Firoozeh Dumas’ Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America was originally published in 2003 by Random House. Popularly used in classrooms across America, it is the tale of an outsider’s experiences growing up in America, and how they were different from that which she experienced in Iran. Firoozeh tells her stories from her own perspective, starting from when she was in second grade, in 1972; the first time she came to America. She was an intelligent girl, able to clearly perceive the world around her; she found most Americans to be thoughtful, kind, and generous, though their propensity for lavishing compliments on individuals was something she disagreed with. Firoozeh had the easiest time in America on their first trip, being far quicker to pick up both the cultural nuances and language than either of her parents.
Kazem, Firoozeh’s father, had lived in America for several years when he was younger as a Fulbright Scholar at Texas A&M; as a result of the time he spent there, he expected his time spent in America to be easier than it was. His time at A&M, however, was spent either speaking with professors or in the library, avoiding most others, leaving him with unparalleled English when discussing matters of engineering, but talking like an old British novel when speaking of anything else, making normal communication an exercise in frustration for him. In spite of this difficulty with the English language, something he was never able to master. Kazem’s love and undying excitement for America never waned. This excitement was unrivaled, except, perhaps, for the idea of trying new things. Kazem loved trying out different foods and trying new vacation spots. In spite of frequent trips to Las Vegas and over fifteen trips to Disney when Firoozeh was in second grade alone, Kazem loved a bargain and would never pay for anything full price if it could be found at a discount.
Nazireh, Firoozeh’s mother, came from a culture wherein a premium was placed on a woman’s ability to cook and manage a household, but their education was never held in high regard. Her father, originally willing to go against culture temporarily, turned down her first two suitors so that his daughter might pursue her education, but when the woman died who was supposed to teach Nazireh the trade, her father put a stop to that desire. Kazem was her third suitor, and her father accepted his offer; Nazireh, age 17, was wed to him the same year, and bearing him a child before the year was out. Her desire to learn English was never strong, and she too never fully grasped the English language. In spite of this, she utilized broken English, with Firoozeh as her translator in order to work to forge a life in this new country, maintaining all of her obligations. It was not until years later when the Iranian presence in the U.S. became greater, that she was able to speak Persian to get the answers within the community that she needed, and becoming as self-sufficient as she was back in Iran.
Chapter four, “Save Me, Mickey,” discusses one of the many trips to Disney taken during Firoozeh’s second grade year. Firoozeh stopped to check out a bank of Mickey phones, designed to allow patrons to “talk” to Mickey Mouse, something she had never done before. When she looked up from the phone bank, her family was nowhere to be found. Firoozeh located a Disney employee, let him know that she was lost and what her father looked like. He took her to the lost and found. Upon getting there, Firoozeh realized her father would believe that she had been kidnapped, as a result of the different cultures in Iran and America, which causes her to start to cry. Kazem comes in to the lost and found approximately one hour later; he tells her she was smart for doing what she did, but asks how she knew who to trust, as he did think she had been taken. When she explained her logic to her father, he questioned her trust in the fact that the person appeared to be an employee, implying that it could have been someone dressed up as an employee for the purposes of kidnapping.
There are several differences between Iranian culture and American culture present within this chapter. First, the immediate thought of the parent is not that the child is lost, but that the child has been kidnapped. The second difference was shown in the fact that people were waiting patiently in line for the rides; in other countries, Kareem stated, people would be fighting and jockeying for the best position in line. One final difference between the two cultures was shown in the fact that the American employees in the lost and found assumed that all foreigners spoke the same language; Firoozeh, faced with the situation of the other child in lost and found not speaking English, knew instinctively that he did not speak her language and felt it would be a waste to try to speak with him.
Perhaps one of the most amusing events was when Firoozeh’s father believed he was good enough to win prize money on a bowling game show because of the over complimenting of his peers. Kazem believed in all the compliments given to him, and though it would not have been funny at the time, when retelling the story it offers an amusing anecdote of life in America.
I truly enjoyed the book, finding the stories to be quick and easy reads. The stories offered a look into America through the eyes of another person and provided the reader with a sense of shared experiences, making everything new again. The formatting of the ebook was one of the few things I did not enjoy; there were too many blank pages, and the pages themselves were not formatted properly for use on a reader. I would recommend the book to anyone who wished for a good in-between book, a book to read in between tasks or in between waiting for the next book by a favorite author to come out. It is the kind of book that doesn’t require much thought, the kind that gives a person time to unwind, and the kind that makes the pages seem to just fly by.