The Peugeot screeched on the corners of Shiraz’s street as my friend sped up and braked the car with no apparent reason for either move. I had thought that bad driving is a malady unique to the subcontinent. I was now assured that I could be roadkill on a Shiraz street, which, in my opinion, is preferable to the ignominy of the same fate in Delhi. But my primary learning that minute was not the possibility of being in an accident in the city of Sadi and Hafez, but that you can abuse in Persian.

What is a language if it cannot express the gamut of frustrations with bad drivers and defeat in cricket matches? My friend Sheema, therefore, employed her very pretty face and foul mouth to shower Persian profanities at the men who drove at us on the wrong side of the road. The most PG-13 of these was chooneen or ass. She was not referring to the animal. My moment of epiphany was delayed by the necessity of translation.

Like the many who had only heard of the glories of Persian literature, I had arrived in Iran with the ridiculous assumption that all they had to their language was flowery poetry and gorgeous miniatures. I was disappointed to be disabused of my notions by a word as crass as chooneen .

My vocabulary was soon enriched by a few more. These words are not safe for work or family or for uttering in Iran if you are a fresh visitor. Despite a colourful range of abuses involving details of the nether human anatomy and mothers and fathers, and illegitimate children, the Iranians are full of the milk of human kindness. An Iranian shopkeeper will not offer you his wares without asking after you, your health, and, if you are from India, the health of Shah Rukh Khan. He will express disappointment that you are not taking the entire stock home with a musical “ Hameen (Just this)?” and almost have you believe that you don’t need to pay, with their smiling “ Ghabel nadareh (It is not worthy of you).”

And, yet, you will find ample reasons that will make you want to swear.

The first of these, if you are a woman, will be the roosari or headscarf. This roosari will get entrapped in the straps of your backpack, slide off your head and also attempt to strangle you. It will also ensure that you have constant bad hair days unless you staple it to the frame of your face. When your roosari gets trapped in the doors of the bus that will not wait, it is safe to exclaim, “ Khak bar saret (Dirt on your head)”. This is a more eloquent way of saying ‘death upon you’. You could also call the rude bus driver namard (unmanly) when he is out of earshot. Masculinity is a big deal in Iranian culture, something that Indians should be able to relate to. The Iranians use namard generously regardless of gender.

The second of these reasons will be money. If you google Iranian currency, the answer is rial. You will feel wealthy, momentarily, when you discover that ₹1 is about 500 rials. But when you exchange your $100, you will find the smallest coin issued in Iran is for a 1,000 rials. You will also discover that, like pennies, you could lose these 1,000 rials and not notice it. Because the Iranian currency is not the rial. Not really anyway. When a shopkeeper asks you for 10 tomans, you will take out what looks like the nearest 10 in your wallet — a 10,000-rial note. The shopkeeper will be kindly because you look like a foreigner. You will put your cash at her disposal and she will pull out 10 10,000-rial notes. That is five zeroes. A lakh. One hundred thousand rials. If you recover from the shock of buying pasta and oil and tissues for 100,000 units of currency, you are free to venture the use of beeshaoor , kheng , haaloo , pappeh or khol — all of which are various ways of calling yourself an idiot.

If you make friends in Iran — which you will — you will learn that except for making the ‘a’ (as in car) ‘ū' (as in June), you are familiar with many of the words in the language. Jaan (pronounced ‘joon’) will shed its cheesiness because everyone there is jaan . Fatemeh jaan . Elham jaan , Jasmin jaan , Momo jaan , Reza jaan , Jaan jaan . It is a form of endearment and is liberally used. Very liberally. I was shocked when my friend called the cab driver jaan . I realised it is merely a polite replacement for ‘Yes?’. I was even more pleased to know that haramzaada (bastard) and haramkhor (cheat) are both cultured Persian profanities that Bollywood has immortalised.

If you are still unwilling to abandon the romance of the language, Persian won’t disappoint. Those who have witnessed dastangoi (storytelling) would know that Persian literature abounds in magicians and djinns. Whatever impression Aladdin might have given you, djinns in the old wives’ tales were bad. So were their offspring. The tokhm-e-djinns (seed of a djinn) and tooleh djinns (child of a djinn) are reserved for naughty children, though you’ll find many deserving subjects on the subway. These tokhm-e-djinns also give you the perfect excuse to use my favourite Persian phrase — zahr-e-mar (serpent’s venom). I have been told it means shut up. I have no idea what snakes have to do with yammering away but I appreciate the eloquence of it. It restores my faith in the language of Rumi.

Farah Yameenis an oral historian