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Iran:Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Asia, Iran, Iran, Middle East, Regions



Location: Iran is located in the Middle East in Asia. It has the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to its north, Afghanistan to the east, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south, and Iraq to the west

Capital: Tehran.

Climate: Iran has an arid, subtropical climate.


Photo by N_Creatures

Population: As of July 2009 the population of Iran is estimated to be 66,429, 284. About 18% of the population live under the poverty line, and there is an unemployment rate of about 12%. The Iranian economy is heavily dependant on the oil and petroleum industry. High oil prices have netted Iran nearly $100 billion in foreign exchange reserves. A 2008 estimate pegs the nations GDP at $842 billion.

small bldgEthnic Make-up: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, Others 1%.

Religions: Muslims constitute 98% of the population of which the Shia constitute 89% and the Sunni, about 9%. Other minority religions include Zoroastrian, Judaism, Christian, and Baha’i.

old manLanguage: Persian 58%, Turkic 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, Others 2%.

Government: Islamic Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Iran calls for a valid passport, Iranian visa, tickets and documents showing return or onward travel. No vaccination is mandatory. Some nationals are eligible to receive a tourist visa for 7 days on arrival at Tehran airport.

Health & Safety: No vaccinations are required as part of travel to Iran. However, it would be advisable to be immunised against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Typhoid, Malaria, and Diphtheria. It would also be a good idea to inquire at the local consulate regarding any attacks of virulent flu that may be prevalent at the time of travel and take precautions accordingly.

Photo by Hamed Saber


The People
The Iranian people are friendly and hospitable but extremely conservative in their ways of interaction. They belong to an ancient culture and hold deep-rooted customs and attitudes that foreigners need to inform themselves about in order to understand and appreciate them better. They are a multicultural society including minorities such as Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchs who have their own unique traditions and customs dating back thousands of years.

Photo by N_Creatures

The Religion
girl in iranThe official religion of Iran as per the Constitution is Islam. Zoroastrian, Judaism, and Christianity are recognised as minority religions and may be practised by adherents. Religions other than those officially recognised, such as the Baha’i, are not allowed freedom of practice and may face persecution. Evangelisation is considered illegal.

carpetRole of Family
Extended family is the norm outside of the big cities of Iran. Nuclear families are still the exception even in the cities. Kinship and family ties are attributed the highest importance. The individual is dependant on the family for identity as well as power, position, and security. There is a definite hierarchy with the oldest male patriarch at the head down to the women and children.

Ancestors are looked upon with a lot of reverence in Iran. Their memory is held sacred and seen as a source of identity and belonging. Often families are able to trace their lineage to historic times.

money1Recreational Activities
Games like chess and similar board games are enjoyed by the older generation. Football is a passion among the younger crowd. Traditional games include camel racing and desert safaris.

Anything else important for this culture
Life in Iran is governed by Islamic law called the Sharia. There are strict codes to follow as far as dress, behaviour, and travel are concerned. Rules are far stricter for women than for men, especially in areas outside the cities. Women should avoid travelling alone and be very discreet when travelling with men who are not their legal husbands. Hotels may demand a marriage certificate before allocating a room for couples.

Photo by Hamed Saber


Meetings & Greetings
A handshake is an accepted form of greeting between men. Iranians greet each other by hugging three times on alternate shoulders accompanied by kisses on the cheek. Women greet each other similarly. When it comes to the opposite gender, conservative Iranians do not make eye contact or shake hands but keep a discreet distance. A slight bow to each other is then the accepted form of greeting.

Photo by Hamed Saber

smokerDo not attempt to make eye contact with people, especially of the opposite sex. During the month of Ramadan, it is common courtesy to not indulge in merry making or loud talking as the Muslims will be in a state of prayer and fasting all day long. Even chewing gum in their presence will be considered inappropriate.

Gift Giving
An ideal gift to carry if invited to an Iranian home would be a box of chocolates, or pastry, or flowers. This should be offered discreetly or left behind unobtrusively. Gifts are not opened when given and will be quietly laid aside. On Iranian New Year, Nau Roz, money in the form of new notes and gold coins are handed out by elders to those in their service.

sheepDress Code
The dress code for men in formal situations would be a jacket or coat. Full sleeved shirts and trousers are acceptable in warm temperatures. Women may wear trousers and long skirts that go below knee level and preferably reach the ankles. If visiting religious sites, women are advised to wear the traditional full length clothing known as the chador. A head scarf is advised at all times.

Dining Etiquette
Dining may either be at a table with cutlery and utensils or on a lush carpet amidst cushions with bare hands. Always wait to be seated as there is an order of seating based on a social hierarchy. Iranians are known for their hospitality and this shown by the large servings of a huge array of dishes. The guest is expected to eat a bit of everything and will be offered second and even third helpings. Your refusal will be taken for sheer good manners and so it is best to leave a little food on the plate to show you have had enough.

old manVisiting a home
If invited to an Iranian home always arrive on time. Invitations may not include spouse or partners and this must be confirmed beforehand. Take footwear off at the entrance to the house and enter barefooted unless asked not to. When invited to eat or drink, it is customary to decline politely till the host presses you to accept.

Communication Style
Communicating with Iranians can be tricky because they will not say a direct No even if they have no intention of complying with your request. A direct refusal is considered rude. Similarly they will show a lot of humility and pay compliments which should not be taken at face value as they are just being polite even if they are annoyed. This is known as the taarof and is part of treating guests with honour and kindness.

2 ladies
Photo by N_Creatures

Dos and Don’ts
Travelers who have visited Israel may be denied entry into Iran. Women applying for a visa should be photographed wearing a headscarf in their passport photos. Drug use and trafficking may be punished by execution. Alcohol and pork products are banned absolutely. Public display of affection and even holding hands is frowned upon. Homosexuality, pornography, and adultery are illegal and may entail the death sentence. The thumbs up sign is considered obscene.

Photo by N_Creatures

adobe home, family by carpet, smokers, old man by N_Creatures

iran girl, old man, sheep by babeltravel

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