Iran travel budget

Iran travel budget – part 2: Accommodation, Food, and Telecom

Well, once we arrived and changed some precious money avoiding traps described in Iran budget travel – part one, several next challenges appear – mainly where to stay, how to move in the cities and inside the country, find good and inexpensive food, and telecom service.

In Iran, Couchsurfing is very popular and many will be happy to host a foreign traveler; if someone likes this kind of experience, it can be a good idea. Just remember, you will need a VPN app to use it in Iran. If however, it is not your preferred way – in Iran, there are hundreds of hostels and cheap hotels.

The main international resource in the case of hostels is www.hostelworld.com, full description and lots of travelers’ reviews will help in your choice, but you can check also the local smaller web www.hostelsiniran.com.

As of December 2019, there are lots of hostels, also in Tehran, offering stay with unlimited breakfast for 4 or 5 euros/night; in dorms of course. The hostel staff is usually very well informed about all your possible questions, speaks good English and can give you advice about local landmarks and how to get there.

As for the typical hostel breakfast, you can have a look here (based on Heritage Hostel, Tehran): My Persian breakfast experience in Iran.

Interestingly, while dorms are now incredibly cheap – these hostels have also some private rooms offered on rather prohibitive 20 to 30 euro prices. Just in case a desire for a small luxury becomes irresistible – there are cheap “1-star hotels” in many less touristic places – in Tehran for example in South Saadi street (close enough to metro Saadi and Great Bazaar). Just asking for curiosity (without trying to bargain), I was offered private rooms for 800 000 rials, some 7 euro – but no breakfast included. These hotels serve mainly locals and hardly you can find them on English language websites, so if interested – ask Iranians (in case you do not find them walking around).

Next comes the transport. About the Tehran public transport, taxi and Snapp you will find more here: Public transportation in Tehran

In other Iranian cities using public transport, consisting mainly of common buses will be a bit difficult without a local helpful to tell you which line of local bus is best for you. I stayed several days in Shiraz and found out how to use to my benefit 2 or 3 bus lines, avoiding kilometric marches. There is always one linking bus terminal in the city center, others to run along main streets, it is good to use them, tickets are very cheap, people pay for drivers.  If you need to go to a specific place far away and have no way to use the city bus – try in first place Snapp, the local Uber-like service. Try to avoid a regular taxi if possible!

By the way, in other big Iranian cities there is a limited metro service, (networks are under construction), actually consisting of 2 lines in Mashhad and just one operating in Tabriz, Esfahan, and Shiraz. On some occasions it can be also useful for tourists, so – why not try?

The most budget-friendly way to travel across Iran is without any doubt by using intercity buses. Even more, the night buses – saving you a hostel fee and also a full day for a new destination.

Tehran has 4 bus terminals, other cities just 1 or 2 – from each one you can pick a normal (Maamuli) or luxury (VIP) intercity bus. Maamuli is a typical tourist bus, usually not the newest one, with some 50 passenger capacity. Another story for VIP – luxury extra large seats, lots of space for legs, great comfort during the journey, some 25 seats altogether – obviously the best choice for a long journey. Unfortunately, there is the price tag – VIP costs around 80% more than a normal bus, to give a fresh example, my recent trip Babolsar – Tehran, some 200 km: Maamuli 240 000 rials vs. VIP 420 000 rials…Btw in any Iranian bus voyage, there is a bottle of water and a small snack included!

The best way is to ask an Iranian to book for you using local websites – or doing yourself a trip to terminal, there are at least several companies and their hawkers, initially insisting you should take a VIP bus. If you resist and insist on Maamuli, you will be able to buy the cheaper one, of course!

Avoid English language bus booking sites directed to tourists – it is easy, but you’ll pay double or triple. For example on one such “helpful” website, my Tehran – Babolsar tickets were for “only” 5 euro – in real exchange 700 000 rials at that moment –  for Maamuli bus – while I paid for the same ticket 240 000 rials, like normal Iranians, at the bus station.

There is quite a good railways network, but tickets are more expensive, and often no places available in immediate days. As for local airlines, it can be an idea in case you want to do a really long jump –  f. ex. Tehran – Bandar Abbas flight can cost around 30 euro (at this time). Always ask an Iranian to help you, using local booking sites; if you do it by an agency or English language website – you will pay more.

BlaBlaCar does not include Iran, unfortunately (neither AirBnB).

Top 4 off the beaten path places to visit in Iran

There are hundreds of wonderful places, some of which are well known to all visiting tourists, but there are a few rather less-known places to visit in Iran. I will introduce four of these off the beaten path places I have loved visiting in Iran.

Qeshm Island

The largest Persian Gulf island does not make part of the standard Iran tour most tourists follow – but nevertheless is among the most interesting places for those who can stay for more than one week in the country. Located in the Hormuz Strait, close to Bandar Abbas port, the island offers several unique amazing spots as well as the possibility of practicing sports, snorkeling and diving, watching turtles and dolphins – or simply relaxing on its warm beaches.
Its main wonders include the unique geological natural wonder Stars Valley, Mangrove Forest to visit by small boat, and a huge colorful salt cave. You can stay in traditional Hormuzi guesthouses, try local fish-based food and you definitely will meet many lovely camels, a frequent sight on this island, and in some parts of the Deep South of Iran. In the main city, also called Qeshm, is located an old Portuguese fort – in fact, Portugal controlled the Strait of Hormuz for more than 100 years and a couple of their castles survived until our days.
Curiously Qeshm, as well as smaller and more luxury-oriented Island of Kish, enjoys a kind of tax-free regime, hence it is a destination of shopping trips for many Iranians.
Definitely not a place to go during very hot summers, Qeshm will charm you from early fall to late spring. You can arrive by fast ferries or by place. Once there, you can visit nearby Hormuz and Hendan islands, too.

places to visit in Iran

Qeshm: The largest island in the Persian Gulf.

Khararanagh adobe ghost town

Situated not far away from Yazd, this incredible place consists of hundreds of small adobe houses, usually connected between them, slowly degrading with each year passing…Hundreds of years old dwellings, still bustling with life some 30 years ago, were left by its inhabitants for modern homes with gas and water. Others left for big cities… It is a strange sensation, walking around and inside these domes, so small for our standards, aware of generations that passed their lives just there.
Kharanagh has situated some 80 km from Yazd, usually, you can visit it on “3 in 1 tour”, together with Chak Chak Zoroastrian holy place and the ancient city of Meybod. Iran, Yazd province, the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir desert, Kharanaq old village with its mud bricks (adobe) houses overlooking the Andjir valley.

places to visit in Iran

Situated not far away from Yazd, Khararanagh adobe ghost town consists of hundreds of small adobe houses.

