Not long ago, while visiting family in Tehran, I found myself in an elevator with an elderly Iranian man. When the doors opened at our floor, we both instinctively took a step back and beckoned the other forward. Thus was launched that uniquely Iranian social ritual of exaggerated politesse called ta’arouf — a self-deprecation contest to see who can subordinate himself more. “After you,” the man said, gesturing toward the open door. “No,” I said, stepping farther back into the elevator. “After you.” “I insist,” the man replied. “I cannot,” I responded. “I am your servant,” he said. “I am your slave,” I answered, my back now pressed against the elevator wall.
more from the LA Times here.