Iran comprises of different ethnic groups, such as Fars, Kurd, Turk, Arab, Turkoman, Lor, Gelak, and Baluch, that are spread throughout Iran. Over the past decades, Mashhad has had an influx of migrants from surrounding villages and towns; thus, its population has become ethnically and culturally diverse. How ever, Iranians share one main point, which has made them famous worldwide:
generosity towards their guests.lranians enjoy hosting and pampering their guests. It is usual to be invited to some one’s home and served an assortment of delicious seasonal fruits, pastries, and traditional dishes, along with strong black tea. Iranians are very social, and it is not odd for them to ask many questions and want to know what you think about their, culture, country and people.
When invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner it is common to take a small gift, such as flowers, or a box of sweets or chocolates, or even a small souvenir from your city. However, when invited for tea or to a restaurant it is not expected to take anything for the host(ess). If invited to a wedding party a gift equal to the socio-economic status of the couple is appropriate and is usually a household item, such as crystal or tea sets.
Iranians have a special custom of tarouf when hosting guests. There is no English or any western cultural equivalent to describe this custom. In Farsi dictionaries,
this word literally means to refrain from something; to make a strong request of someone; or to refrain from accepting an invitation or request contrary to one’s desires. To give examples, if you are invited to have tea with someone, you are not expected to accept at first request, you should bring the excuse of it being trouble for the host(ess). Or, when you are offered sweets or fruit you should not accept at first. Rather, you should politely say thank you and weakly push the tray away; after insistence of the host(ess), take only one piece; when the host(ess) insists that you take more then take only a little bit more, at this time the host(ess) may fill your plate with fruit or sweets them selves. Be careful, if you admire something belonging to your host(ess), they may insist that you take it for yourself, at this point you must use your commonsense. If it is an insignificant item, such as a book then you can graciously accept it, but if it is a large or expensive item then it is better to politely thank them and reject the offer. At times tarouf can be overwhelming, especially when the host(ess) is extremely insistent that you fill your plate when you are full or that you come to their house when there is not time. The best way is to be firm but polite and take everything with a light heart, as Iranians are experts at tarouf and you will mostly lose at this game; so skip lunch when going to dinner and enjoy.
In this part of the region, time has a way of seeming endless. It is common to arrive 30 minutes to 1 hour late at social functions and business meetings. However, to be fair, since times are changing and so are Iranians, this tardiness is slowly becoming out of fashion, especially in the private sector and for professionals, such as physicians, engineers, and such. The best policy it to directly ask the host(ess) or your Iranian business counterpart if you are expected to be on time or a bit late.
The law of the land
Throughout Iran, everyone is expected to observe its dress code. In general, males should not wear shorts or tank tops on the streets. For females, this includes covering one’s head with a scarf, and a loose-fitting long-sleeved tunic, and full-length skirt, or pants. The fabric should not be transparent and the color of one’s clothing is not important. Another point to know is that out of marriage relationships are punishable by law.
Afew social and religious taboos exist that are highly recommended to follow so as not to give a wrong message. In religious cities or smaller cities or villages that do not see many foreign tourists, it is best to be as conservative as possible so as not to offend. Men and women do not shake hands or physically touch in public and generally, behavior one would observe in a formal situation is preferred. It is best to avoid wearing heavy makeup.
Photographing and videotaping
Picture taking/videotaping is not allowed in high security locations, as is in other countries. Otherwise, everyone is allowed to take personal pictures and do videotaping. However, if you want to take pictures of strangers it is polite to ask permission first.
Consuming alcoholic beverages is against the law in Iran.
In business situations, business cards and other exchanges (email, contact numbers, etc...) are offered only to managers. The situation is very formal between Iranians, especially high-level managers and officials. Iranians prefer to be addressed solely by titles and last names. However, with foreigners Iranians tend to be less formal and may not mind being addressed by their first name. Again, handshaking is only reserved for the same genders. During meetings or conferences, a snack is usually offered along with tea and meals are rather heavy. Punctuality is not really observed so events may begin up to one hour late.
The culture and norms of religious places
Religious places require a different behavior that shows respect to the place and the visiting pilgrims. Religious attire is much stricter and the majority of religious places require female pilgrims to wear chador. Hotel shops usually sell these for a nominal price or they can be purchased in shops around the religious sites.
The atmosphere of religious sites, especially the Haram of Imam Rezã (pbuh) is a very special and spiritual one, in which pilgrims flock there from far away cities pleading to God for miracles. Therefore, it is not intended to be a tourist site, but a great religious experience for pilgrims. Tourists may not find this grand Complex well equip to serve tourists, especially non-Muslims due to religious decrees that limit their movements. These limitations are not meant to offend non-Muslims, rather to preserve the spiritual atmosphere of the Holy Complex, to allow pilgrims to focus on their ibadat or worship to God, which takes precedent over other worldly issues. Some well intending Iranian host(ess) try to quietly take their non-Muslim guests into the Haram, with
negative results. It is strongly advised against such an action. If non-Muslims want to tour the Haram it can be properly arranged by the Office of International Relations and Foreign PilgrimsAffairs inside of the Haram. For more information on this subject, please see the section on Haram/Cultural Affairs.