Traditional rules of etiquette and hospitality are still an important part of Iranian life. Iran is the descendant of a great civilization, and Iranians are intensely proud of their country, its history, and culture. Foreigners are often surprised by the Iranian’s favor for their poets, and their profound knowledge of ancient and contemporary Persian literature. Because of this, interest in everything Iranian will greatly please your Iranian acquaintances, and even superficial knowledge of Iranian culture may be the greatest compliment you can pay an Iranian friend.
Here are several do’s and don’ts that may help you to avoid trouble during communication:
– Do obey every law.
– Do dress in a conservative manner, particularly when you are not in a big city, and not in a tour group.
– Do take off your shoes when entering mosques or carpeted areas in private houses. Feet (especially women’s) are better be covered with socks or nylons. If visiting a family home and using the bathroom or toilet, slip on the plastic sandals placed near the bathroom door and return them when re-emerging.
– Do bring a small gift if you are invited for dinner.
Flowers are a good option, but expect to spend some time in a flower shop while your flowers are arranged. Sweets are another popular choice. Remember, however, that it is thought polite for someone to refuse a gift a few times before accepting. Taarof is a ubiquitous feature of Iranian etiquette; it means that it is never the first word, either of an approval or disapproval, which will be taken seriously. It is customary to repeat everything at least three times to persuade the host to accept your “yes” or “no”.
– Do praise the house, the food, and the hospitality of the hosts but never praise household items, as the hosts will thus find themselves obliged to present them to you as a gift.
– Do arrive on time for any appointment, but with little expectation that others will do the same
– Don’t discuss politics, family relations, the role of women, and other controversial subjects unless you are in the company of close friends.
– Don’t show affection in public for a member of the opposite sex.
Men who want to talk to an Iranian woman always have to make sure that she is accompanied by a male family member.
– Don’t stretch out your hand to be shaken by a member of the opposite sex, and don’t ever touch any member of the opposite sex apart from close family relatives.
Intimate physical contact in public is likely to cause offence. Couples can only hold hands, but must absolutely never kiss or embrace. Women and men usually kiss each other three times at meeting and parting (women kiss women, and men kiss men). Members of the opposite sex can kiss each other only if they are the closest relatives, like parents/children and brothers/sisters.
– Don’t show indignation if you are physically searched by customs officials in the airports.
– Don’t stretch your legs or reveal the soles of your shoes when in company.
– Don’t stick out your thumb; it is considered vulgar.
– Don’t take photographs of pilgrims, religious figures, and shrines unless you receive permission first.
– Don’t forget to have the name of your hotel and/or destination written down for you in Persian script. (Many taxi drivers do not speak or read English.)
– Don’t accept alcoholic drinks that may be available in black markets.