Having decided to travel to Iran? So, an Iran visa is probably one of your main concerns. The Iran visa issuance procedure is quite fast and convenient: We are pleased to offer our services for obtaining a maximum 30 days Iran tourist visa which is extendable in Iran.
All you have to do is to fill in the form to apply for an Iran online visa here https://irandoostan.com/iran-online-visa-form/.

Visa arrangement is normally done through Iran Doostan Tour Company and it usually takes a minimum of 14 working days in Iran for many applicants including Iran visa for Indians, Iran visa for Bangladeshi citizens, or tourists from other countries.
However, the Iran visa application process for US citizens and also Uk and Canadian passport holders will take a minimum of 60 working days. There is only one form to be filled out with your passport details.

For Iran visa on arrival, the citizens of the following countries can apply for fifteen days of Iran tourist visa upon their arrival in the administration visa office of Ministry of Foreign Affairs situated in Iran’s Imam Khomeini- Mashhad- Shiraz- Tabriz and Isfahan Airports:
Azerbaijan-Albania-Germany-Austria- Armenia-Uzbekistan-Spain- Australia- Slovenia- Slovakia-United Arab Emirates- Indonesia- Ukraine- Italy- Ireland- Bahrain-Brazil- Brunei- Belarus- Belgium- Bulgaria- Bosnia-Herzegovina- Portugal- Peru-Tajikistan- Thailand- Turkmenistan- China-Denmark- Russia- Romania- Japan- Singapore- Sweden- Switzerland- Syria- Saudi Arabia- Oman-France- Palestine- Finland- Philippines- Cyprus- Kyrgyzstan- Qatar- Croatia- Kazakhstan- South Korea- North Korea- Colombia- Cuba- Kuwait- Georgia- Lebanon- Luxembourg- Poland- Malaysia- Hungary- Mongolia- Mexico- Norway- New Zealand- Venezuela- Vietnam- Netherlands- India- Yugoslavia- Greece-Tunisia-Sri Lanka-Yemen-Algeria.

Iran visas on arrival will not be issued for citizens of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Somalia.

Required documents for Iran visa application upon arrival include two-way tickets and the passport validity must be of a minimum of 6 months. The applicant is also required to render one photo together with the visa fee for each attendant, and to complete the related visa forms.
Iran visa fee is different for each nationality. You can find out the amount you must pay, by emailing us to info@idt.com

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travel to Iran

Is it safe to travel to Iran?

I always wanted to travel to Iran, otherwise known as Persia, this amazing land of many ancient civilizations, some of them going back to 6 000 BC, while the universally accepted birth of the Persian Empire happened “only” just over the 2500 year ago.

travel to Iran

I can say that Iran is definitely a very safe, tourist-friendly country. I met lots of international tourists who share a positive opinion on travel to Iran.

So, once I had the possibility to go for a longer journey, I decided to choose Iran.

 

I must say, I was afraid for safety – and I was going here alone! On our TVs, we have only bad news about this country. In Western media, Iran is presented as an evil, aggressive and hostile nation, a treat to the region and the world, same as North Korea… Not to speak about Hollywood productions showing Iranians in the worst possible way. The terrible news and images we see in our TVs from wars in Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan, most Western people associate also with Iran.

I knew that there was no ongoing war here, but it was hard to forget the image of Iran we get from the European media – a dangerous place, full of fanatics that hate Westerners and the secret police just waiting to put you in prison under any pretext. Also, with economic problems and many Iranians going across hard times – perhaps there will be lots of common crime targeting supposedly rich foreign tourists?

That’s why, when I told my family, friends about my plans to travel to Iran – all misconceptions surfaced! So, there would be a war here, the country would be full of Afghan Taliban, or Arab terrorists, or both of them)) just waiting to cut off our heads. Explosions on daily basis, evil and hating Europeans local populace – to say it short I was a kind of crazy kamikaze looking deliberately for big problems or just bored with being still alive.

When my plane landed in Tehran, I was indeed afraid – how will it be at the border?
Will I get a visa? Will police check all my things, my emails, confiscate my laptop or phones?
Perhaps they are just waiting for a reason to put me in jail or in the best case, deport?

