(Tehran Bureau) | February 25, 2010
by HANA H. in Tehran

[ analysis ] Iranians are a complex people. Talking in riddles and metaphors is a cultural thing that everyone learns from a young age.

Iranian politicians have mastered this ‘art of riddle-talk.’ Most foreign journalists reporting on Iran do not realize that in order to understand the truth of the political situation in the country they must first learn to crack the code of the ‘Iranian way of speaking,’ as true intentions are often lost in translation.

I remember right after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced the winner of the presidential race, in his first press conference, a foreign reporter asked him if he was willing to guarantee the safety of his rivals. Ahmadinejad replied by saying that when one passes a red light he gets a ticket for speeding. That British journalist walked away huffing and puffing and infuriated by what he later described as Ahmadinejad’s unwillingness to be logical, interpreting his response as a sign of his arrogance.

If that journalist had been acquainted with Iranian riddle-talk he would have known that Ahmadinejad was saying, “My rivals are part of the system, therefore they will be safe. However, if they persist in their demands for a vote-recount they will get a slap on the wrist.” In other words, Ahmadinejad was saying that no one goes to prison or is executed for speeding.

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