Makhunik “Liliput village”

For some factors, during a couple of centuries, like lack of green land to feed animals, that forced people to a rather poor vegetable diet for all their life, and near-total isolation of the small population – when “discovered” about 100 years ago, the Makhunik villagers became quite famous for their small stature – having in average about 130 cm. For that reason, you can imagine their adobe houses were also very low, often round and have usually only one small window –  to keep warm and save heating during harsh winters. Actually, with a road finally open, changed diet and mixed marriages, more and more inhabitants are average tall, but while visiting Makhunik you will surely meet older people proud of their unique look and living in those picturesque little houses.
The village is located in South Khorasan province, best to visit in spring or fall time.

 

Ray, the ancient city in Tehran metropolitan area

While for most tourists Tehran is the point of entry to Iran and the place they stay first few days visiting its museums and landmarks – it is very easy to miss a much older city, that actually makes part of the huge and growing Tehran metropolis. Fortunately, Shahr e Ray (City of Ray) is now easily connected thanks to the metro network, and it takes less than half an hour to reach it from the center of the capital. While Tehran itself was a small town until becoming Persia’s capital in 1795, Ray located south of it was a thriving big city for over 2000 years. Although destroyed heavily during Mongol invasions, Rey offers several interesting landmarks, as wonderful Emamzadeh Abdol-Azim shrine (place of prayer and pilgrimage, but open to anyone), Rashkan Castle on the hill, Chesmeh Ali rock reliefs and famous Seljuk period Tughrul Tower.
The simplest way to reach this ancient city is by metro Red Line direction south, station Shahr e Rey. To stations further south there is a really huge, beautiful, recently build shrine (some decoration works inside and outside are still ongoing) of Emam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran (also open for everyone).

travel to Iran

Iran Budget Travel – Part 1: Flights and Money

In this article, I would like to present some information and tips, hopefully, useful for “hard budget” travelers, with limited means but nevertheless dreaming of exploring the ancient land of Persia. As it was exactly my case, I am glad to share my experience in Iran travel costs!

Iran visa

While most Europeans (with the notable exception of UK) can obtain VOA in Iran’s several main airports, this obviously closes the possibility to arrive in other ways – by land or sea.
If you arrange an electronic visa before coming to Iran and are not in rush – you will be able to spice up your trip by making your journey a bit more adventurous and at least having a glance of some South Caucasus countries – while using well known European low-cost airlines.

Economic flight to Iran

Wizzair already connects Kutaisi in Georgia with lots of European cities; recently also Ryanair opened some connections with Kutaisi and Tbilisi. From amazing Tbilisi, it is possible to take a bus to Tehran, transiting Armenia and admiring towns and mountain roads. The bus price recently was around 60 euro, but take note that its some 30 h trip. Georgia and Armenia are visa-free for most Western nationals.
Otherwise, there is also the Wizzair connection Budapest-Baku, often around 50 euro, but in such a case you probably need also Azerbaijan e-visa that costs some 20 euro. There are bus and train connections to Tabriz or Tehran, or you can cross the Astara border and continue by exploring wonderful Green Paradise of Caspian areas of North Iran.
In case you come from Russia, Azerbaijani Buta Airways offers good prices Moscow to Tehran, via Baku.
Otherwise, as I did myself – the cheapest flight from many European countries is with Pegasus Airlines, a Turkish near-low cost company, obviously via Istanbul Sabiha Airport. In some periods of last year, there were prices (hand luggage only) of around 80 euro, one-way ticket – even from so faraway places as Madrid.
OK, so assuming you came to Iran you will need to stay somewhere, travel inside the country try local food – the good news is that it is very low actually, as long as you stay within “Iranian Price Space” by what I mean avoiding being corralled into specific services for foreign tourists, at much higher prices.
So, let’s talk about money – and here the fun starts! There are 2 money units in practice and 2 parallel foreign exchanges! Isn’t it wonderful?
Important – because of long time USA sanctions, no foreign bank card of any kind works in Iran. You must take CASH (euro or dollars) with you.
Any online source indicates that the official money of IRI is RIAL, nevertheless, Iranians with strange determination keep using the old unit, TOMAN – that worth 10 Rials, and nearly all prices are indicated in this unit: in shops, bazaars, taxis, etc. So, it is very confusing at the beginning, especially as we use hundreds of thousands and millions (of Rials – as these are the notes) on a daily basis.
Another initial tourist trap is the exchange rate. As said, there are two, government one and the real one. The real one does not mean the black market, as you change legally in exchange shops – that pay you 3-4 times more than banks on the same street, (as the banks by law must follow the Central Bank rates)! Doesn’t look a bit strange?

Everything about Iran money (Rial)

Because of recent sanctions and a de facto economic blockade, Iran’s Rial has lost its value compared to euro and dollar. If 3 years ago 1 euro was about 40 000 Rials, in October 2019 it was around 120 000 and in mid–December 2019 it is around 150 000 Rials – or as Iranians would say 15 000 Tomans.
Depending on many domestic or international factors Rial’s exchange can jump up or down (usually up) and it is absolutely crucial to check the latest rates on https://www.bonbast.com/.
What about other, Central Bank of Iran rate – it is for local importers and for other legitimate cases. The government keeps this rate, so they can buy dollars or euros at an easier price. However, it has nothing to do with tourists; as today, this rate for 1 euro is around 46 000 Rials – so, simply do not use banks to exchange your money, go only to private exchange points.
Be careful, the trap can wait for you in first minutes of your stay in Iran – while in need to change some money in Tehran Emam Khomeini airport, and wandering around – I was approached by a nice smart looking guy offering me to exchange my euros, giving me “very good rate” some 5000 Rials over the “official bank exchange” – of course showing me on his smartphone the exchange table of Central Bank in English!
Fortunately, I knew the real rate. Take note, on the second floor of the Emam Khomeini airport there is a money exchange shop, giving you quite good rates, so go there to change for the first needs.
Very important – with this fast depreciation, nobody knows how will be Rial exchange rate in 1 or 2 weeks – so do not exchange all money at once, but little by little, following your needs.
In Tehran, most of the exchange points are located in Ferdowsi Square (also metro station) and around, mainly on Ferdowsi street. Avoid black market dealers, that hang around and will approach you – they pay LESS than exchange shops and the same can even cheat you with fake or outdated notes.
Actually, most used note it is 100 000 Rials; the next bigger (and the biggest until now) note is 500 000 Rial; 3 years ago it had a somehow serious value of quite 15 euro – and as today is worth a bit over 3 euro in free exchange… for these reasons the smallest notes of 1000 and 2000 Rial notes and especially the coins, are nowadays rarely used.

5 Iranian local foods I love and I miss while abroad

In every region, every country you go to – you will find some unique foods – that you love so much. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is hard, if not impossible, to find them abroad. Here are five Iranian local foods I love and I am sure I will miss it when I leave this country.