Well, I was among some 20 foreigners that needed Visa on Arrival – and it happened that …nothing happened. I mean nothing extraordinary, everyone paid for insurance and visa fees, then within half an hour, we all got our 30 days tourist visas. No police interrogation, luggage, or phone checks, it was an easy simple process – as in any average airport.

I started my journey from Tehran, then I went to several other places. Yazd, Bandar Abbas, Qeshm, Shiraz, Isfahan, Caspian Sea towns…After few weeks I discovered (at least in a small part) the land of great diversity, for nature and climate, peoples and languages, local traditions, and gastronomic delights. While one can expect professional smiles in hotels or hostels, I was surprised by the sympathy and friendly attitude of so many common people towards me, an obvious foreign traveler. Iranians, even those whose English skills are limited, were happy to say “Welcome in Iran” and curious about my opinion of their country, sometimes about life abroad, and, most important, always offering help when seeing me somehow lost or troubled. I walked across main capital avenues and small streets of villages, always welcomed by smiles and nice words, on some occasions even invited to their homes for tea, lunch, or dinner. In no other country, I enjoyed such attention – and I visited more than 20 countries in Europe and Asia until now.

I can say now, after being around for several weeks in various cities – and it is what I heard from all those who visited Iran – it is one of the safest places on Earth. The huge majority of locals are very friendly, honest, and respectful, especially toward women, that comes as from old Persian tradition and culture as for the laws of the Islamic Republic.
I think that it is much more probable being mugged, robbed in any Western city than in Iran; here I could walk everywhere, evening or night, and never saw anyone threatening.
Of course, there exist some pickpockets or motorbike thieves, but in my opinion (I saw what goes on in Rome or Naples), where this phenomenon is very limited. And of course, some taxi drivers will try to cheat you! So – use Snapp, the local Uber)

I never had any problem nor heard of typical tourists being bothered by uniformed or other police – one would need to work really hard to merit their attention – rather the opposite, I saw patrol police helping and giving a ride to foreigners. I mean “typical” – unless someone comes to Iran to make political activism, take photos where prohibited, or… “incidentally” fly drones over military installations.

Over 3 times bigger than France, with more than 80 mln inhabitants, the incredible variety of big and small places to visit and admire, starting by Tehran megapolis, going across high mountains and seas, deserts and lush forests of the North, ski resorts and diving-friendly islands of the Persian Gulf, Iran is an excellent destination for “slow tourism”. Because, aside of hundreds of old palaces, mosques, churches, traditional villages and towns, caravanserais, bazaars, its greatest treasure, often missed by rushy travelers, are Iranians themselves – an incredibly friendly and hospitable people, with elaborated culture and percentage of high education better than in many Western countries.

Now, after a month of intensive traveling, I can say that Iran is definitely a very safe, tourist-friendly country. I met lots of international tourists who share a positive opinion on Iran, some really astonished by their experience – they expected all kinds of possible troubles – and only good things happened! Definitely I want to travel to Iran again; next time I will explore Western Iran. I think honestly it is the greatest long trip I ever made until now!

Tehran- Golestan Palace

Tehran attractions district 12: at a glance

You don’t have enough time to visit the whole big city of Tehran? Then replacing that with visiting the Golden District would be a clever idea. District 12 is the main and historical core of the city, where the Treasury of National Jewels _in which is kept the Naderi golden throne and the most valuable crowns remained from Qajar and Pahlavi kings_ and Golestan Royal palace is located, the Grand Bazar of Tehran and many other museums exist. To be clear, you can walk through the history, from thousands of years ago in Iran national museum, cross the Qajar wealth, and drink your evening modern Coffee in Masoudieh garden.

Tehran district 12

To see and download the high-quality infographic, click here: Tehran attractions district 12

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!

