Firoozeh Dumas

Funny In Farsi

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Funny In Farsi Summary

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Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi, was seven years old when her family relocated in the United States from Iran. After the Iranian Revolution in 1972 Firoozeh’s father Kazeem lost his job as an engineer for the National Iranian Oil Company. In order to support himself and his family, Kazeem took a job working for an Iranian company operating out of California. Kazeem and the rest of the family – Firoozeh, her mother Nazireh, and brother Farshid – were granted a two-year visa (which was eventually extended into a permanent visa).

Even before leaving Iran, Firoozeh had envisioned America as a kind of magical place where she and her family would be free of the problems they were accustomed to while living in Iran. Firoozeh’s positive impression of the U.S. was largely due to what she had heard about the country from her father, who had spent some time living in Texas as the winner of a Fulbright Award. Firoozeh, along with the rest of her family, were also optimistic about the move because of Kareem’s familiarity with English.

Despite her lofty ideas about the United States, Firoozeh still finds the transition to life in the U.S. to be awkward. Unable to handle the stress of attending a new school by herself, Firoozeh is accompanied by her mother Nazireh. Having her mother present provides some comfort to Firoozeh during those difficult first days. She quickly learns, however, that her mother cannot solve all of the problems she faces as she learns to acclimate herself to her new surroundings. After being dropped off by the school bus at the end of Firoozeh’s first day of school, Firoozeh and Narizeh are unable to find their way home. They are unaccustomed to the lay of the land in their new suburban environment and cannot recognize any landmarks to help guide them back to their house. They circle around the neighborhood until­­­­­­ they are aided by some Americans who also live in the area and notice Firoozeh and Narizeh in distress. Firoozeh experiences additional distress when the family takes a trip to Disneyland and Firoozeh gets separated from her family. She is eventually taken to the lost child area and found by her parents after waiting for several hours. ­­­­­These events are scary and disorienting for Firoozeh, but they also make Firoozeh more comfortable and trusting of Americans, who consistently present themselves as friendly and helpful.

These early misadventures have other positive consequences for Firoozeh. The most significant, perhaps, is that she recognizes that in order to adapt to life in America, she must learn to become independent from her parents and to ingratiate herself more deeply in American culture. Driven by such motivations, Firoozeh becomes proficient in English, surpassing even her mother – who picks up most of her knowledge of English from watching American game shows — and serving as her translator. But Firoozeh doesn’t stop there. Finding that she has a flair for languages, Firoozeh decides to study French. She excels so much in her study of French that, at the age of seventeen, she wins an award and receives a free trip to France as her prize.

Unfortunately, many Americans start to become suspicious of Persians due to political events happening in Iran happening at the same time Firoozeh is advancing in her studies. As relations between the United States and Iran become strained, Iranian businesses begin cutting back on operations within the U.S.. Kazeem once again finds himself out of work and is forced to take a lower paying job at an American company. Suspicions about Persians also spread around France, and Firoozeh is called in by French authorities, who bring her in for questioning.

Thankfully, Firoozeh is not detained for long by the French authorities. She returns to the United States where she enrolls in college at U.C. Berkeley. It is while she is in school there that she meets her future husband, Francois Dumas. Firoozeh’s parents were not happy at first upon learning about Firoozeh’s engagement. Adapting to life in a foreign country was one thing; it was quite another to have the ethnic identity of the family altered, as it would be if Firoozeh were to marry Francois, a Frenchman.

Since arriving in the U.S., Firoozeh and her family had gradually become more comfortable in their surroundings. But there are some aspects of American culture that would remain alien to them, even after living in the U.S. for many years. For example, every year around Christmastime the family was assailed with Christmas decorations, music, television specials, etc. Since Firoozeh’s family was not Christian, these holiday symbols were, for them, reminders that they would always to some extent remain outsiders. For although they sought to integrate themselves as best they could into the American culture, they were not willing to sever their connection to their Persian roots. Such desire to preserve their family’s Persian identity and connection to Persian culture that made Firoozeh’s family uneasy about her plan to marry Francois.

In the end, however, they were able to reach a compromise. This is perhaps best symbolized by the fact that Firoozeh and Francois had both a traditional Catholic marriage ceremony and a traditional Persian ceremony. Ultimately, Dumas’ book illustrates that integrating into a foreign culture is not an easy process; it is not always easy, nor desirable, for a foreigner to disavow his or her ties to the traditions of his or her homeland; but if one is pragmatically minded and willing to compromise, it is possible to create a happy and fulfilling life for oneself even in a strange and foreign land.