Firoozeh and Nazireh had been nervous about moving to America, but they were both counting on Kazem to guide them. However, when they arrive, it becomes clear to them that Kazem isn’t much more knowledgeable about America than they are, and sometimes other people can’t understand him. Kazem’s time in America has mostly been spent studying science in libraries—he has little to no idea of American society. Kazem likes to pretend that he knows everything about America, but he also knows that he needs to learn more. He reads extensively—in particular, he reads every document fully before signing it.
Kazem is an impressive character, but also the memoir’s main source of comedy. Firoozeh clearly loves her father deeply, and has a lot of respect for his hard work—but she’s also observant enough to recognize when he’s behaving oddly. One reason why Firoozeh is such a compelling narrator is that she uses humor to connect with readers. In a way, Firoozeh is an ambassador between her family and her readers (many of whom might not be familiar with Iranian culture): she gently ridicules her father when he does things that identify him as a first-generation immigrant, but she encourages readers to admire him, too.
Nazireh, on the other hand, learns English mostly by watching television. After a few months of watching The Price is Right, she becomes an expert on American goods. Nazireh then relies on Firoozeh to interpret English for her. While many compliment Firoozeh on her skills as a translator, Nazireh usually says, “Americans are easily impressed.” Firoozeh still has problems learning American English slang. She and her mother once spent hours looking for “elbow grease” at a store after talking to their repairman. Thirty years later, Nazireh and Kazem’s English is better, but still not perfect. However, there are now more Iranian-American immigrants around them, meaning that Nazireh can communicate with strangers without help.
It’s notable that Nazireh learns English through the language of consumerism and materialism—learning the names of goods and prizes on The Price is Right. Iranian cultural expectations about women may also explain why Nazireh isn’t always willing to go outside and practice her English with strangers—but it’s also possible that her experiences with other Americans have not been as positive as Firoozeh’s, and so Nazireh is more wary about her new environment. The story about “elbow grease” is a good example of Firoozeh using a small humorous anecdote to encapsulate the wider experience of being an immigrant.