Cultural Points

Social Interactions

Iranians are very social people and as a result, boundaries of personal space and information that might be drawn tightly for Westerners, are much looser for them. For example, it's common for them to push up against you in lines or crowed spaces; or to walk or stand closer to you than you'd normally be used to. They will also ask lots of questions ranging from very personal ones to picking your brain about many topics. Don’t feel offended, it's the norm, but do feel free to - politely of course - refuse answering any of their questions that you ae not comfortable replying to.

Photo & Video
  • When taking photographs and videos you should follow common sense and the etiquettes of your own culture. If you want to take pictures of strangers or children, it's always polite to ask for their or their parents' permission. Picture taking/videotaping is forbidden in high security area, and signs will be posted indicating such. Other than these points, you are allowed to snap pictures and take videos.
  • Iranians are very sociable and friendly. They will warmly greet you - yet a few taboos exist that you should know. Generally, men and women do not shake hands or physically touch in public. Men (women) will hug and/or kiss their close male (female) friends and relatives. To be on the safe side, formal behavior should be observed.
  • Iranians like to show people with gifts and these kind acts are expected to be warmly acknowledged, either by kind words and/or by deeds.
    Invitations have their own special custom (see Ta'arouf). However, use commonsense and only accept invitations from people you know well and follow all safety methods (e.g., letting someone know where you are going, being fully aware of the environment, etc…).
  • An important part of Iranian culture and decorum is the timely tradition of Ta'arouf. So, what is Ta'arouf and how should we do it?
    Ta'arouf, simply put, is negating your desires for the sake of the other person or just for the sake of respecting the culture. It takes on different dimensions, depending on the situation, how well you know the person, and the socio-economic level of the people involved. Ta'arouf can get a bit irritating and if not done well may cause hurt feelings or misunderstandings. So let's learn how to do it well.
    There are three main instances where Ta'arouf can be expected: 1) in social gathering, 2) When services are needed, 3)
    In social gatherings, such as making an invitation or offering a guest food or a drink, the inviter or host(ess) will
    For example, if someone invites you to their house you are expected to decline at first, no matter how much you'd like to accept! They will offer and insist and yet, you are still expected to decline! If you hardly know or don’t know the person at all, or if you know that your acceptance will be a great inconvenience to them, then you must not accept the invitation - no matter how much they insist. However, if you know them well and/or you know it's not a bother for them, then after refusing about three times, it's okay to finally accept the invitation.
    In regards to food etiquette, there is no concept of "Let's dig in!", "Everyone for themselves" , or "Take however much you want." Iranian culture dictates that the host(ess) offers you something and you should politely refuse. Don't worry you will be offered several more times and you are expected to refuse and finally accept, even if you really don't want to have it! All of this is done politely and good-heartedly. Note that an immediate acceptance will be considered rule and so will a flat out refusal. So, that what you are offered after a few refusals and if you really don't want it, just leave it on your plate untouched. Also, if you tell the host(ess) not to make ta'arouf, it may be interpreted as ta'arouf!
    When someone offers to do something for you, you are expected to never accept, if it comes from a stranger, distant relatives, or acquaintances; unless it's your close relative or best friend, and that may also be ta'arouf! You should determine how much trouble it may cause the person offering the serve or help and based on that decline or accept it.
    In business situations, the person lower in status (the employee) is expected to make ta'arouf with his/her boss whenever s/he has a demand. For example, s/he will never right out ask for a raise or any other benefit.
    Shopping is not free of Ta'arouf! Store owners usually will say to the customer when he/she is ready to pay or when asked the price, "Ghaabe-leh nadaareh!" or "The item costs nothing!" Here the customer should not take the item and leave without paying! This is Ta'arouf. You should insist on paying and after a couple of times the store keeper will accept your money.
    These are the common situations where people make ta'arouf. I suggest you take it all lightheartedly and whenever you feel overwhelmed or incapable of doing it, simply tell the doer.

Local Styles

  • Males should not wear shorts or tank tops on the streets. Most middle-aged men almost always dress formally - formal suits and shirt without a tie. But, nowadays, they are relaxing a bit and you will see more and more dressing semi-formally or even causally. Note that ties are not worn in public places, except maybe in Tehran.

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  • Iran has laws concerning dress that everyone - without exception - is expected to obey. For females, this includes covering one’s head with a scarf, and a loose-fitting long-sleeved tunic or mantle, and full-length skirt, or pants. The fabric should not be transparent and the color of one’s clothing is not important. However, on certain religious occasions (e.g., Muharram, anniversaries of the martyrdom of religious personalities) wearing bright colors is distasteful and vis versa. Mantles come in formal, semi-formal, and casual styles that allow you to select based on the situation.
    Long shawls are worn loosely draped around head and neck. Headscarves are folded into a triangle and tied or pin/clipped closed at the neck to keep closed or simply draped around (although this doesn't provide much comfort because of the concern of falling off). The makneh maybe much more comfortable for some since it is easy to slip on and doesn't require any pins or clips to keep closed. Women wear the chador for praying or entering a mosque or holy shrine and some choose to always wear a black chador outside of their home. Nowadays, scarves, shawls, maknehs, and chadors come in many styles, colors and prints to choose from.

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