Friday, March 04, 2005

The kindly, genteel Americans

Some gestures simply prove more meaningful than all the frantic triumphalist flutters of myriad misery butterflies or expensive propaganda campaigns.

Thought I should take a break from further depressing both you and myself by sharing an email exchange which has so delighted me:

Dear Sir,
I hope this finds you feeling well! I was roaming the
net looking for advice-- A lovely Iranian family just
moved into my neighborhood--Someone mentioned you
might be a person who not only understood Iranian
manners/etiquette but could probably advise me about
some things I am confused about.(I so want to make
my neighbors feel welcome). After briefly looking at
your site, I suspect strongly that I was sent to the
wrong place. But maybe you know a good site? Any help
would be deeply appreciated!

Good Evening,

Yours was the sweetest, most genteel, and decent email I have gotten in over two years. Thank you. I am so pleased my expatriates are moving into your neighborhood. Must be an absolute bliss having someone of your caliber next to one's home.

Truth to tell, good manners have never been my forte. I sort of make my own rules as I see fit. But in the older times, when we Iranians were more civil, we would greet the new neighbor with some cake or flowers.

I am assuming, of course, that if the good folk in question have left Iran, they made a conscious choice to leave the old customs behind fully willing to adapt themselves to the prevailing customs in their new community of choice.

In that spirit, what you've done for your other neighbors is more than perfect for the Iranian newcomers. If, however, you intended to take that extra step, just write the following as well on a card:

Be Khaneye Jadid va Hamsayegi ma Khosh Amadid or literally To House New and Neighborhood(neighboring) ours Welcome!

In conclusion, may I reprint your note in my blog, naturally of course deleting your name and address? I'll be grateful for your permission.


Dear H,
I just had the best day I can remember and I owe it
to you. Thank you so much for coming to the rescue!
Yesterday, I had brought a basket of fruit, nuts,
cakes and a bottle of sparkling apple cider to the new
neighbors. An older lady had answered the door, saying
she didn't speak English. I tried to convey through
gesture that I lived nearby and held out the basket.
She looked utterly confused and said "No, thank you."
I was suddenly overcome with the fear that there was a
dietary rule I was unaware of and had included
something inappropriate. I hastily left, feeling
mortified. I obsessed that maybe the sparkling cider
looked alcoholic.

Today I went over, armed with your advice, the
basket and a card with the charming phrase you
provided and left them at the door. Five minutes later
I answered my door to the lady, her daughter-in-law
[N] (spelling?) and her gorgeous baby son. It turns
out I misread the situation. They loved the basket.
Over lunch [N] explained "taroof" and I explained
"fear-of-being-another-ugly-American-syndrome." Over
many cups of tea, we discovered to our happy surprise
we have so much in common. I am so grateful for your
help and of course you have my permission to !

All's well that ends well, no? So, when was the last time we read an eminent Thomist? Back to 1956 and a three day gathering at the University of Chicago and we have the French Catholic Philosopher Jacques Maritain's Reflections on America.

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