Dough

Dough is a cherished traditional yogurt-based Iranian drink, to accompany meals and also used as an ingredient of many dishes such as soup or a variety of sauces. While in some European countries it is possible to find sour milk beverages – typically just acid in taste as kefir or buttermilk – Iranian dough offer a full symphony of taste and aroma. They are lightly salted, then come as plain dough, with mint, with thyme, or with several green herbs flavor. In every small shop or big supermarket, you will find an area with 1.5-liter bottles with this white drink; usually, there are several brands and varieties of taste. First of all, there is classic dough (no gas – some 80% brands) and carbonated one. Isn’t it a bit weird? a big plastic bottle of fully carbonated, salty, yogurt, and herbs-based beverage? I love it and I could find it only in Iran! Just be careful when opening the carbonated one, you will have several seconds of a champagne-like fountain, so do it carefully-otherwise your (and your neighbors’) clothes will suffer!

Iranian Dough

Iranian dough offers a full symphony of taste and aroma.

Kale-Pache

It is a soup – but a very special one! You will usually know about approaching a kale-pache shop from far away, because of the unmistakable smell it has. Considered as a kind of Persian Red Bull and winter panacea, it is also a love it/hates it food, somehow like British Marmite. Kale Pache means exactly Heads and Legs (of sheep, and sometimes goats) and it is, in fact, the essence of these ingredients, that boil for several hours on a small fire in a huge pot (hence the smell you can notice from a distance). It is believed that such powerful, caloric and tasty Persian food will make you healthy and strong in many aspects. I personally love it – but many Iranians, and seemingly the majority of local girls does not like it, be it for the smell, the taste of its ingredients. Absolutely to try!

Iranian local foods - kaleh-pacheh

Considered as a kind of Persian Red Bull and winter panacea, it Kale-Pache is a love it/hate it food!

Fermented Black Garlic

As a kind of pickle, a local specialty of Northern Iran, I never saw it outside the Caspian Sea areas. These regions were often under Russian influence, so I think this might be the reason why the locals love to pickle near everything – as it is a custom in Russia, too. So, when I first walked across food bazaar in Babolsar (a seaside city in Mazandaran province) I was astonished to see big quantities of black garlic, other vegetables pickled in barrels (as well as lots of smoked fish, not to find elsewhere in Iran). The local variety of garlic is supposed to have anti-inflammatory effects and to be beneficial against a number of illnesses. This is among the Iranian local foods offering an incredible taste and I really love it, altogether with local fish-based food.

Iranian local foods

This is among the Iranian local foods that offering an incredible taste and I really love it, altogether with local fish-based food.

Fresh pomegranate juice

Well, it is not limited in Iran, it is ubiquitous in all Iranian cities – street sellers with chromed metal pressers offering you a glass of the deliciously fresh (and very cheap by the way) pomegranate juice; also, if you want you can buy a small or bigger bottle of this juice right from street vendors and shops, it has wonderful taste and is full of vitamins.

Iranian local foods

Fresh pomegranate juice: A drink you can find everywhere in Iran.

Saffron sugar sticks (rock candy)

Saffron, is a rare and wonderful spice loved by Iranians. the product has been used for millennia in the Persian kitchen. Unfortunately, Saffron is not a cheap luxury, even more, precious than gold in some periods! In local bazaars, you will find different kinds of it in proudly exposed glass vases. But what I discovered soon is that there is a more popular and wallet-friendly use of this noble material – the saffron rock sugar sticks. Looking like miniature zurkhaneh sticks (if you have no idea of this ancient local sport – think about very fat baseball bats) – the rock sugar is mixed with a bit of saffron, giving it a beautiful dark yellow color, with a sweet taste and supposedly, health qualities. They are specially served with tea; a great gift or your own souvenir from Iran. I love to use them when offering tea to most precious friends, astonished by such a nice, sophisticated way of sweetening a hot drink.

Saffron sugar sticks, known also as rock candy, is a delicate Iranian sweet served with tea.

Tehran taxi

Public transportation in Tehran

Tehran is one of the biggest megapolises around the world, with about 15 million residents are living in it. Fortunately, there is an efficient public transportation system, of which backbone constitutes Tehran Urban & Suburban Railway – or simply Tehran Subway. As of December 2019, this network is 230 km, 7 lines and some 125 urban and hinterland stations are in constant development. Obviously this is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way for traveling, with names of stations and maps written also in English, strategically connects 2 airports, 4 intercity bus terminals, and railway stations. Apart from local specificity – a couple of women-only wagons, usually the first and the last wagons of a train – everything else is the same as in every metro system worldwide. There are women-only wagons, as the name says are prohibited for men, and the rest of the train is for everyone.
Please search online for the most recent version of the metro map before using the metro in Tehran, since the new stations are opening (and stations’ names are often changed).

There are vast areas of the capital which do not have access to the subway yet, so, you can use the public bus network. In fact, there is a double bus network in Tehran – normal buses often stuck in traffic, but connect many areas of the capital and BRT, bus rapid transit system, which is a very long double bus, connecting several large, important avenues. The most important BRT lines are the one transporting through west/east Tehran in about half an hour from Azadi Tower Square (Western Bus Terminal) to Eastern Bus Terminal on the opposite side; and the other one linking northern metro Tajrish with South Bus Terminal area. These lines are quite easy to use for travelers, with easy maps and English marked stops.

public transportation in Tehran

public transportation in Tehran: BRT

However, Different story goes with standard buses; unfortunately, it will be hard to use them without knowing Persian or having someone as your translator. The only information you will find in English is the line’s number plus the first and the last station. Usually, these places are absolutely unknown to a foreigner, there is no map of their route. However, if you have some spare time, taking a random bus line for a short “visual trip” of the city would be a good idea.
Even if you stay a few days, the best way is to buy rechargeable Tehran transport card, offered in any subway station ticket kiosk (it also works for buses), charge it (like the actual value of 1 $ or 1 euro in free exchange), you can now use it for several trips. Do not forget to touch sensors when leaving the subway station (as Iranians do), so you pay the real, not maximum, fare.
On BRT buses you pay while entering the station (there is a staff) and in ordinary buses touch sensor when leaving the bus (in these buses it is also possible to pay in cash). By the way, on the buses, there are also “women only” sections.
Of course, Tehran is full of taxis – as in every other metropolitan. There will be some risk to meet those trying to cheat, often playing with the Iranian double system of saying price – Toman /Rial. You should know that the price is always said in Toman in spoken language. Try to fix the price with the driver before you get in and specify that you agree on it in Toman. Do not forget to find out the details about Iran’s currency before your trip.

Tehran taxi

Tehran is full of taxis.

