A painting of me

Tarouf and Inat

   8 February 2007, early morning

In Iran, a shop keeper may refuse your money when you want to buy something; If you compliment someone on an article of clothing, they may offer it to you; A taxi cab driver may refuse to charge you a fare, saying it was his pleasure to give you a lift. These are all examples of tarouf, a sort of faux-politeness Iranians subscribe to. The offers usually aren’t legitimate: you are supposed to politely decline the hospitality. It can get more complicated than that: for example, someone may ask you to come to their home for lunch or dinner, but you don’t know if they are being sincere. There would need to be a back and forth till one can correctly determine whether the offer is legitimate or not. There isn’t a real English counterpart to the word tarouf, though I think what I’ve described is pretty close. I find stuff like this interesting; words or ideas that have no real equivalent in English.

I started thinking about the word tarouf because I learned about the Serbian word inat  while reading Drina Bridge. When NATO was bombing Serbia and Montenegro many Serbians reacted by throwing large public gatherings; when you are being bombed this isn’t a good thing to do. This is an example of inat: stubborn reliance or defiance in spite of what the consequences may be. That’s my stab at a definition from reading Drina Bridge and looking up articles on the web. I still get the sense some of the meaning gets lost when you try and translate the word into English — much like the word tarouf.

I can’t think of anything in Tamil like this. It’s possible I just don’t know the Tamil word for forcing your kids to become engineers, doctors, and accountants.



  1. This is a very good description of Inat by Aleksandra Kovac.

    Here’s a simple everyday example of Inat.

    I was helping my uja(uncle) in his store when I overheard an argument between him and one of his installers in Serbian.

    Installer: You’re such a tvrdoglav (stubborn/hardhead).

    Uja: I’m tvdrdoglav? I’m such a tvrdoglav that I don’t want to do it how you want to do it….NOW I don’t want to do it how I WANT TO DO IT!

    I laughed, and laughed…until he came out from the back.
    Then I shut it up.

    Another example of Inat would be the main character in the movie “Invincible”. A perfect example of being driven by people telling you that you can’t do it, (which is another form of Inat).

  2. Reading about taurouf, it sorta reminds me about how some people use sarcasm in english, where you don’t really know if their sinicere/earnest or actually joking.

    That just trips me up sometimes :)

  3. Greetings Ramanan! And thankyou for Funkaoshi Productions.

    I’m the author of Drina Bridge, and I’m glad to hear that the book led you research “inat” and to look further into Yugoslav culture. I have found that even Serbs find it hard to explain “inat” in English words. But the comments with this blog do a pretty good job of it, I think.

    I would love to know how you heard about Drina Bridge and where you purchased it, and any other comments you might have on the book or on Yugoslav culture.

    All best to you.

    Ziveli! (Serbian for “cheers!”)

  4. I won a copy of your book from BlogTO. I usually buy books based on their covers, so I think I might have picked the book up anyway had I seen it at Indigo. I bought DeNerio’s game for this reason. (I’m only half joking.)

    I actually liked the book quite a bit. I’m partial to the “memories of a deranged man” portions of the book. I think that story is what I found most compelling in the book, not that the main storyline was lacking.

    Have you started on a new novel?

  5. Drina does have a great cover and great design. I have no complaints about the book as a physical object —- feel very lucky that way.

    The Slobo narrative (“deranged” yes, but not always)is also my favorite part of the book —- maybe because it’s the part that takes me so completely into a world not my own.

    So far, my “new novel” is a few pages of first draft material for two very different novels. Long way to go.

    About Facebook and Myspace etc: I’m completely with you on this. I think it’s very sad that people imagine they are constructing “social” lives by accumulating long lists of ego-boosting virtual friends. But this may mean I just don’t want to spare the time to check it out. The other thing is that I’m fiftysomething and in a cosy, quite un-edgy phase of my life-journey. My life is books, my sweet Brian, my dog Boris (standard poodle), a few good friends, a few drinks, a larger circle that gets me to a few parties now and then.

    The comma, btw, before the word “though” is totally correct.

    Did the Slobo story grab you in part because of your knowledge of the conflict in Sri Lanka? A hugely different situation, of course, but for ordinary people wartime chaos is the same everywhere.

  6. Yeah, I am always reminded of Sri Lanka whenever I read these sorts of stories. As you say, it’s not quite the same. The ethnic tension in Sri Lanka seems to be a post-colonial sort of thing, so the same sort of history of resentment doesn’t seem to exist there — yet, anyway; they’ve been shooting at each other for a while now. Hopefully things calm down soon.

  7. OK. Want to understand Tarouf, here is the best explanation ever…

    Many years ago, a young Persian woman became pregnant. The months were passing and she kept getting bigger and bigger… finally 9 months came but no baby came out… she kept getting bigger and bigger… but no baby! Years went by until she became an old woman with a huge belly…. Finally, the doctors had a machine that could look into her stomach and see what was going on in there…. they looked inside and saw two men with beards saying to each other, “after you.” “no, after you.” “no please, after you.”
    Now that’s TOROUF!!!!!

  8. The word inat is not a Serbian word, it is Turkish and it is used in the same meaning in all Balkans. More than a word it is a trait of Balkan people. In Albania we have a saying: Per inat te sime vjehrre do te fle me mullixhiun which translates: For inat of my mother in law I will sleep with the miller.

  9. I think that perhaps Serbs can have the word after 500 years of rule, no?

    Inat: Whatever the consequences.

  10. The Tarouf page on Wikipedia is pretty good.

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