………paperwork is something the Iranian bureaucracy, the single largest employer of Iranians, excels in……
Unlike Western classical music, Iranian classical music coexists – and is equally popular among all age groups – with contemporary pop.
……life is shameful? Yes. The idea that life in this world can be (or even is) shameful resonates with Iranians, a Shia people who, regardless of their piety or lack of it, are culturally programmed to imagine human behavior as ignoble; as ignoble as the prophet’s successors’ murder of his offspring, and as ignoble as the tyranny that they suffer no matter what leaders rule them. There’s certainly an element of self loathing to it……
The Islamic Republic has raised the literacy rate to over 90 percent, educates far more women than men in its universities, and has made great strides in medicine, science, and the arts, all while insisting on a veneer of Shia Islam.
………..no one in Iran, not even secret policemen on a mission, will miss their lunch.
………the long Persian tradition of absolute monarchy, of state or aristocratic control over its citizens…….I again wondered if there was something innate in our culture that consistently produced men and women who happily worked to subdue free thought and opposition to their sociopolitical system, or in feudal times, opposition to what was essentially serfdom.
…….children in Iran, boys and girls equally are considered precious, conspicuously so. Too precious at times…….mothers refer to their sons as doodool talah – golden penis …….
Unlike Westerners, Iranians are entirely comfortable expressing their thoughts on children and child care to complete strangers…… Iranians’ solicitude toward children and their well-being is annoying and touching at the same time.
…….for an Iranian there is almost no greater contribution to a sense of self-importance and vanity than to be seen in public comfortably conversing with a foreigner in his or her own language, English ranking highest. Oddly for an Islamic country, its usually women who insist on stirking up a conversation with farangis (foreigners, from the root word farang, which once meant “France” but now denotes “anywhere not Iran”)………
How, she wondered, could a people so polite, so gracious, and so orderly in normal life turn into Nightriders of Mad Max fame and transform Tehran, with its utter ordinariness and occasional beauty, into a dystopian nightmare of homicidal drivers and impotent cops?
…….Tehran …….the city is also an architectural disaster; a hodgepodge of the monstrously ugly new and the gracious but deteriorating old ……the newly constructed high-rise apartments and office buildings – none designed to reflect anything other than the enormous sums of money spent – add to the feeling that the city makes no sense…….but nevertheless it functions………to the lush parks that the city has built and maintained ……to the oddly clean streets and pristine water supply, it all does work. And the culture – a mash-up of self-deprecation, prescribed and proscribed behavior, a superiority-inferiority complex, and a Shia sense of martyrdom, prompting Tehranis to proclaim their fellow citizens, and even themselves, savages – endures just fine…….applies to all Persians. Still, the paradoxes of Iranian life are on extreme display in Tehran, visible to everyone…
Unemployment is staggeringly high here – government figures in the low double digits are widely believed to be supremely optimistic ……….the mingling of unmarried men and women and the absence of any bars, there’s very little hope for them to have any real pleasure in life.
…….everybody – even strangers on the street – would give advice on what our son should and shouldn’t be doing …….Iranians are obsessive about health and well-being. I’ve always maintained that Iranians are the world’s biggest hypochondriacs – after the French, perhaps ……..and that they take not just love, but self-love and vanity, to extremes……..There is almost nothing an Iranian wont go to the doctor for …….Pharmacies, all spotless and modern, stand on every corner in Tehran exactly as in France, and twenty-four-hour drugstores dot the city…..The sheer number of pharmacies, and the astounding number of doctors…….Pre-Islamic Iranian superstition, as well as Islam’s acceptance of the notion of the evil eye, makes every Iranian bazaar or trinket shop into talisman and espand [a wild rue, it is burnt to provide protection] central….
Ghahr. Ghahr, ghahr, ta roozeh ghiamat, ghahr. “Sulk, sulk, until the day of reckoning, sulk.” And boy, do Iranians know how to sulk. Sulking is a high art among them……..The various forms of sulking have always been a part of the Iranian national character……is also common among friends, in business, and of course at the highest levels in politics……
……the endless cups of sugared tea Iranians consume with abandon, both before and after a meal …….
……he was in the mood, as almost every cab driver in Tehran always is, for complaining….
……..Persian politesse, including the often infuriating ta’arouf – the back-and-forth niceties, self-deprecation, and faux-embarrassed apologies in transactions that involve money – is in abundant supply.
Is it the population and education explosion, unmatched by opportunity, that makes Iranians, particularly big-city Iranians, bemoan the dog-eat-dog culture that they insist has replaced their true one? Or is it the semi-isolation from the world economy due to an anti-Western phobia on the part of the regime and an anti-Iran phobia on the part of the West?
....an assisted living facility for seniors. But the facility had flopped: assisted living is a concept yet to take off in Iran, since the culture still demands that seniors live with their children, who should be perfectly capable of and indeed happy to assist them.