However, the best way to travel “taxi –style” – at least to try – is to use the “Snapp” app, a local version of Uber.
First, you should ideally purchase a local sim card (with internet), then install Snapp”. The app works fully in English, when you choose the start and destination points, the price will be shown, always in Rial – so, if you agree with this price touch order bottom, a Snapp driver will find you and there will be no further money discussions. However, it is good to know at least 1-10 Persian numbers, so you will be able to recognize “your” cab quickly when the car registration number and driver’s photo will appear on your screen. It is a really good alternative to public transportation particularly during rush hours in Tehran.

Persian breakfast

My Persian breakfast experience

For me, breakfast is of utmost importance – a way to turn on my organism, start a new day in a strong, energetic manner and to put it simply, not to feel hungry until at least lunchtime. I have traveled to many countries, experiencing a variety of local breakfasts, some of them close to my own country, Poland, a strong morning meal, that can include fried eggs with sausage or bacon, variety of sandwiches, often with cold meat, smoked fish or varieties of yellow Gouda- like cheese. This goes for Northern and Eastern Europe, while an average Italian or French man will consume just a couple of brioches or croissants with a cup of cappuccino. So, after I arrived in Tehran, I was very curious about the local Persian breakfast morning food, just hoping that my hostel would not serve a kind of “international breakfast”.

Persian-breakfast

Iranian breakfast: A healthy meal with great diversity.

Indeed, there and also later, travelling across Iran, I discovered the local custom; I suppose it is the most popular, “mainstream” Persian breakfast – probably in some remote or nomadic communities it can be different. But while hopping several hostels in most visited cities and towns of Iran, I became familiar with this one, repeated with some small varieties.
First of all – “Chai”, meaning tea in Persian. The national drink for centuries, served during all the day, often from beautiful Russian-style old samovars. Since gas and electricity are quite cheap in Iran, you will notice everywhere in hostels and on streets, big traditional or modern samovars, always on fire and full of boiling water, ready to fill your cup of tea or (more rarely) coffee. Coffee is not yet very popular here.

Persian tea

Tea is a popular drink in Iran. Persian breakfast is served with tea.

In Iran, there are many kinds of local bread, including European style ones. However, in most places I stayed, they usually served a soft bread, somehow similar to pita – as we call it in Europe, or my preferred crunchy bread – similar a bit to Italian ciabatta. Then, on Persian morning table I always found some staple elements – white, a bit salty cheese, (sometimes it was a local version of feta); to go with it, sliced tomatoes and fresh cucumbers. I was a bit astonished by this affection of Iranians towards crude cucumbers – I saw people eating them in parks as we do with apples!
And always there will be boiled eggs or (less often) fried eggs, butter, sometimes green olives – this is the salty part, that a tourist will find in most of Iran’s hostels. I heard that in some upper levels hotels or in some families a breakfast can include also soup, among them the famous (or infamous for some smell sensitive people) Kale-Pache, a hot essence created by slow fire boiling of heads and legs of goats and muttons – considered a traditional “Persian Red Bull” and winter panacea by many. You can find kale-pache in some restaurants, of course.

kale pache

kale-pache: A kind of Iranian dish usually served as breakfast.

There was obviously also a sweet part of my Persian breakfasts – usually a bowl of dates, a plate with halva, fruit jams and honey. There will be some cake or common biscuits, too. Another curiosity – Iranians love carrot jam, I found out seeing it in every hostel I stayed. In the cities, carrot juice is very popular, altogether with fresh pomegranate juice, you will see lots of sellers and kiosks offering it.

And to keep it healthy, Iranians finish the morning meal by some fruits – mainly apples and oranges.
So, while from time to time I miss a brown bread sandwich with smoked salmon or eggs and bacon dish, I consider a typical Persian breakfast very tasty and extremely healthy – unless you go wild on halva abuse, of course :)))

everything about Iran

Expectations vs Reality about Iran

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are” – Samuel Johnson
We all know expectations and reality are two different things, especially when we travel. And there’s pleasure in seeing how the two differ, to satisfy that need of discovery, to touch the world with your own hands. But as we build our hopes and expectations, sometimes, we feel some tricky instincts. What is reasonably safe to expect about Iran?
I almost missed seeing Iran because of this. And oh, what a loss it would have been! To be honest, while I am writing this, I just can’t wipe a funny smirk off my face because things are so different from what I imagined that I actually forgot what I expected! Funny that no?
I don’t want anyone to miss any good travel opportunity, so I set out calling my friends back home, back in Europe and asked them what they would expect Iran to be like. And in this article, for you, I am going to disprove or confirm the most common assumptions Westerners have of Iran.

Unfriendly people

Some of my friends mentioned the idea that due to the recent diplomatic tensions that Iran has been involved in, they would expect Iranians to be bitter and angry at Westerners.
Nonsense!

everything about Iran

You will never experience hospitality until you travel to Iran!

Iranians have a huge heart and an impressive hospitality culture! As one of my French friends cycling through Iran puts it: “If I didn’t refuse some of the invitations, I would have to stay in every small village for a month”.
I myself have been cuddled and taken care of by these kind-hearted hosts at every step. In many cases just casually explaining that I had a problem prompted huge chain reactions: somebody would call a friend that would call his friends that would call others still until a solution to my problem would finally be found. Nuclear generosity! Lame pun intended…

Verdict: False expectation

No English

Most of my friends back in Italy tell me they would not expect the locals to speak any English.
This is entirely wrong! While of course, not everybody here speaks English, I could always find people that speak enough of it, or even some French, in a matter of less than a minute when I need it. Even street signs are in English, so I never got lost. As a matter of fact, this had troubled me a lot in Turkey, where meeting anyone speaking some English was like finding a needle in a haystack. Phew!
Oh, and expect some great conversations!
Verdict: False expectation

travel to Iran

You will hardly have any problem with language when you travel to Iran.

Not enough tourist services

Since Iran is not often mentioned in the tourist forums and is not generally talked of as a travel destination in the Western world, many assume that the country is not prepared to offer basic services that travelers might need.
I remember reading that the international banking circuits do not work here, and my Mastercard would be useless. The idea of entering the country with hard cash on me was worrying, and not just a little. I relaxed as soon as I entered the country, though. I got myself a prepaid card that can be used in just about every shop, and I’m virtually safe from any theft. This is the only true annoyance for a traveler in Iran.
I had also heard that you cannot do online reservations because of the banking circuits, but the solutions to this are also being offered.
As for the rest, both the Iranian government and private investors have been consistently looking in these past years to attract more tourists. The benefits of this effort are already being reaped: Internet services can take care of your visa application; new hostels, traditional houses, and eco-lodges are being constantly opened, apps are now being used for transportation, you can find tours and activities for just about anything, and you can find tourist police in some cities. In just a few words, tourist services are aplenty and solutions are offered for any hard-cored inconveniences.
Verdict: False expectation

about Iran: tourists' services

Iranian restaurants are the best!

