Gifts Of The Persians

LINK: Zerangi can be both ethical and unethical. Coming to America and starting a successful business? That’s zerangi. Finding a way to avoid paying taxes? Also zerangi.

(Hey, David Brooks, if you are reading this, tell Obama to tell Kerry to make that a priority in the nuke negotiations: full extradition of all Iranians. Iran will send us back all the Iranian crooks who ripped off Americans for us to imprison and America will send Iran back all the Iranian crooks who ripped off Iranians for them to imprison. There will be tumbleweeds blowing in the streets of Beverly Hills.)


* This attitude of cutting corners, breaking the law if one is confident you won’t get caught, believing that cheating is a sign of being smart, etc. is common to many societies, not just Iran (you’ll see it in Latin America, Italy, and many other places).

* One can only hope that Iranians in the U.S. will assimilate but how many groups can a society absorb before people stop buying the narrative and there is no longer any predominate group? If they are surrounded by a native culture (the former blondes) that value trust and honesty, over time they would need to conform or be frozen out of local commerce. If there is chaos and no predominate group, they have no pressure to change.

* Years ago there was a scandal it the Los Angeles city purchasing department. An Iranian immigrant and his American buddy had city credit cards and ran up about 1.5 million in overcharges that were kicked back to them. The Iranian found out about the audit (probably another Iranian immigrant) and fled to Iran. The poor American sap had no place to hide.

* “Zerangi” sounds like “Ferengi”, one of the ET races from Star Trek. Not only do the words sound similar, but the Ferengi are depicted as a savvy mercantile culture:

They and their culture are characterized by a mercantile obsession with profit and trade, and their constant efforts to swindle unwary customers into unfair deals.

They’ve also been criticized as depicting anti-Semitic stereotypes:

* Can anyone with experience discuss the cultural differences between Arabs and Iranians with regards to these things? The Arabs I’ve known have come across as almost hopelessly naive and idealistic, which would explain their attraction to fundamentalist religious movements. At the same time, they’re weirdly dishonest although very bad at it.

* That ain’t unique to Iran, that’s pretty much the entire non-Germanic/Japanese/Anglo world.

* We must appear as fat dumb gullible sheep to the world. Don’t get me started on the Russians!

* The term “oligarch” unfortunately wasn’t known in America in the mid-1970s when the Shah’s friends started buying bolt-holes in the Hollywood Hills for the coming days of retribution for their thievery.

* Zerangi and the popular admiration of those who display it is not unique to Iranians, as the same outlook is found in all Mohammedan societies and in a great many Moslems.

Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels, who has extensive experience of counseling Moslems in Denmark, has written a great deal on the mindset, outlook and behavior of Moslems, who hold themselves blameless because they see everyone and everything else as forces arrayed against them and thus causing and responsible for their behavior.

* Google Books has a few more interesting uses of zerangi:

Zerangi then means “cleverness,” being able to deceive others. Whereas in English this immediately conjures negative connotations, in Persian, it is an ability that is admired and aspired to… This leads to a cultural standard of generally not trusting people; yet not mistrusting in a negative sense, but being expectant of zerangi — it is “part of the game”.

The notion of “zerangi” has a convoluted cultural connotation that far exceeds the straightforward meaning of “cleverness.” It implies the presence of a special, desirable intelligence that takes advantage of an immediate situation, with no regard for larger societal considerations, personal convictions, or moral scruples.

As one specialist noted, Iranians often tried to substitute outward cleverness, or zerangi, for the alternative of putting a substantial effort into a task, and “studying it, by blood, sweat, and tears, so to speak.”

* The Iranian writer F.M. Esfandiary back in the 1960′s wrote about how Middle Eastern tribes lie about their wealth and hide it from outsiders. “The Beggar Rich

* Arabs are also notorious conspiracy-mongers, attributing all of their failures to dark forces outside their control. With some exceptions (almost completely correlated to the influence of Christianity, i.e., Lebanese and to a letter extent Syrians and Jordanians), they also shun accountability — this is most visible in places like Qatar, where the people are rich and coddled and don’t have to be accountable to anyone or risk material failure, yet still embody the zerangi mindset.

A related character trait in Arabs, shared by other eastern cultures, is the complete lack of directness and transparency (polar opposite to Germans, Dutch, and Scandanavians). An Arab will not tell you no directly, and will think that being honest and transparent tips his hand too much while he’s angling to screw you.

The upshot, I think, is that the “golden rule,” which so elementally defines Western, and especially Anglo-Saxon, culture, simply doesn’t exist in these societies.

* Everything said about Iranians also probably applies to Indians: the tendency to blame corrupt officials while secretly envying them, foreign invaders, Western powers; the blurred lines between cleverness, ingenuity, and cunning.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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