Iran-Tehran

Why the Middle East is not like what you think

“Before going there, I’d had certain preconceptions about the Middle East, mostly derived from the media. Once I arrived, my preconceptions were slowly replaced by reality itself, which proved to be rather less coherent and understandable than what the media had depicted” – Joris Luyendijk

Turn on the TV, turn up the radio, open the newspaper, or more likely look up those sweet funny memes, and you will know for sure all Middle Eastern countries are one hot hell of a mess. War, poverty, famine, disease, sectarianism, religious extremism, totalitarianism, and generally speaking a fogagy, a shapeless amalgam of the worst misfortunes humanity can have, afflict, in the average Westerner’s mind, all countries from Morocco to Pakistan.
It is no wonder then that when I informed my friends and family that I’d travel to Iran I raised quite a few eyebrows and a considerable number of objections, some of which I was low-key obsessed of as well. But, now that I am here things are… normal.

It is nothing like I had imagined!

Middle East-Iran

Iran is much more beautiful than what is depicted in the media!

o I’ve started asking myself why. “Why are there so many misconceptions about the Middle East in the West?”, “Why was I afraid to travel through Muslim countries?”,”Why would my friends think Iran is full of bombs and terror?”

I came, after many hours of thought, to the conclusion that the answer to this misunderstanding of the core of the Muslim world is intertwined with the reasons that lie in the first lines of this article: media depiction. Yet the answer itself felt strange. Wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t the media, usually so divided on domestic affairs, provide distinct opinions about Iran?
So why do they all say the same stories?
Wouldn’t other documents or articles, especially in the Internet era, provide alternative information to what news media report?
So why isn’t there any such readworthy thing?
Wouldn’t members of the society so used to empiricism, such as the European one, avoid to proclaim certainty on something that they didn’t directly experience?
So why are all my friends, and why was I certain about these notorious Middle Eastern misfortunes when they prove to be, in more than just a few cases, false assumptions?

These sure are a lot of questions…

I was short on answers and my knowledge only allowed an incoherent idea of why there is such a huge gap between perception and truth about the countries I had seen in the Middle East.
So I took it upon myself to look for the main reason behind these false assumptions and finally came across something interesting.

Iran-A picture of Tehran

A picture of lively Tehran

In 2006 the Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk published his book “People like us: Misrepresenting the Middle East”. Luyendijk, a veteran correspondent in the Middle East, having worked in an area spanning from Sudan to Iran, exposes the mechanisms of how Westerner’s ideas of the Middle East are shaped by the media.
His work is focused on Arab speaking countries. My experience of the Middle East, on the other hand, is so far is related to only non-Arab countries, and the biggest expectation vs. reality shock I’ve had was in Iran. Now, just to avoid any confusion, as Luyendijk himself tellingly says, people in Iran speak Persian and “you make as good an impression speaking Arabic as you do speaking German in the Netherlands” and “Dutch is closer to Turkish than Arabic is”. Nevertheless, what he explains about the Arab countries can safely be used as a parameter for what happens with regards to media depiction of all Middle Eastern countries.

So, with the help of his and a couple other intellectuals’ eye-opening quotes, I will explain in a few points how we came to the point where we, you included, experience this gross misrepresentation of these countries.

“The news agencies are the eyes and the ears of the world”.
To begin with, the mechanisms through which information is provided to journalists is not what you might think. Every new story is reported to the newspapers by news agencies. These are institutions that have observers worldwide that are tasked with finding what event is newsworthy, to classify news and pass them on to the newspapers and journalists, who in turn produce the actual articles. This has far-reaching implications.
The first is that all the correspondents, whether they are where the news is happening or not, have the same access to information as their colleagues do half a world away. More importantly, their colleagues in the office in London, Paris, etc. get it sooner and thus pick the story the correspondent should work on.
The second implication, consequently, is that correspondents reporting from somewhere are simply there for the show, and have little of their own to add to what you yourself would know if you subscribed to the news agencies.

This explains why the news we hear about the Middle East in the West are always the same even if reported by different newspapers: their core stories are provided by the same agencies.

“News is also a kind of show business”
This is a big one!
A newspaper’s survival depends on how many people’s attention it can command. Attention is, so to say, a newspaper’s currency, and the main means to profit for its owners. So everything, from what is considered newsworthy, to the news’ placement in the paper, to the way they’re expressed and feelings they try to evoke, everything… is geared towards gaining more readers or viewers.
As mentioned above, although this doesn’t cover the entirety of their work, correspondents are where they are because of the show. For any news the dateline, the line at the head of a dispatch or newspaper article showing the date and place of writing, is more important than the news itself, since info can be comfortably obtained through the internet in any news office in the world. What matters is the feeling that the reader gets when he\she thinks the news has been genuinely worked on when, in fact, it wasn’t.
Not only that, but when you see any correspondent answering questions from the news studio live you can be sure that both questions and answers were prepared and rehearsed to give them a confident and impactful sound.
As if that wasn’t twisted enough since it is easier to engage readers by using their own prejudices and internalized assumptions, many journalists skillfully omit, decontextualize, or emphasize part of the truth to simply get more attention.

