Are We Pistachios?

How lucky that most countries welcome Iranians, the pistachios with substance!


Are We Pistachios?
by Ghahremani

Sometimes it’s better not to pay attention to names, because while I’m mad at a woman I heard on the radio the other day, I have no idea who she is. It’s hard to stay angry with an anonymous person.

I had dialed to NPR on the car radio and heard a discussion about films, cinema and such. When my husband tried to change stations in search of music, I stopped him and said, “That woman sounds Persian!”

She spoke fluent English and masked most of her accent, but not enough to fool another Iranian. I gathered she was some sort of a movie director, though I had never heard of her before. She seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject, or at least knew more than I did. The interview was rather interesting, that is, until the last question came up.

“Is cinema important in Iran of today?” the interviewer asked her- though not in those exact words.

Her response shocked me. “They make lots of films and export them.” She chuckled. “Just like pistachios!”


Now you understand what I mean by saying I’m glad I missed her name. It was rather unfortunate that the radio studio was not in the next room, where I could have opened the door and given her a piece of my Iranian mind!

I’m used to such ignorant comments toward us from “others”, but find it hard to hear degrading comments amongst our own, especially when it is not deserved.

“How dare she call herself an Iranian?” I yelled at my husband as if he had something to do with it. I slapped the face of the radio. “And a director, no less!”

My husband, Mr-Cool-Guy, changed the station and found one that featured someone playing a soothing cello. I looked out the side window and watched the arid hills of California go by. Here and there, we passed patches of yellow flowers, but the spring green was sadly a lost dream and wild fire season would soon be upon us. A golden sun made its way behind the hills. Oh how that landscape resembled my homeland and how happy and sad it made me at the same time.

Pistachios, indeed!
I could not get past the woman’s ridiculous metaphor.

I’m definitely no expert on the art of cinema. I don’t see all the box office hits, let alone foreign movies, not even Iranian films, which are still harder to come by. But even to my ignorant eyes and ears, the Iranian filmmakers’ struggle is clear and the magnificent results they achieve are awesome.

Every year we learn of new Iranian films shown beyond the borders. Not only do they enter some of the world’s best competitions, they occasionally succeed to win awards. I may not understand cinema as much as the woman on the radio does, but you don’t have to be a genius to know the difference between an art form that cost blood-sweat-and tears and a burlap sack of pistachios!

As time passed, so did my rage. In fact, I calmed down enough to convince myself that a metaphor is only that, words or a word to describe a complex subject. I remembered the exact nut, pistachio, being a metaphor for ignorance: “To open up will disgrace the hollow pistachio!” The remembrance brought me a sad smile.

Feeling a bit less defensive, I began to understand we are not really unlike pistachios. Why not look at the positive side: The bigger we are, the more substance we have, the better chances of our success. But once we’ve lost our substance, or if we become stale and moldy, we may be discarded to make room for new arrivals.

The metaphor goes beyond movies. In the larger scheme of life, maybe people are also an “export”. On the other hand, it would be rather unfortunate if we were to parallel our own existence with that of a nut, just as it is unfortunate for a director to compare films to pistachios.

How lucky that most countries welcome Iranians, the pistachios with substance! How lucky that, wherever we go, we are among the most active members of society. Indeed, how lucky for both sides!

With so many obstacles, I feel for the Iranian artists who attempt to cross cultural borders, especially those who write, direct, act, and struggle to keep up with the free world’s cinema. I appreciate their struggle and want to let them know the roads between our hearts are much shorter than they imagine.

I still hold some grudge toward that speaker because she had used that metaphor to appear witty. Or maybe she hadn’t given her words enough thought. Because if she had, she’d know that even pistachios deserve some respect. On the other hand, maybe that speaker was in fact a hollow pistachio, one who should have never opened her mouth.

Zohreh Ghahremani


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by Ghahremani on

I apologize to my readers for not knowing, though I had already confessed as much in my article.

A professor? An author? Wow! Certainly not as hollow as that comment. And no, even hearing it for a second time the metaphor was wrong, if a joke, it failed to make me laugh.

Thanks, Ari, now I know who to be mad at! :-)

Zohreh Ghahremani

Sky of Red Poppies, available September 2010 

Ari Siletz

Pistachio lady is Negar Mottahedeh

by Ari Siletz on

Duke university prof and author of a book on Iranian film language titled Displaced Allegories.  Here's the interview. She cracks the pistachio joke around 12:10 in the interview.


response to a reader

by Ghahremani on

Writing allows the soul to web site:

Dear Mr. Abarmard: Thank you for your comment. Reflecting on a personal incident, I didn't think this the right place to discuss Iranian cinema. However, I imagine anyone who knows about social restrictions in today's Iran - and by now who doesn't? - can imagine what it has done to film production. As I had mentioned, my knowledge on this subject is very limited, but I find it Ironic that most of us seem to feel the artists' pain a bit more than that lady director did.


You have every right to be upset

by Abarmard on

Those who are hearing about Iranian cinema for the first time will not get any picture related to what's Iranian cinema. Too bad.