The cultural practice of “Taarof” is a cultural custom or cultural practice, almost exclusive to Iran. It is a Persian way to show friendly manners. For someone who is not familiar with this customary code of conduct, it might seem confusing at first and a bit stressful because you don’t want to offend anyone -at least unnecessarily! It can go something like this: If you get a taxi anywhere in Iran, chances are high that when you pay, the taxi driver refuses your money at first and Taarof here means that you insist on paying and after a quick dance of words he will accept the money and both parties will thank each other, one for the service and the other for the payment. Or you might enter a store, for buying something -usually, something not so expensive- and the seller says things like “ghabeli nadare”, which can literally be translated as “It is not anything of value!” or “it’s not worthy of you!” This is not a real gift offered, it is simply a cultural custom and all you have to do is to play the game. A simple “Thank you” would be fine response in the majority of cases, and after that, you attempt for the payment again.
You can understand it this way: when a shopkeeper says “ghabeli nadare” he or she doesn’t want to ask directly and up front for money and thus look greedy. The same logic can be used when you are invited for a meal; the host insists that you eat some more. He might insist a couple of times that you go on and have another serving because the host wants to show you his or her extreme hospitality but at the same time the guest refuses a few times to show that he or she is not a glutton, and appreciates the hospitality. It is true, the situation could become a bit embarrassing, but do not worry: after the third refusal, there always comes an agreement. If you actually want to eat some more, you’ll go on and enjoy the meal and if not, you won’t.
What can happen if you get it wrong? In the case of the host and its guests, the host might think you are not so well mannered, or in the shopping scenario the seller will tell you the price with a shy smile and you will pay it. Nothing more than that, but no one wants to look rude. And of course, the Iranians know that this is an almost exclusively Iranian cultural custom and people from other cultures are not familiar with it, so they try to go easy on them!
It should be mentioned that this cultural custom is more common with older people, today younger Iranians are not that “Taarofi”.