Visit Iran

visit Iran and compare what you see to what you have heard about this country!

Starting to lose faith in your prejudice of the Middle East yet? Oh, but there’s more!

Of course after so much work to get more attention than their competitors, newspapers & co. become conveyors of more than mere impartial news. They become conveyors of publicity. People being interviewed in the Middle East by Western journalists want to make sure their name and organization’s name is spelled right.
Such manipulation on the part of the state is not uncommon. As another example in one article Noam Chomsky says: “Iran is regularly depicted as the greatest threat to world peace—in the U.S., that is. Global opinion differs, regarding the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace, but the American population is protected from this unwelcome news by the Free Press.”
And so it goes.

“News is only what is different from the every day – the exception to the rule. With an unknown world like the Arab one (read: Middle East), this has a distorting effect. When someone is shot in Dam Square in Amsterdam, it’s news, but Dutch people know that people aren’t normally shot there. […] But how much do Dutch people know about the Middle East? […] If you are only told about exceptions, you’ll think they are the rule”

Listening to media outlets, being bombarded with the same type of news over and over would have us think that all throughout this region really nasty things constantly happen. And since we hear it often it must be true all the time, right (Goebbels taught this)? Now, to be technically correct the things that are reported on by the journalists do actually happen (hopefully), but there is one catch to it: how much do you know about the Middle East? Because…

“The ignorance of even loyal readers was sometimes so great that it seemed beyond remedy. […] It makes quite a difference if you have oil and gas or not, enough water or not, if you’ve been occupied by colonial powers, or you have to share rivers. […] I’ve probably profited from the ignorance about the Arab world”

The above manipulations to the idea that the Middle East is a distant world, helped by the overall geopolitical and historical ignorance about this region throughout Europe, have nefarious effects.
Events that happen in a country in the region magically cross space and time in the average reader’s mind. The truth loses itself in foggy, shadowy corners of his\her mind. A few fallacious logical or emotional speculations later a dangerous tendency to a generalization in perception appears: The Arabs have oil? They all do! The majority of Muslims are Arabs? No, wait, all Arabs are Muslims. And viceversa! And they all hate the West, didn’t you know? And they are all at war! Bonus theme: refugees!
And look where all this leads to! Safe, beautiful Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran are discarded as hellholes. Interactions such as tourism or small-scale investments are reduced. No contact between cultures develop. This makes all this ignorance grow like cancer. Distrust grows, nationalist parties thrive in Europe, isolated young Muslims there are easier preys to social inadequacy and risk finding recognition in the arms of Jihadists, etc.

And all of this because of media misrepresentation! This is undeniably why all throughout the West our ideas about this part of the world are wrong. In essence, if you haven’t been here what you know about the Middle East is what you have seen through a screen. Your prejudice is built on what you have no experience of. Plato would have something to say about this.

It may seem gratuitous to criticize journalism. Especially since the press and associated press freedoms are in the West considered to be vital for upholding the values we live by: egalitarianism, democracy, personal freedom, etc.
Yet you’ll find out that this is by no means the only book about media manipulation around. As an example, as far back as 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman proposed in their book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” the idea that media institutions are self-serving apparatuses working close to and being willingly manipulated by the political establishment. A paid-for propaganda machine.

It is, under this light, our personal duty not to lock ourselves in a media echo chamber, to think critically, to look for information on both sides of a fence. As one of my favourite fellow compatriots, Ioan Luca Caragiale, wrote over a century ago: “Take a half an affirmation of an opposition newspaper and mix it well with half a disclaimer from a government one – this is often a good recipe for finding out the truth.”

