For the first time in my 6 years of experiencing our world, I feel a longing for my friends, a deep and unfamiliar sensation that something is missing. After thinking long and hard about this, I have concluded that the culture in this country makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to have real interactions with people that are 100% genuine. This can be traced back to concept of Tarof, a uniquely Iranian concept (as far as I know) which overshadows any interaction between people in this country. Tarof is an Arabic word which translates as 'to know each other'. In Farsi it is referred to as Roudarbayesti which translates to 'to stand behind the door'. These two translations are a pretty good summary of what Tarof means in this society. It is deeply routed in the society and thus creates a challenge for the foreigner which can lead to real frustration and sometimes anger. So, what is this Tarof thing? Tarof is a complex system of social bluffing in a game of mental cards where each person is trying to out do the other to show ultimate politeness. Play the wrong card and you will be labeled as a social failure, or at least made feel that way. Sound complicated? It is! Tarof creeps into every aspect of life, it infects conversation and ultimately masks the true intentions of everyone. This makes developing strong relationships near impossible because you never know what intention lies behind an action. An example of the complexity of this. We, as guests are invited, along with a local, to spend the night in someones home. There are only two beds, so naturally the local finds every excuse to justify sleeping on the floor. When the host discovers the other man sleeping on the floor, he insists (in a confrontation lasting several minutes) on providing a mattress. To save face the mattress is accepted, but when the door closes it is placed to the side so as not to reveal to us that giving us the beds was, in fact a Tarof. These situations leave me wondering what the intention was behind providing us with a meal or a place to sleep. Was it genuine? Where is the line drawn between genuine interest in me and the cultural requirement which requires that the guest be looked after 150%? Then there is the issue of money, in my culture we feel good when we do not place much or any financial pressure on our hosts, it's a game of balance. We give and take, you pay this one, I'll get the next and so on. Not so simple here. The host wants to show the ultimate hospitality and with this will proceed to pay for everything from a watermelon which I bought as a present for the family (can this still be considered a present? Not really I guess) to passport copies and bus tickets. Sometimes with lots of discussion, the host may (just may) accept payment for such items, but it's not easy to say the least and I don't want to seem rude either. Initially it left me feeling quite uneasy, though after some consideration I have realised that if I convince them to let me pay, they will be left feeling like they have let down there guest, in this case, their tarof has been trumped. So let them pay as long as it's reasonable and avoid those situations where they feel obliged. Buy the watermelon when they are not looking, save those biscuits for after you have left and so on. So after 2.5 weeks here, I have found an answer to my feelings of loneliness. Tarof makes it impossible for people to interact in what would be considered a normal way to me. I must analyse their body language, tone of voice and speech of my counterpart in an attempt the establish the level of Tarof involved in the interaction, sometimes none, sometimes complex and totally incomprehensible. The consequence being that the many people loose their self confidence for fear of treading on someones toes. This has the flow on effect of making a real human to human interaction very difficult, especially for me as a foreigner. Combine this with the tradition that the guest must be provided with the best there is (and lots of it), it is not surprising that I'm left with a range of new feeling which I have no previously encountered. The most believable history which I have heard so far behind Tarof goes back thousand of years to the reign of the kings, each citizen was obliged to show nothing but respect for their king when near by, but when out of his city, they freely ridiculed him as they wished. This has somehow developed into what it is today, a phenomenon which paralyses these incredibly humble and friendly people, sometimes in a good way, and sometimes a bad one. It has become clear to me that the best way to get the most out of this incredible country is to go with the flow, to think less and observe more, to forget about your norms and try to accept theirs and most of all to enjoy the ride cause it's a roller coaster!