Dirty and polluted

I have never seen any dirt on the streets, and cities are very (!!!) clean. Walking the streets at any hour of day or night, you will find someone sweeping the roads. To be fair, though, I have been informed that in some remote and sparsely inhabited areas there are not efficient methods of waste disposal. This is, unfortunately, a problem I have encountered in many developing countries.
As for pollution, while other cities are within the norms, Tehran suffers from bad air quality. The reasons are to be found in the number of old cars and the sub-standard gasoline that is now being used in the country because of the international sanctions. This combines with the constant urbanization and influx of people migrating into the city, as is usually the case with capitals of big countries. The battle is not lost though, as the government is constantly devising new methods of fighting pollution as the city grows.
All in all, I have seen dirty cities and comparable pollution in south-eastern Europe, and have nothing to be surprised of.
Verdict: Partially true expectation

Iran's attractions: Tabatabae'i house

Iran is truly one of the cleanest countries you can travel to!

Religious law

The hint is in the name. “Islamic Republic of Iran”. It is the first country I visited with “Islamic” in its name, and before I arrived I was scared witless!
What if I was arrested for something I did not know? Is this Sharia? As with all other fears I had, I relaxed as soon as I entered the country. First of all, the Iranian legal system incorporates some elements of religious law. Granted, some rules might sound uncomfortable for Europeans, used to the most liberal legal systems in the world, but the truth is every country has its laws and adapting to these is the compromise every good citizen of the world makes when traveling. Among these rules, there is a dress code, no blasphemy, no alcohol, no drugs and no intimate touching in public. It is also useful to know that it is not a good idea to criticize the Iranian government or to take pictures of military premises and personnel. These are easy enough rules to follow, and after the first few days, you will be doing that unconsciously.
Also, remember that I said that the government is trying to expand the tourism sector? Well, unofficially speaking, local police is encouraged to offer some leniency to tourists, so you are more likely to get a warning than real trouble. Just be responsible about it.
After you get these rules straight, you are free to enjoy the marvels of this land and its friendly people.
Verdict: True expectation
-Religious intolerance
The religiously inspired legal system does not mean there is any worrying level of religious intolerance. Iran is home to the very old Zoroastrian religion, which still lives here, and Shia Islam is simply the last of the many waves of religions that this land has experienced in its rich history. I found various active temples of fire and churches and mosques. More importantly, I found out quite happily that the contacts between these religions have resulted in some Iranians being self-educated about different faiths’ doctrines.
That being said, in some poor areas of the country, there are religious tensions between Sunnis and Shias.
There is a law prohibiting the conversion of Muslims to non-muslim faiths, so don’t go around spreading the Gospel.
Verdict: False expectation

Vank cathedral

All religions are respected in Iran.

Desert, ruins, and AK47

It is the literal answer of one of my European friends to the question “What does Iran make you think of?”.
I left this as the last point in my article as it is the most ludicrous and funny answer I had been given, although I must say many expressed similar opinions when I called from this cozy office in Tehran.
I and my Iranian colleagues laughed for a few good minutes when I told them.
Iran’s last war ended more than 30 years ago, the military’s rifle of choice is not the Kalashnikov, and the deserts in Iran is like nothing you might expect. It is important not to mix up countries just because of proximity. Iran is not Afghanistan, Iranians are not Arabs, and for God’s sake, Iran is not Iraq!
Iran is Persia, an ancient cradle of civilization, a multicultural country with a rich, diverse history, stunning landscapes, friendly people, good food and hidden treasures!
Expect the unexpected.

Iran deserts
Verdict: Go see the Iran deserts!

Is Iran safe

Is Iran safe?

“One gunshot a day keeps the tourist away” – Oscar Sega

I had decided to travel from Italy to India by land. In taking this decision, the first thing that I thought to check about every country was checking whether it is safe; before checking its average costs, its laws or…  Among the countries that I had to check, staying right in the middle of my whole travel, was Iran. Is Iran safe?
So I did my research and after a thorough, meticulous examination of news, American movies, and my friends’ and family’s expert opinions asking is Iran safe and it emerged that here I would be murdered, kidnapped, beaten, robbed, scammed, killed in a terrorist attack, and finally sold as a sex slave. In this precise order!

Is Iran safe?

Is Iran safe? Alex tells you about his experience of traveling to Iran.

But I decided to go, to brave it, and now, from this comfortable, air-conditioned office in Tehran, I can tell you that news, American movies, and my family’s opinions are hardly truthful! Unbelievable, right? It was never easy to distinguish between propaganda and genuine information. Only now that I’m here, I have an idea about the truth. I will tell you what I found out.

This may come as a surprise to you, but far from the awful, politically motivated media depictions in the West, Iran is a really safe country. For example, the two risk assessment institutions “International SOS” and “Risk control” evaluate Iran’s risk to travelers to be comparable to that of most European countries’. They have a nice world map, with the levels of risk associated by country, and if you want to see it for yourself and have more info on how the research was done, go to this web page. It’s very useful for travelers going anywhere.

Iran is the safest country I have encountered during my trip. Yes, safer than south-east Europe, and yes, safer than the tourist-ridden Turkey.
Therefore, I will cover in a few points, what you should know and do about your safety while you are traveling to Iran.

Criminality

Crime rates are low! There are a few reasons for this.
One of them is the fact that Iranians are simply a lovely lot, and the combination of social values that they live by is something simply out of this world (visit taarof art). Another reason is the law. Whatever law infringement is punished severely, so many would-be criminals simply decide not to risk it. More importantly, all drugs and alcoholic beverages are prohibited, so the risk of meeting some late revelers who can’t hold his liquor is reduced to zero.
Nevertheless, this is what you should know about different types of criminality in the country:
Petty theft: Although uncommon, it still exists. Since the beginning of the international sanctions against Iran, due to the increased economic pressure on the poorer part of the population, more cases of petty theft have been observed, although they are hardly more than what you’d find in Europe. So, watch out for pickpockets.
Kidnapping: It is a Westerner’s worst fear. As for what regards human trafficking, it sadly exists here. In some rural religiously divided communities, family feuds can develop where some kidnapping is involved. Tourist kidnapping is virtually non-existent, though. Try as I might, the last kidnapping of a tourist I found happened 11 years ago, involving a Japanese tourist, and the last one before that is from 2003. You need to have no worries on this matter.
Sex offense: Some rare, uncouth individual might grope you in a crowded place. Otherwise, Iranian men are very respectful, if not outright gallant.
Violence: Iranians are proud people. I have seen some verbal fights, but never anything physical. In any case, this doesn’t concern you, as they will just let it go as soon as they understand you are a foreigner.
Scams: The most dangerous scammers are those who might claim to be policemen in civilian clothes, and thus take away your passport and some other belongings. Make sure not to give in to such a simple (but sadly sometimes effective) scam.
You might be asked to pay more than the normal prices for purchases. This is quite common in the Middle East. Still, due to the general good values of the Iranian society, this is much less likely to happen here than, for example, in Turkey. If you want to be sure just ask a random passerby what would be a reasonable price for what you want to buy. Otherwise, just get yourself an Iranian friend to shop with. Much more fun!