……obtaining a good source of liquor is easy, too. A visitor may be forgiven for thinking that everyone drinks in the Islamic Republic, since there seems to be no shortage of alcohol or of entrepreneurial suppliers, but of course it is only in the big cities, and among the more secular classes, that drinking is a regular pastime. Liquor comes into Iran via a number of sources: across the borders from Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, or in small boats from the Persian Gulf countries . Iran’s Christian (mostly Armenian), Zoroastrian, and Jewish minorities can legally manufacture liquor for their own use, but they are technically prohibited from selling it to their Muslim compatriots or even serving it to them. Naturally, that doesn’t stop some in the community, mostly Armenians, from entertaining the rather lucrative and easy business of selling aragh, the traditional Persian vodka distilled from raisins…….
Beer, although available almost as widely as spirits, is not as popular in Iran, for it doesn’t offer the same bang for the buck……
Oddly, its almost impossible to get Russian vodka in Iran, even fake, when Iran shares a border with a number of former Soviet republics and is on friendly terms with Russia….
The pool, like everything in Iran, was spotless and kept obsessively clean by the building staff……..Karri had expressed relief at the city’s cleanliness, despite its awful pollution, and was surprised that drinking water straight from the tap was not only okay but as commonplace as in the United States…..Street sweepers and garbage collectors, who worked seven days a week as opposed to the twice weekly we are accustomed to in New York……..
…….before the revolution Khomeini had in fact denied that he would enforce the hijab. Secular women who wore chadors in street protests against the shah were doing so out of respect for Khomeini, not out of religious belief…….Few Iranian women who supported the revolution imagined that hijab would become compulsory ……..
……Iranian men, peacocks all, have always been unashamed of primping
Many Iranians have simply given up on the system but are unwilling to do anything about it, fatalistically resigned to a political order they mostly cannot abide. Fatalism, a strong trait of Persians, has partially prevented them, and their many governments, from making the progress they might deserve. ……..Many other Iranians too complain loudly but seem otherwise inactive.
The loudest complainers in public are often older Iranians. …….The Iranian sense of fatalism is often intertwined with a voracious appetite for conspiracy theories, perhaps adding to the inertia of would-be revolutionaries………Iranians today hold too many wildly differing views of what the country should be to form any real united opposition to the regime….many Iranians still supported the system; and a great number of them were deeply religious and would never abandon their beliefs that Islam must play a role in politics and society at large, and that the Islamic system was just.
She had wanted to teach yoga in Iran, but it proved rather difficult, both in terms of finding a space that wouldn’t attract the attention from the authorities (obtaining the license to operate a studio which would have had to be a women-only affair, would be onerous) and in terms of getting people to commit to classes…….Yoga is common enough in Tehran (despite some clerics’ rulings that it is un-Islamic) which even boasts a Farsi-language yoga magazine that is sold at every newsstand,
Iranians love parties. They’ve always loved them and love any excuse to have one, even if the excuse is simply that it’s the weekend, and hey, there’s nothing else to do in Tehran. They loved parties during the shah’s time, too…… There are two drawbacks to accepting an invitation to an Iranian party then: first, all that wonderful food wouldn’t be served until the last guest arrived, and since every Iranian thinks they have to be the last to arrive anywhere, that meant ten-thirty p.m. at the earliest for an eight p.m. party, or as late as one a.m. in some cases.
Second, for some inexplicable reason, Iranian parties would start with great music, from the latest hits to good and even esoteric alternative rock, but after dinner would switch to bad Iranian dance music, prompting the women to drag the men out to dance with them, or vice versa…expert dancers all….
Before the Islamic Revolution, Tehran had boasted cabarets, nightclubs, and many bars (but few really good restaurants….)………But going out to a cabaret or club was never fully a substitute for entertaining at home, a proposition that Iranians have always considered as it shows off the home décor, cooking skills, good taste, and general graciousness of the host and hostess in a society where showing off and exercising one’s ta’arouf go hand in hand and seem to be the foundations of almost every party.
Partying in Iran is not restricted to the secular or Westernized elite, although the kinds of parties the devoutly Shia – the more affluent ones anyway – throw are radically different, though no less frequent.
Every Iranian house that is about to receive guests will have huge bowls of fruit on every coffee and side table, and bowls of nuts – pistachios and almonds – so huge and deep that it would take ages of snacking to get to the bottom, and other bowls of snacks, and often plates of pastries too……..Dinner means at least two but preferably three or four completely different main courses – always fluffy white rice accompanied by lamb or chicken-based stews along with other mixed rice dishes – as well as a handful of different salads and soups and other dishes, plus the obligatory sabzi, a plate of washed greens – basil, mint, radishes, watercress, or whatever – with cheese, walnuts, and spring onions on the side.
Intensely religious families throw rozeh parties with some regularity on religious holidays – frequent enough in Islam, but even more frequent in Shia Islam, with its imams and various other martyrs to celebrate. At such parties a mullah will melodically bespout an episode from Shia methodology, while men and women in separate rooms weep at the injustice perpetrated on their saints and the unfairness, the shamefulness, of their own lives. But in the aftermath of the recitation, these parties are usually as merry as any other, and food and nonalcoholic drinks are served, and laughter and jokes, though appropriate and not bawdy, are heard.
