10 odd things to understand about Iran before visiting.

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Iran is a country people in Europe don’t know much about. It is obviously not the number one country for the average german citizen to visit, so it is no wonder that there are many rumours and prejudices.

In this article I want to discuss those rumours and list 10 things that are special about Iran. Some of those things are very confusing if you don’t know about it.

  1. Carpet cleaning on street: One of the weirdest things I’ve seen in Iran. Many taxi drivers or shop owners place their carpets on the road so the cars can run over them. Uhm.. why would you do this? This is a way how to clean a carpet. I’m not sure if this works though.
  2. Hijab vs. Chador: In Iran, for women it is compulsory to cover their hair with a piece of cloth. Most women wear a Hijab for this reason or simply a scarf. The so called Chador is also quite common in more religious cities, which covers hair, face, body shape, basically everything except the eyes. Against some claims, this dress is NOT compulsory to wear. Only the more religious women wear it (or those who’s families expect it). In fact I met also many Iranian people that are not religious at all! For those it is difficult because they have to hide their non-religious attitude in public. By the way: the dress-code for men is to wear long trousers.
  3. Alcohol: Alcohol is forbidden in Iran because its forbidden in Islam. But especially people who are not religious don’t want to miss drinking beer and booze. Alcohol is not sold in supermarkets but sold illegally in small shops and therefore expensive. It happened a few times that people on the road offered me vodka or beer. I don’t drink alcohol at all, so it is easy for me to refuse the offer.
  4. “What the bread”: Lavosh, Sangek, Barbari. Those are not namens of top football players, but different variations of Bread in Iran. For me as a german it is funny that all of those kinds of bread are based the same ingredient: Wheat flour. Only the way of processing and baking brings the dough to another shape. Lavosh looks like the kind of “bubble” plastic foil that is so fun to pop, which is used to pack fragile stuff. This kind of thin bread is served almost to any meal, because it is so handy to make a wrap and it can be kept in the refrigerator for several days. Sangek is baked on a pile of hot stones. Often a few of the stones remain on the breads surface, so it is necessary to brush the bread when its fresh to remove the stones.
  5. Meat makes a meal: For vegetarian people, Iran seems to be the worst country to eat out. Especially in restaurants it is unusual that there is a main dish without meat, because it is necessary to have a “good” dish. Vegetarian food is mainly made at home. In general iranian people don’t go to a restaurant to eat vegetarian. So most of the time I ate plain rice with grilled vegetables. But on the second look, there are also vegetarian options: Falafel sandwich and lentil soup for example saved me many times.
  6. Hospitality: One of the biggest positive rumours about Iran. Is it true that the people are as welcoming and generous as said? Let’s have a look on a statistic: In total I spent 45 nights in Iran, of which 27 nights were in Iranian homes (60%) and the remaining 40% in hostels or tent. It was the most incredible hospitality I experienced of all counties during this travel. Of course there were many more invitations I had to refuse as well as food offered to me plenty of times. I don’t want to spoil to much, you will see in the next posts how incredibly friendly my encounters with Iranians were.
  7. Parks: Iranians love green, they love grass, trees, flowers. Which is the most green country in the world? Many Iranians that I met answered this question with a) Switzerland or b) Germany. Even quite small villages have a well maintained park with plenty of benches, tables, grills for barbecue. I was in Iran in winter time and there were still many people in parks although it is cold for Iranians. It is also allowed and common to camp in parks, and so did I pitch up my tent many times in a park. But camping is not the only activity in parks. Also eating together, which brings us to the next point.
  8. Picknick: There are many places for a good picknick with the family. Under a tree in the desert, next to the busy road and of course in one of the many parks. Essential for a picknick is a rectangular piece of plastic or a special carpet which is used as a picknick table. Also essential: A cattle with tea. To be honest, I love this tradition! It is great to see that people come together and enjoy the outdoors to eat, talk, play with children.
  9. Toilet shoes: This knowledge is crucial if you are invited to an Iranian home and you don’t want to disturb the host. Iranian homes are very tidy and clean. It is important to keep it clean and respect a few basic rules. Before entering a home, remove your shoes! Socks or barefoot in the living room is fine. If your feet smell it is recommended to ask for the bathroom, to wash hands and feet. But STOP! Don’t enter the bathroom with your socks! Use the slippers that are next to the door inside the bathroom. Don’t forget to leave the bathroom slippers in the bathroom. You don’t want to be the worst guest by walking with the bathroom slippers on the carpet in the living room. Your host will be angry, but will remain polite. Some families even have extra slippers for the kitchen area.
  10. Taroof: I never figured this out 100%. Taroof is a form of respect and works that you say the opposite of what you want a few times: The farmer that sells melons wants to give you the melon for free? Resist that you want to pay and hand him the money. Taroof round 2: The farmer refuses to take the money. Say thank you and hand him over the money. The same is with Taxi rides, small shops, etc. If an old weak man enters a full bus, young people are supposed to offer him to take a seat. The old man will make Taroof and say something like. “I’m fine, I can stand”. In the back of his mind he indeed wants to sit, but it would be rude to take this offer right away. So if you took all the groceries from shop for free and the shop owner calls the police, you suck at doing taroof right. The problem about taroof for me was that actally many people want to offer you food for free and it is not Taroof. It is difficult for me to assess these situations right. A good tip is to ask the person straight if he or she is making Taroof.

I hope you enjoyed these 10 odd things about Iran and you get to know this country better. I want to promote visiting Iran, because this country is under such a bad light due to the political situation. In my opinion, Iran is also for the “average german” a great and safe country to visit.

– Lewin

February 6, 2019


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