Iranians say that Persian is ‘a sweet language’ and like to insist that everything — from everyday conversation to lyric poetry — sounds sweeter in this language. If you’ve already started the Persian language-learning adventure, you might agree! But learning a new language also means understanding non-verbal communication (even if it’s not quite as sweet).
In this special guest post by Pontia Fallahi of My Persian Corner, we’ve got some of the most common Iranian gestures to have you not only talking like a native, but moving like one as well.
Raising your eyebrows simply means ‘no.’ It’s common for Iranians to make this gesture instead of actually saying ‘no,’ or to use this gesture in conjunction with a ‘nooch’ sound made by sort of sucking your tongue.
2. Expressing disbelief
Biting your lower lip with your upper teeth expresses disbelief or shame toward someone’s actions. It’s often accompanied by hitting one hand with the other and keeping it there, or bringing your fist to your mouth.
3. ‘After you’
Pointing with your hand to a seat (or to anything else, like the door) while you say befarmāid is a polite way to indicate ‘please’ or ‘after you.’
4. Expressing sincerity
Placing your hand over your heart (and slightly bowing your head down or looking down) expresses sincerity.
5. ‘I’ve had it up to here’
Putting your hand under your chin means you are fed up with something (you can even go up to your forehead if you’re really fed up!). People will usually say tā injām residam, ‘I’ve had it up to here,’ while making this gesture.
6. ‘Be quiet’
Much like in the U.S., an index finger to the nose means ‘be quiet,’ but instead of saying ‘shhh,’ Iranians say ‘sssss.’
7. ‘God forbid!’
Biting your index finger or the web between your thumb and index finger is a kind of anti-jinx, as in, ‘God forbid!’
A polite way to say ‘okay’ in Persian is chashm, which also means ‘eye.’ To amp it up a notch, Iranians say ru chesham, literally ‘on my eye,’ which is a more formal, polite way to express that you will do something from the bottom of your heart. The non-verbal way to communicate this is to cover your eye with your four fingers.
9. Counting on one’s fingers
Every culture has a different way of counting on their fingers. Some start with the index finger, some with the thumb, some with the palm open, some closed. In Iran, it’s done in two ways: by touching the finger to the thumb, starting with the pinky, or by folding each finger down with your other hand, starting with the pinky.
10. ‘Oh no!’
Hitting your own face means ‘oh no!’
11. Showing emphasis
Finally, a couple of common gestures used to really emphasize your point. In the first one, the tips of all your fingers and thumb should touch. A second way to demonstrate emphasis is to put your hands side by side, palms open, moving your hands forward as you punctuate your point with them.
We hope you’ll try out these gestures to spice up your next conversation!