All in all, criminality in Iran shouldn’t worry you. It is nothing out of the ordinary and it is at the same time pretty rare.

safety issues in Iran

Is Iran safe? You are less likely to die in a terrorist attack in Iran than you are to die of a terrorist attack in London or Paris.

Terrorism risk

This is one of the main concerns for prospective travelers out there. But the risk of being a victim of a terrorist attack in Iran is ridiculously small. First of all, the targets of such attacks usually are government employees and representatives, not the general population (although of course there are civilian victims too). Second, compared to neighboring countries, rife with social tensions, and to France, the USA, and Great Britain, Iran did not have any attacks. Long story short: you are less likely to die in a terrorist attack in Iran than you are to die of a terrorist attack in London or Paris. Yet, that doesn’t dissuade you from going to Paris, does it?

Safety from the Law

Are you a spy, viciously plotting the downfall of the Islamic Republic of Iran? If yes, then prepare to be incarcerated. If not, then respect the law, don’t discuss internal politics, don’t slander Islam, and respect the dress code. And enjoy your stay!

Safety from war

One friend of mine framed this worry in the funny expression “desert, ruins, and AK47”. I must address this. There is no war or conflict zone in Iran.
Moreover, as for what regards the recent tensions with the USA, any serious analyst will explain why war is in the interest of neither country, and that open-armed hostilities are extremely unlikely. The media just loves to spread panic. Don’t listen to them without any critical thinking. Be smart!

Safety from earthquake

Iran is literally a mountainous plateau, and many of its mountains are actually extinct volcanoes. It is not a surprise then that earthquakes are frequent. Make sure to learn what you should do if you find yourself in a building during an earthquake.

Safety in traffic

I left this last because, strangely, it is the most important.
Without a shred of doubt, the most dangerous thing in Iran is the way people drive. Iran has one of the highest rates of car accidents in the world. Road signs are not very well positioned, and in any case, an Iranian driver is not likely to care that much. Crossing the road must be done following an Iranian like you followed your mommy when you were a sweet, sweet child. On the plus side, should you learn to drive in Iran, you’ll be ready for Formula 1.

Iran

Tourists feel quite safe while they are in Iran.

And finally, the last piece of advice I can give is this. Always take precautions dictated by common sense and trust your instinct. It is a powerful tool! That man that insistently stares at you? Watch him. That dark alley that looks like it comes straight out of your childhood’s nightmares? Avoid it. Wherever you might be, in your hometown or traveling abroad, safety depends on you!

Of course, while I hope I answered all the most pressing doubts you might have, I understand that it is unlikely that one article will defeat the impression that years and years of media might have convinced you of. So if you still have any queries on the matter of safety feel free to contact us, and we will answer your questions.

foodie

Persian food: A foodie’s experience in Iran

When you are travelling, whether you are a foodie or not, you have to taste local food. How could you go somewhere without trying any local dishes? Trying Persian food in Iran is no exception.

foodie-Iranian dish

Iranian cuisine is the most memorable part of traveling to Iran.

Travel in itself is not a one-dimensional endeavour. It is supposed to be done using all senses and feelings. Giving up on this idea would somehow handicap the full potential of your travel experience. Besides, food is probably the easiest element to experience in a culture. You just have to eat it, let it defy what you had previously known about food, and be awed by the discovery. And in my travels, few foods left me as awed as the Persian food.

There is something truly unique about Persian food. It doesn’t differ from the European foods I’ve tasted simply in terms of ingredients or cooking techniques. What differentiates the Iranian cuisine is a paradigm shift in the way you’re supposed to feel tastes. No matter if you are eating a kebab or any of the many stews originating from this country, or any other Persian food for that matter, you simply can’t expect to feel any familiar taste! And there are more than just one reason to try it!

If we are to take a more famous example for comparison, such as the Mediterranean cuisine, foods in Italy, Greece, and Southern France from five hundred years ago were the precursors of what you may taste there today. They were very different from their current form.

If we go even further back we’ll find out we lost countless recipes! It used to be that the ancient Romans served some of their dishes with Garum, a mix of putrefied fish guts and salt and spices (doesn’t it sound inviting?). Before that, the Greeks used to mix their wine, which was more like nowadays Porto than normal wine, with water and honey and spices. In half of Europe the word for the liver is a variation of the Latin word “ficus”, fig, since liver used to be served with a side of figs. Yet, did you ever try any of these things?

The past centuries have transformed the European culinary art in the direction of simplification. This is by no means a bad thing, as it just represents a philosophy of food: nowadays, in most of the world, common practice usually dictates that just a couple tastes are allowed to collaborate or duel in the mouth for the ultimate pleasure of the taste buds. Any diner will thus engage with a well-defined, carefully designed, targeted aroma.

In Iranian cuisine, on the other hand, a dish is not made to please the palate with an easily discernible taste. Sweet and sour, salty, bitter, and umami can all be present in an Iranian dish, and do so harmoniously. Meat, pomegranate, nuts, onion, and butter can easily find their way in one single Iranian dish. As you eat you’ll find out how these tastes come in layers and constantly keep you guessing. Any bite or spoonful is a mix of different proportions of this or that, an alchemy of wildly distinct tastes.

Persian food

Gheime: A tasty Persian food.

Why?

Because the distinctiveness of the climates and biomes in Iran provides for a huge choice in matter of ingredients. Iran also used to be the first multicultural empire in the history of humanity, and its crossroads position in Asia brought on countless migrations, invasions, and trade routes with yet more ingredients. There is now a myriad of people, even a couple of entire nations inside Iran. True to the rich history of ancient sciences and philosophies that used to travel with these peoples, here foods are classified according to ancient tables, like you would do with alchemy, in cold foods and warm foods. It has nothing to do with the actual temperature of the food, as much as it has to do with the effect that it has on the body of the consumer. Good practice says that at any table the cold foods and the warm foods should be equilibrated, and this tradition, originating probably from ancient Greek medicine over two thousand years ago, is still alive today! Eating Iranian is, in all senses, a jump in the culinary past of our world.

