No matter how much you read up on Iran before you go, there are always things you will have to discover yourself. While I thought I had a pretty good idea about the country beforehand, I was still surprised to learn about so many different aspects of life inside Iran. Seven things I never knew:
1. They don’t like hijabs
Officially, women in Iran should cover their hair in public. Naive as I was, I was expecting to arrive in a country full of ninjas, but actually the opposite was true. When you even look closely on the streets, you could find many women trying to push the boundaries of what is allowed. Especially the younger women in the cities let their thin scarf hang loosely on the back of their head, thus exposing as much hair as possible in the front. Iranian women are experts in showing off without really showing off.
2. They love to ‘Taarof’
“Please come in, be my guest!”
“No thanks, I am okay standing outside”
“But you will get cold, please, feel welcome”
“Okay, if you insist, sure I’ll come in”
This is a small example of something called ‘Taarof”. While in someway you could call Iranians experts at lying (of course the person wanted to come in), rather see it differently: Taarof is a form of politeness used by many Iranians to display mutual respect, a concept hard to grasp as a foreigner. If the taxi driver will tell you that it’s okay not to pay, you should tell him that you respect his generosity but you insist on paying. He will still refuse to take it, after which you will pay him. Then the roles change and you say you do not need the change, after which he insists, you refuse, and in the end he gives it to you. It is a whole ritual that can go on for several rounds and once you understand it, you can initiate a Taarof yourself. It’s pretty fun!
3. It is dirt cheap
Perhaps it’s due to the sanctions and very favourable exchange rates on the black market, but Iran is dirt cheap. I spent only €90 in three weeks time, while still allowing myself to travel 2600 kilometers and visiting seven different cities. Okay, I did use Couchsurfing extensively but still I spent 2 nights in a hostel for only €4 total, which included breakfast!
If you come to Iran, don’t bring too much cash with you because you won’t need it. Only remember to bring more when you need to buy a flight out of there again! And don’t forget to bring some gifts for your hosts!
4. The food is amazing
Persian food beats most other cuisines I have tried around the world. It’s hard to describe what it is like, but it sure is tasty and very healthy. It sees extensive use of fresh green herbs, olives and pickled vegetables and consists mostly of local produce. As a basis you can often find rice, but it is always mixed with some other ingredients. Marinated chicken seems the most popular choice for meat, and occasionally it goes with pickled garlic cloves and marinated chillies. During the day, lots of families will offer you to eat nuts, oranges and apples, something you can simply not resist. Sharing food is a big part of the Iranian way of showing hospitality and it is a great way to connect with the locals.
5. You are a friend of God
In Iranian culture, guests are seen as a friend of God. This way, a hosting family will do everything to make you feel relaxed (how difficult this might be when all attention is focused on you). I experienced so many occasions in which locals offered to buy me stuff or give me things for free while they did not allow me to give anything back. That leaves you to just go with the flow, accept your status and be prepared to be the center of attention everywhere you go.
READ MORE: Iran Through the Eyes of a Couchsurfer
6. Internet is so slow
Internet in Iran is deliberately slowed down by the government to exert some kind of control over its usage. With an Islamic law in place, fast Internet only leads to more abuse and un-Islamic behaviour, as they argue. And so, when you come to Iran expect some problems when wanting to use Skype, watch Youtube movies or connect illegally to Facebook using VPN. Especially in times of elections, internet is even slower.
7. Rules are there to be broken
Iran has many rules and laws you would not even know their existence of. Dogs are not allowed as pets, dancing is illegal, playing loud (American) music in a car is not allowed and so is watching satellite TV, using Facebook and consuming alcohol. Apart from not having seen any dogs in Iran, I did do all the other things.
Iranians know how to break rules. All Iranians I have stayed with had a VPN connection in place, some had a bottle of home-made liquor or whiskey laying around while one other had a complete database of American hiphop music videos. Not every Iranian is a hardliner chanting death to America! Most have learned how to live under the tight control of their government while still staying true to their own principles and believes.
Iran on the political level is not the Iran you will probably experience when you decide to visit it yourself! Why are you still waiting?
Find below some more of my photos for you to enjoy, or find my other articles about Iran!