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Iran Customs & Etiquettes


Feelings about certain countries (such as the USA and the UK) run high, so the visitor should avoid contentious subjects. The Westernisation of the Iranian way of life has been arrested since the fall of the Shah, and Koranic law exercises a much more traditional influence over much of the populace. In general, Western influences are now discouraged. Handshaking is customary, but not with members of the opposite sex. It must be remembered that intimate relations between non-Muslim men and Muslim women is illegal, and may incur imprisonment.

Because of Islamic customs, dress should be conservative and discreet, especially women’s. This has been especially enforced of late; women should cover their heads when in the public sphere, wear loose-fitted clothing, and ensure that their arms and legs are also concealed. During Ramadan, smoking, eating and drinking in public are prohibited between sunrise and sunset. However, facilities are always available in major hotels.

In Iran, the family is the basis of the social structure. The concept of family is more private than in many other cultures. Female relatives must be protected from outside influences and are taken care of at all times. It is inappropriate to ask questions about an Iranian's wife or other female relatives. Iranians take their responsibilities to their family quite seriously.

Families tend to be small, only 1 or 2 children, but the extended family is quite close. The individual derives a social network and assistance in times of need from the family. Elderly relatives are kept at home, not placed in a nursing home. Loyalty to the family comes before other social relationship, even business. Nepotism is considered a good thing, since it implies that employing people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.

Iranians see themselves as having two distinct identities: zaher (public) and batin (private). When they are in public, they must conform to accepted modes of behaviour. It is only within their homes among their inner circle that they feel free to be themselves. Family members are always part of the inner circle. The inner circle forms the basis of a person's social and business network. Friendship is very important and extends into business. The people from the inner circle can be relied upon to: offer advice, help find a job, or cut through bureaucracy.

Taarof is a system of politeness that includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. Iranians protest compliments and attempt to appear vulnerable in public. They will belittle their own accomplishments in an attempt to appear humble, although other Iranians understand that this is merely courtesy and do not take the words at face value. In adherence to taarof, if you are ever offered something, like a tea or sweet, even if you want it, at first decline it until their insistence becomes greater.

Meeting & Greeting

• Introductions are generally restricted to members of the same sex since men and women socialize separately.

• Greetings tend to be affectionate. Men kiss other men and women kiss other women at social events. If they meet on the street, a handshake is the more common greeting.

• When Iranians greet each other they take their time and converse about general things.

• The most common greeting is salaam alaykum or more simply salaam (peace).

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