Needless to say, all these factor has make this country the origin of a wealth of different tastes that deserve to be tried. As a fan of Asian food I can tell that, despite it not being famous enough, Persian food has nothing to envy to Thai, Chinese, or Japanese.
Persian food is a culinary rainbow. It is no wonder that it is not possible for me, unless I intended to write a Tractatus, to describe all the delicacies that I have come across. I will nevertheless give you a few examples of things you should definitely try if you go to Iran, or if you stumble upon a good Iranian restaurant (and I strongly encourage you to!).

Kebab

Can’t reasonably start with anything else! Kebab is, of course, the most famous Iranian dish around the world. One could say that it is something that originates in the whole Middle East. While this might be true, the best kebab I have ever eaten was in Iran. Forget the usual roll-up you’re used to in Europe, this is entirely different. It is usually a skewer of either slices of meat or minced meat. It tastes like heaven and is always accompanied by some rice and vegetables, among which baked tomatoes and raw onion, useful for cutting the meaty taste between one bite and another.
The cook may attempt to freshen it up some more by giving you some lime and parsley, or can tradeoff the simplicity of the meat taste for a more intense experience, through marinating the meat and using sauces unlike anything we can think of in Europe.
In any case, I agree with the Iranians’ prideful boast that “You haven’t really tried kebab until you tried the Iranian one”

Iranian Kebab

You have not tried kebab until you try the Iranian one!

Rice

Again, I can’t reasonably not continue with rice. Rice is a staple food in Iran, and more often than not everything else is accompanied by it. It is so since the 16th century, when it became widespread among the population, although it is supposed that the rice dishes had been by that time in evolution in the Persian nobles’ kitchens for some seven hundred years already. Iran doesn’t only have some areas very suitable to rice cultivation, such as Gilan, but also access to different types of rice and methods of preparation. This is the consequence of neighbouring other countries that have also been huge consumers of rice. Of particular notice is the fact that Persia has had immense historical cultural contact with northern India, so it is certain that some dishes and techniques relative to the cooking of rice have travelled between the two regions.
Rice can be prepared as chelo, where the rice is boiled a bit and then steamed to make it fluffy. It is simply covered with some spices, saffron, and ready to accompany another food, such as kebab. The other type of rice is polo, where the rice is boiled until all water evaporates, and there are fruits, pieces of meat, or other ingredients boiling with it. This particular type of cooking has become so famous that, through either Turkey or Russia, pilav\pilaf rice is eaten in the traditional cuisine of my very own Romania, in eastern Europe.
Also, regardless of how you cook it, all rice that stays on the bottom of the kettle and becomes crunchy is tah-dig, and it is often fought for by Iranian diners.
Expect saffron, raisins, pomegranate, nuts, olives, cinnamon, and many more ingredients with your rice.

Persian food - foodie

Rice is cooked in various different forms in Iran; you may see it as fluffy white called “Chelo” or mixed with other ingredients called “Polo”.

Khoresht

Literally meaning stew, and the most used accompaniment to chelo rice. The greatest variety of ingredients is probably used in the preparation of stews.
If you try Fesenjoon you will taste some chicken with a sauce of pomegranate juice, nuts, and other ingredients which can either make it sweet or sour. If you go for Ghormeh Sabzi you will experience a blend of no less than thirteen types of herbs with just a couple cubes of meat for extra taste and some kidney beans which make it, among other things, very pretty to look at. And there are many, many more! Lamb fat and potatoes, mushrooms and vegetables, prunes and meat, plus innumerable varieties or plays on local ingredients in the various regions of the country. Iranian stews are a world to be explored, and each one of them is delicious for a whole array of different reasons.

foodie

Ghorme Sabzi: A typical Iranian stew served with rice.

Ash

Soup. Again, nothing you might have seen before. Some soups are complex and similar to stews that look like the Hungarian Goulash. Some others are made of just out of a couple of ingredients, such as the one made of only yoghurt, water, and cucumbers. This one is a life-saver on a hot summer day, and my personal favourite. In any case Iranian soups can either be excellent as an entree, or be the whole meal if you just feel a bit peckish. Different assortments are available depending on what you want to eat next.

Ash Reshte-Iranian dish

Ash Reshte: A kind of Iranian thick soup which is a life savor in cold winter days.

Yoghurts

Not only used to make tasty soups, as the one mentioned just above, youghurt, it seems to me, is ever present in Persian cuisine in a lot of different roles. After you travel to Iran, I think, all yoghurt-based foods and drinks are the easiest to replicate when you go back home. They do not require a lot of effort or complicated ingredients to make, and certainly deserves your curiosity whether you like dairy products or not.
Doogh is the first thing that needs to be mentioned. It sure is one of the tastiest drinks I’ve had in my whole life. One of the healthiest, too! It is yoghurt mixed with water and aromatic herbs. Drink it with any meal, and it will make a nice contrast with what you’re having. Drink it during a hot day and you’ll feel as fresh as ever, especially if you put some mint inside. Forget Coke! If the world started using Doogh instead of other drinks during meals we’d cut obesity, diabetes, and other diseases out of our lives. Doogh production secrets are the main thing I’m gonna carry back to Italy. Call me a spy if you want. I’m in love with it! Can’t live without it.
Next thing is the yoghurt strained with some herbs, nuts, cucumber, and scallion. This is usually consumed either before or after a meal. Then there’s also the yoghurt with eggplant puree, and many others.
With just a few ingredients and water Iranians can make quite a few varieties of delicious yoghurts that can be drank or eaten before, during, or after a meal.

Yogurt

Yogurt; either mixed with other ingredients such as cucumber or herbs or simply itself, has a special place on the Iranian table.

Ad infinitum

Those above are just the main categories, the most consumed types of Persian food on an Iranian menu. Most Persian foods escape any attempt at categorization. Kuku, Tebrizi Koofteh, Mirza Ghashemi as main or side dishes are just a few examples of such foods in a sea of others. There’s more types of bread than I can remember.There are plenty of types of desserts, such as Koloocheh and Gaz. When you drink tea you’ll be offered saffron rock candy, cinnamon, and other spices to make after your own exotic taste. Salads are made following schools of different countries, such as the Russian style or the French one, but always modified according to Iranian taste. And so it goes…
As I said at the beginning of this article, a whole treatise would be in order to describe it all. Or maybe it wouldn’t be enough. After three months here I can say that I still find new dishes that I hadn’t known or new versions of dishes I had already tried on almost a daily basis. This list could go on ad infinitum.

I suspect that if you’re not Iranian you won’t be able to taste it all. Don’t even try. Luckily that is not a problem!
I can say that, ultimately, Persian food itself did not only impress me because of its exotic tastes. After the first few days in Iran, I was surprised by a trend: every time I’d eat, I’d be surprised by something entirely new to me. And then I have discovered the fact that these dishes have maintained their core preparation methods for hundreds of years. I found out small bits of Iranian ancient culinary philosophy, whose origins are shrouded in mystery. All this made the culinary dimension of my travel an adventure of discovery of this mystical realm. Every time I go to a friend’s house or a restaurant, I know I’ll feel something new. I don’t have to look for it, it just happens to be on the menu.

