Jon from New York writes: 

American politicians change their ideology and policy. We have coined the term “flip-flop” to describe these vacillations. In fact Reality Check 08 is dedicated to charting the course of the changing ideologies and issue statements of the slew of presidential candidates in the 2008 field. Political pandering is far from unique to the United States. The New York Times’ Michael Slackman pointed out in an August 2006 article that Iran has a particularly instructive cultural phenomenon of supplication called taarof.

The practice of insincerity — of inviting people to dinner when you don’t really want their company…Iranians understand such practices as manners and are not offended by them…In the West, ”yes” generally means yes. In Iran, ”yes” can mean yes, but it often means maybe or no. In Iran…listeners are expected to understand that words don’t necessarily mean exactly what they mean.

Slackman’s sources tracked this social courtesy to Iran’s history of occupation.

Analyst after analyst said that after centuries of cloaking their true feelings, Iranians are often unsure whom they can trust when dealing with each other, let alone foreigners.

An Iranian social psychologist sourced by Slackman said taarof permeates Iranian public interactions including that between politicians and the public.

Dr. Sanati says:

In Iran, you praise people but you don’t mean it. You invite people for all sorts of things, and you don’t mean it. You promise things, and you don’t mean it. People who live here understand that.

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