Better still, if we can afford it, it is on us to travel the world, to speak to people, to ascertain the truth with our own senses, to be the real masters of our opinions, to enlighten ourselves. It is even more crucial, once we have done it, to denounce the untruthfulness of lies and the fear and animosity that stem from ignorance. It is important. It is useful. Surprisingly, it can also be funny.

Because this part of the world is not what you’ve been taught.
Look with your eyes, think with your head!

Tabi'at Bridge

What the world wide web doesn’t tell you about Iran

Out of the vast internet sea, you will find a lot of information about Iran. Some of that information is false or fallacious in its generalizations (Iranians don’t use furniture in their homes), some are trivial (Iranians have garlic shampoo) and some… is over repeated (alcohol is banned in Iran, oh, so, so sad). I myself wrote about how and why Iran is safe, why you should visit Iran, how generous the Iranians are and what I felt, as a European, in interacting with taarof, why hijab is nothing to be worried about and other topics. Many of these mysteries had already been unravelled in other articles.

This article is going to be different. I’m going to assume that you can point Iran on a map, and know all the basics about this country. Maybe you have gathered info while planning for a trip here? Or maybe you don’t have the chance to do it right now, but if fascinates you, as it did fascinate me, and you’d like to know more about it. In any case, in this article, I will tell you some things that you are unlikely to find around the world wide web, so there’s a chance you never heard of these. This is meant to give a better feeling of what Iran is like to people that know much about the country but have not yet walked on its earth.

Iranian artistic identity is quite alive

I’ll start with what is important for me: art! Everywhere I travel I do my best to keep an eye on local art. The form of art, as well as the visible degree of artistic freedom present in a country, are the telltale of what a whole nation holds to be important. Public art can either be an expression of the will of the citizens or the state, and it can promote a direction of thought through the materialization of a conceptualized ideal.
I grew up in post-Soviet Moldova. I know all too well that the Soviet promotion of art was only performed in the boundaries in which it sponsored state ideals and communist thought. Before coming to Iran, I had heard many people, even in neighbouring countries, say that Iranians aren’t at all free to express themselves. I thus imagined to see the same trend I had witnessed as a kid: state-sponsored art ever featuring Islamic values.
I was wrong! Yes, there are quite a few mural paintings depicting Iraq-Iran war veterans, occasionally religious figures and episodes and, rarely, the two Political Leaders of Iran (though they are always present on institutional buildings). But the state-sponsored share of art on the streets is smaller than what independent artists produce. Also, not all public-sponsored art has anything to do with the state and country.
In fact, anyone paying attention will be amazed by the artistic subjects and styles present here. Parks are dotted with impressive statues that seem to come from a mix of all artistic currents I had learned of when I was in Europe. Modern art, in the form of graffiti, murals, street rap, statues, and many more, is a testament to the fact that Iranians do not stoop so low as to venerate the ashes of their rich artistic history, but actively engage in a continuous creative process. This independent artistic expression can touch anyone, no matter how sensitive to the realm of aesthetics and irrespective of belonging to certain cultural, political or religious groups. Iranian art often also has undertones of social activism.

About Iran - art

Contemporary Iranian art

How Iranians spend their leisure time

Another interesting thing about Iranians is how they spend their leisure time. Iranians do not have access to the pastimes we commonly enjoy in the West. But they certainly have developed and refined a way to get some well-deserved relaxation, of course!
In Europe, enclosed parks are usually sealed from evening until morning. While this is true of some historical parks in Iran, most of them are open. That’s because, especially during the weekend (which in Iran is on Thursday and Friday), Iranian families and groups of friends have a very important activity to partake in: picnics. Picnics are, apparently, Iranians’ most common way of spending their free time. Is it a lazy day and you have nothing to do? In Europe you’ll probably meet your buddies at a bar, in Iran you get your people or friends out for a picnic with some food, tea, and probably a hookah (hubble-bubble). It is not only a good occasion to relax, but also to socialize.
Another thing Iranians do is going shopping. Sometimes without buying anything!
Sometimes they just go visiting members of their wider family just to keep up with the news and gossip, let the kids play, and have a good meal! New generations can meet to watch series or movies together, and discuss various interpretations, and this is in fact a quite popular activity. The time and occasion for meetings can also be determined by regional traditions. For example, in the southern region of Khuzestan, families congregate after dinner for some hookah.
Another way to spend, or waste, as you see it, leisure time for Iranians is social media. There is, in fact, especially with regards to Instagram, a significant social media addiction. People can spend several hours a day on social media. It is, in fact, a significant social problem.
Far more healthy of a pastime is travelling. As you do, many Iranians used to travel to other countries before the sanctions. Neighbouring countries were the most common destinations, as well as, for the wealthier of them, Europe, South-East Asia, or the Americas. Now travelling for Iranians is a much costlier endeavour, because of how cheap their currency is compared to the foreign currencies.