So if you are planning to travel to Iran, or just have for some time been curious about that Iranian restaurant in your town, don’t hesitate! Go, throw yourself in this experience, and let either luck or curiosity cull you into one of the richest, more ancient culinary traditions in the world.

And “Bon appetit!”, “Enjoy your meal!” or, should I say, “Noosheh jan!”

taarof- Iranian etiquette

Taarof art

“I had long ago learned that when you are the giant, alien visitor to a remote and foreign culture it is sort of your job to become an object of ridicule. It’s the least you can do, really, as a polite guest.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Politeness is universal. All around the world people value and appreciate it. All around the world people have developed different ways of expressing it, different etiquettes. But has it ever happened to you to think that in some cultures they take it a little too far? Or that you’re not made to fit in that sort of behavior? It is what I thought when I came to Iran.

In Iran, people offer you their food when they are hungry; shopkeepers tell you, you don’t have to pay for what you’re buying; hosts invite you to extend your stay indefinitely; friends fight you to get the bill in a restaurant; queues of colleagues build up in front of a door as one of them decisively insists that you should be the first to cross into the next room; the boss eagerly asks if you’d like him to make you some tea; an old man fills his glass with water and then offers it around before drinking, and a stranger says you now own the lighter you just borrowed. In short, you’re just overwhelmed by an endless sea of generosity.

taarof- Iranian etiquette

Iranians are among the friendliest people in the world.

This is taarof.
It is inescapable. It underlies any form of communication in Iranian social life. You use it with strangers, friends, and family. It has many fascinating manifestations, as well as subtle catches. It is courteous, poetic, and ancient.
Taarof is, if you will, an art of communication.

And if you wanna make some Iranian friends or travel to Iran, or you’re simply interested in one of the most sophisticated etiquettes in the world, you must know about it!

Curious yet? So let me explain

Taarof is an unwritten collection of a wide range of actions and verbal formulas that build up the Iranian etiquette. It is the Persian art of politeness or of civility.

The word itself is of Arabic origin meaning “acquaintance” or “knowledge”, but the origin of the etiquette itself, it is supposed, lies in a basic tenet of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion of old. This tenet pushes people to use “kind words”. However, taarof encompasses more of the values of the refined Persian culture: good manners, respect, modesty, personal respectability, and humility in the face of others. All great values to be practiced on a daily basis, don’t you think?

It might sound like these values are the same ones that make up the base of the European etiquette, and in large part, they are. So why are the two politeness systems different? Why does the Iranian etiquette look a little bit too much?

It’s because of how language is used.

Westerners use language merely as a pragmatic instrument, whereas Iranians, true to one of the richest poetic traditions in the world, do not. Here communication is accompanied by flowery, elegant, and highly symbolic patterns of speech.
Taarof is much more strict and ritualized than the generic Western etiquette. If in Europe you extend rigid institutional respect to professors, some small token courtesies to acquaintances, and might even skip etiquette altogether in the company of friends or family, in Iran taarof is ubiquitous.
In fact, everyone in Iran will communicate with you through the lens of taarof, and if you’d rather have them stop doing it, you’ll have to tell them “taarof nemikonam”.

Politeness

Politeness is universal and is practiced differently among various nations.

And you might really want them to stop. Why?

Buckle up. There is something extremely confusing for us, Westerners, about taarof.
Sometimes compliments or gifts being given are not exactly really intended but offered out of respect for you. Somebody might compliment your clothes even if they are not that great, but that’s not a reason for you not to feel great about how you look! Somebody might invite you to his home even if he doesn’t actually have the time to spend with you, but he wants you to know that, if he had the chance, he would love to!
So yes, this can be confusing! It’s not like in Europe we never say white lies or things we don’t actually mean out of politeness. It’s the fact that in Iran, all the people extend their generosity all the time in literally all sorts of contexts.

taarof-Iranian politeness

when traveling to Iran, try to spend some time with an Iranian family; you will like it!

Mind you, if you accept a gift or a proposal that has been made to you, even if it was not meant, your Iranian friend will not shy away from doing what was promised. If she said you can keep a gift, she will let you have it, even if she really wants it. If he said that he will drive you for 100 km, he will do it, even if he doesn’t have the time!
Iranians really have a knack for making you feel comfortable, and this is why, I suspect, they’re considered among the friendliest people in the world!

Still, it is hard to discern between which offer is true and which is not, and you would not want to abuse anyone’s ritual generosity, would you?

So how can you know which offers you should accept, and which are simply made out of politeness?
Luckily there are a few hints that can help us, Europeans, to navigate this intricate jungle of communication. Here is a shortlist:
Refuse two or three times. If the offer is still being made after the third time, then maybe that gift is sincere? Also, when you want to give something to your Iranian friend or host, be prepared to insist a little bit.
All vendors are actually practicing taarof. You still need to pay them, even if they refuse at first! Yet again, you might have to insist a couple of times.
If you are a guest you could have to suffer the full extent of your host’s generosity. As is the case throughout all the Middle East, the host-guest relationship is in some sense considered sacred. It would be rude to ignore this, no? Lucky you!
When receiving invitations, ask for some details. What day? What time? Where? If the answers are vague and ambiguous, don’t push, it’s taarof. But if your Iranian friend is willing to discuss a concrete plan with you, then the invitation might be real.
It is always nice to offer to pay for a bill. Sometimes, though, weirdly, that’s where you have to stop. In some situations, to actually pay, can be considered rude. For example, you shouldn’t pay for people that are clearly older than you.
Fight fire with fire, taarof with taarof. If you feel that you’re very well taken care of, and want to return the favor, you’ll have to do it through taarof. Unexpected, no?

And finally, learn to take small hints! It is difficult. But don’t panic yet! When you come to Iran, you’ll understand that Iranians are conscious and forgiving of our own barbaric ways. They’ll even try to adapt to you, to make you comfortable. And besides everything, if you are a foreigner in Iran you can be sure that people will be happy to see you here, will be curious about you, and virtually all their gifts and invitations will be genuine!

travel to Iran

Iranians are famous for their hospitality and you really feel comfortable in their homes.

It took me a while to understand this. Because of this I initially disliked taarof. I thought that it is an unwieldy form of communication. I felt clumsy around it. Socially threatened by it.
But now it is starting to dawn on me that not only can it be delightfully pleasant, taarof is also an excellent school of non-verbal communication. I’m starting to love it! I soon learned to pick up nuances in somebody’s voice, eye movements, and muscle twitches. I can participate in the theatrical dance of communication. I can better read people’s emotions. I’ve even learned to haggle!

It is incredible what a few weeks in Iran can do to you!