Chutzpah" meaning audacity or gall, can be explained by an Israeli joke that captures the concept. A spoiled twelve-year-old boy argues with his parents, and in a moment of rage he kills them both. He is immediately caught and taken to jail to await trial. As he is brought into the courtroom he throws himself at the feet of the judge and cries out: "Have mercy with me! After all, I am just a poor orphan!"
"Taarof" is an Iranian social principle, a concept of insincere politeness. For instance, Iranians invite each other to dinner not necessarily because they mean it, but to show politeness. The expectation is that the invited party will respond with equal politeness - by turning the invitation down. The impolite thing to do would be to accept the invitation on its first offering. An invitation should be considered sincere only if it has been offered roughly three times, after which, of course, it would be immensely rude to decline it.
As one Iranian scholar explained, "Taarof is a form of respect, even if we don't mean it" a statement we find blatantly contradictory. For Iranians however, there is no contradiction.
Layers of nuance, deliberately misleading compliments on the one hand; absolute bluntness without a single effort to reflect the nuances that inevitably characterize all social situations on the other.
Whereas some people might perceive the dichotomy in these two words and concepts, I'd say its just another day at the office here in Hollywood!