As you can understand, Iranians spend their free time in all the ways you wouldn’t think. If you will be so lucky as to come here you will most certainly be invited by some locals to spend some time together. You should experience this, and feel the vibes of how different Iranians spend their free time. 110% fun! Guaranteed!

About Iran

Luxury houses in the Caspian sea region is a popular place among Iranians to spend leisure time.

Iran is a modern country

If you read something about Iran before, you must surely know that the country permits no access to funds held in otherwise international banking circuits. Simply put, most articles giving tips about Iran will mention that you need to bring in cash, and this is true. But how many of these articles mention that you can have prepaid cards and that you can pay for almost everything with them? Similarly, how many articles mention that Iran has some of the best apps around to offer you a myriad of services online, some of which outright eliminate the possibility of being scammed? Or that walking in a restaurant or café feels in no way different to entering a European one (except for the absence of alcohol). You can have a chat there or an open mic for practising some poetry, and how about a café with ice walls!? Or that there are countless companies, among which the one I’m working in, that have company cultures in no way different to the best companies in Europe (cooperation between workers, supportive leaders, result-driven assessments, leisure space if you want to look for inspiration or a break, group bonding initiatives, etc.)
Unbeknownst to even the most well-informed Westerners, Iranian businesses offer many services, and there is little that the law doesn’t forbid that you can’t find!
You can of course well deduce that the US sanctions are taking their toll on the Iranian economy, and that on average people’s wages are significantly lower compared to European standards. Nevertheless, Iran has access to many natural resources, which still allows for development projects. Moreover, there is a large share of the Iranian population, the middle and upper classes, who have access to the aforementioned services, and some business industries are growing despite the economic pressure.
Iran is, therefore, a modern country, and you should dispense with the idea that it is backwards in, for example, infrastructure, or that internet or banking services are non-existent when, in fact, they are thriving domestically.

The consequences of the sanctions can be felt in the transportation industry, however. The result? Really bad planes. And really lovely buses. You should know, if you or some friend go to Iran, that planes here are kind of… unreliable. The lack of spare parts make maintenance very costly and very inefficient, so domestic flights are not that cheap, and there have been quite a few accidents in the past couple of decades. On the other hand, Iranian buses are somehow beyond what I have experienced in Europe. They feel luxurious, and quality and price competition make for really good rides at really cheap prices. And the Iranian landscapes are impressive!
If you come here I really do suggest you get a bus ride between cities.

Tabi'at Bridge

Tabi’at Bridge-an example of modern architecture in Iran.

Everything about Iranian women

Another thing is hijab. Hijab has brought an interesting social developments. Now it’s more like fancy jab, you know? In Iran, a large majority of women do not come from religiously conservative families. Perfect hijab is thus rarely observed in Iran, i.e. women almost never fully cover their hair, and many sport dyed hair in all possible colours.
So, while of course still respecting the law, they manage to transform hijab into a fashion statement. They match colours, choose the fabric, combine it for the makeup and hair colour, nails and manteau etc.
Speaking of makeup, the country is a really large consumer of makeup products, in part because of hijab. While this may be mentioned in some articles, the use of makeup is usually pinpointed as simply a symbol of rebellion. This may certainly happen, but it is one of those fallacious generalizations I had mentioned at the beginning of the article.
The use of makeup in Iran is as ancient as Persia itself. We know that Iranian women used make-up since ancient time, and that this usage has persisted through the ages enough that it has become part of the culture. With modern technology more ways to beautify oneself appeared. That explains why the time I went at a marriage it looked like half of the women were blue-eyed. Another step has been taken in this direction is plastic surgery.
Plastic surgery is a huge thing in Iran, and Iranian doctors are said to be very rich. In any case they’ll get you the best nose! Plastic surgery is not only socially accepted as much as socially encouraged, and there are also some men doing it. Lips, facelifts, nose jobs, and more are on a respectable Iranian surgeon’s menu.
Come to Iran, you’ll find the best noses!

Hijab-Iranian women

Persian Cuisine

And finally, as my lunchtime approaches, I will leave you with one last fact about Iran. One that I immensely care for. I hope you’re not on a diet when you come to Iran. I hope you’re like me: I like to eat a lot! really a lot! I like it when they bring me a portion but it looks like two people need to eat it!
I already wrote an article about the philosophy underlying the Iranian cuisine, its diversity, uniqueness, and why you should try it. What I forgot to mention is that Iranian meals are huge <3 ! They look like three people need to eat them. So the last thing you should know is that people don’t travel here for dietary purposes. Don’t try to come and be on a diet. That’s it!

Persian-Cuisine

Experiencing Persian Cuisine is the best part of traveling to Iran!

Now I’m off to my portion(s).

Beautiful landscape-Iran

Why you should visit Iran?

Yes, you read it right! You should visit Iran. I won’t spend any words on how safe Iran is, or why the Middle East is not like what you think, or how it is not like you expect. I have already written those articles. The gist of it is that Iran is an ordinary country, like what you could say of France or Spain. 

A trip to Iran can teach you a lot, make a better person out of you and, without much effort, improve the whole world by a tiny bit. So no, I will not write another article or why you shouldn’t be afraid of this or worried about that, where I simply dispel wrong commonly held assumptions about this beautiful country. I will instead concentrate on why you should come from the perspective of what you can take from Iran or give to it, through the lens of my own experience here.

First of all, let me state the obvious: Iran is an amazingly beautiful country. Whether you decide to explore cultures and traditions, or history, or landscapes, expect to be stunned. 

Beautiful landscape-Iran

Iran is an amazingly beautiful country.

You can climb enormous mountains, such as Mount Damavand. You can walk through the lush forests of northern Iran. You can go alone in the unique Lut desert, and experience a sense of freedom you had not fathomed before. You could get addicted to it. In winter, you can even see small villages at the edge of the sand deserts covered in snow. 

Iran's amazing landscapes

Iran is full of stunning landscapes!

You can visit Iran to see the old capitals of the Persian empire, more than two and a half millennia old. You can see mesmerizing ceremonies, such as Ashura. You can walk in the kaleidoscope of colours of the Pink Mosque. And I’d rather not start writing about the food… it would take me pages to describe all the best things.

The many different mentalities, traditions and foods that dot Iran are available for you to experience because this country is unmistakably a multicultural society. No, not a multicultural society as in the United States, where racial segregation has only recently been ended, and subcultures cyclically bring racial tensions to a boiling point. And not multicultural like Europe, where huge political rifts form because of a few desperate refugees and migrants. In Iran, nobody uses buzzwords such as “assimilation” or “integration”. No media, in its own limited powers, promotes divisive discussions on these matters in the hope to obtain more viewers. Here, such concepts are entirely alien.

Persian food

Persian cuisine is enriched with especial aroma and flavour that you will love!

Iran was the first truly multicultural empire in human history, and it adopted the diversity of its people with open arms. Since the 6th century B.C. laws and arts here were promoting unity through diversity. For example, in the ancient city of Persepolis, art styles from different and very far apart regions of the empire can be seen. 

Visit Iran- Persepolis

The ancient capital of Persia, Persepolis

Kurds, Armenians and Azeri Turks in the West, Afghan and Baluchi in the East, Central Asian Turks in the north, Arabs in the South, Qashqai nomads, and Baluchs live together in harmony in Iran. 

They speak their language at home and Farsi in public. All of them maintain, and sometimes publicly display their ethnic traditions. Many of them still wear their traditional costumes everywhere, be it bazaar, office or place of work. A person from Tehran going to Tabriz will feel like a foreigner in his/her own country, yet will not feel the impulse of insulting the local Turks. Iraqi soldiers tortured, raped and murdered Iranians just thirty years ago, yet now Iraqi immigrants in Iran aren’t pilloried because of it.

An interesting personal example of how multiculturalism is at the core of the Iranian society is my girlfriend and her family, whose origins are in Tehran only. She has a Turkish-Iranian name. Her sister has a Kurdish name, her father an Arab one, while her mother has a European one. 

Needless to say, visiting Iran is an eye-opening experience on what inter-cultural tolerance is all about. As did I on many other things. On a simple personal well-being perspective, I can say that travelling here has been quite a boon.

In the West life is frenetic, everybody living in a semi-frenzied state of mind, always thinking two things at a time, running from place to place, and then coping through what now genuinely seems to me perverse psychological mechanisms. But visit Iran, spend here a couple months, and life will slow down. It’s not that there’s no stress. No, on the contrary, cars run amok and you risk getting hit two times a day, the government is sensitive to the discussion of political topics, so you have to watch what you say, some idiot built something the way only an idiot would build it, and you have to multiply your effort to do what would otherwise be very simple. I don’t even want to get into how frustrating it was to get my Visa prolonged. No, things here are stressful. But people are, on the average, calmer, or some could say lazier, or some could say careless. At any rate, you might just get imbued with this general relaxation. And suddenly food tastes better, colours are somehow different, you smile more, and the way you look at the world seems different.

Since I got here, in only two months, I have progressed beyond my wildest dreams. Anxiety is at an all-time low and my self-esteem is up. I remember when I was back in Europe I used to go out for a beer two, three, four times a week. Now I am closer to myself. I won’t need to do that ever again. I stopped needing to numb myself. I stopped trying to outrun stress. Whatever may come, life is good!

Of course, everyone is different, and you might not experience the same things. But I can guarantee you that, if you decide to take it easy and give yourself time, Iran will somehow put you in touch with your spiritual self. I say this even though, just a few months back, I used to scoff at the idea.

A Kid from the south of Iran

A Kid from the south of Iran

Speaking of this, Iran is not without its problems. International sanctions have impoverished the population, there is an ongoing struggle with Tehran’s pollution. And there are many other problems.

Sure, there are many things that the Iranians do better than us. For example, there are fewer beggars, and some social problems, such as alcoholism and compulsive gambling, are virtually non-existent. Nevertheless, in the West living standards are, on average, above the Iranian ones. The generations preceding us have obtained for our enviable prosperity. To any sensible person, this difference will constitute a personal awakening. We must come to the understanding that we should visit Iran and meet what history has gratuitously handed to us in the West, not with pride, but gratefulness. No more nagging and complaining about first world problems like ungrateful losers; if you are to any degree wise, you will have eyes to see what does work well here and what doesn’t, and who knows, maybe you will be, even passively, a successful agent of change for your community, your family, or even simply yourself.

And you can be sure that you will, unbeknownst to yourself, be an agent of change for Iran. When we went to Yazd my girlfriend pointed out a very interesting thing. She had been to the city only five years before, prior to the UNESCO accepting the city in the World Heritage List. She told me that at that time people in Yazd used to be conservative and, not being used to any foreign tourists, they avoided making contact when possible. In short, she had described this as a close-minded city. Yet our experience in Yazd was unforgettable. The people were ever willing to chat with us, to give us gifts, they always asked where I am from if I like Iran and so on, and so forth. The warmest people on Earth. In just five years, the tourism that was bound for Yazd as a World Heritage Site had changed the soul of the city. Its citizens demonstrated lovely, if not sometimes even ridiculous levels of xenophilia.

Travelling to Iran will make people you meet more open, friendly, curious, and better informed on the rest of the world. They will learn from having you around just like you will learn from them.

In some sense, the best way you can help Iranians see through their hardships is to travel and visit Iran.

The best thing you will get from such a journey is that you will finally know what Iran is like. You won’t anymore believe the bunch of lies the media is spreading about this country in the West. You will be able to fight those who stand to gain from the general ignorance that Westerners have of the Middle East, and not fall prey to demagogues. 

You will be free!

But all these are secondary benefits. 

The most important reason to visit Iran? You’ll have a lot of fun! 

Freaky rhyme intended :)