….there are no Iranian parties anywhere on the planet where children, from infants to teenagers, are unwelcome, whether the hosts and hostesses are prepared to handle a child in their home or not. ……..
…….Iranians’ indifference to all forms of pollution, especially the kind they’re responsible for creating.
………..Iranian would-be matchmakers, a profession almost all Iranians – from the deeply religious to the Westernized secularists – consider their second, if not first, in a culture where meeting potential partners is limited to gatherings at parties and introductions made by family.
Iranians living in Iran have to be extremely wary of associating with foreigners, especially diplomats, who are often assumed to be spies. Iranians who are completely uninvolved in politics, especially artists, will accept invitations to embassy parties, but no Iranian official, present or former, and no one with any political ambition, would be caught dead speaking to a Western diplomat, least of all while the West was pressuring Iran with sanctions and military threats ……….
The expat community in Tehran is miniscule……….
………..Tehran …….perpetually smoggy….sprawling metropolis……
Islamic Iran has successfully instituted compulsory education for its children, achieving a very high rate of literacy compared to that of any other developing country, but some children are left behind: illegal Afghan immigrants without the papers necessary to register at school, or the children of impecunious parents – some drug addicts and others just plain poor - ………
It is hard to find slums in Tehran…..of the kind we know in Third World countries, and hard to see very much abject poverty anywhere, which is some credit to the revolution. But the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing…….
I always knew that Iranians were fond of traveling………the great interest everyone showed then in having me tell them stories of far-off lands and of the journeys themselves. Iranians have always been curious about the world beyond their walls, and have intrepidity built into their genes, but before the advent of cheap air travel very few could afford to venture far beyond the country’s borders.
Only a handful of countries allow visa-less entry by Iranians, including Turkey and, more recently, Georgia……..
Iranians love nature, and the number of parks and green spaces in Tehran created by successive mayors, and their popularity with the citizens, is a testament to that. But they may love their cars just as much………right by their cars, families had set out carpets and cushions to sit on ……….A short, very short walk would have placed these families right in the middle of nature, away from the fumes of cars and motorcycles and the ugly asphalt, but being next to their cars and still in view of nature probably appealed to them more.
Flying anywhere in Iran is cheap and relatively easy, but ………private carriers use outdated equipment. …….the forty-year-old Boeings and Soviet-era Tupolevs have an unfortunate record of falling out of the sky……..Sanctions on Iran…..have meant that, despite its massive wealth in both the public and private sectors, Iran has been largely unable to upgrade its fleet of civilian aircraft since the revolution……. trains in Iran are a good, if time-consuming, alternative to flying, as are the buses, which are surprisingly luxurious and ridiculously cheap.
…………the dwarf the hotel had hired since my last visit……..He seemed to be unperturbed that he might be an object of amusement if not mockery by hotel visitors and particularly their children, in a country where political correctness, as it applies to the differently abled (excepting war veterans) has seemingly not arrived……
Yazd, being smack-dab in the middle of the desert……clean air, bright sunshine, and incredibly friendly citizens – no hustle and bustle, shoving, and the generally boorish demeanour found in Tehran and other big cities, not even in the Yazd bazaar.
………..the Iranians’ internal conflict over their history and their faith.
Iranians are an immensely proud and supremely nationalistic people, men and women who glory in their nation’s ancient past and have always been dismissive of, if not downright racist toward, the Bedouin Arabs who brought them their faith. Even the most pious, and even some of the clerics, have been traditionally anti-Arab, which explains to some extent an Islamic Iran’s difficulty in maintaining good relations with other Muslim countries in the region. It also creates a contradiction, in revering an Arab prophet and Arab Shia saints whose people Iranians believe to be inferior. Some of the youth of Iran today, who chafe at the restrictions on their lives and disdain the theocracy that places them there, and who dislike Arabs anyway, look to their pre-Islamic past both for assurance that their nationalism is founded and as a symbol of protest against the religion that they feel was forced on them by Mohammed’s armies centuries ago and by the ayatollahs today.
There is no greater symbol of Persian glory than the Farvahar, which was even a part of the shah’s Pahlavi coat of arms. One sees the winged sun pendants around the necks of young men and women everywhere – every jewelry shop in Iran sells silver and gold versions in all sizes.
Iranians are as tribal and chauvinistic about their hometowns as, say, New Yorkers are about Midwesterners……..
………Naghsh-e Jahah Square, the largest in the world after Tiananmen in Beijing, built by Shah Abbas in the late sixteenth century…………Much has been written about Esfahan, about the magnificence of the square and the mosques and palaces that surround it, and it has a magical quality that words and images cant quite describe. Nesf-e-Jahan, as Persians still vaingloriously refer to it: “Half the World.” ………..I always suspected the Esfahanis, known in Iran for their business acumen and even their cunning, were simply masking their true selves by being standoffish and sometimes even rude.
…………faloudeh, a uniquely Iranian iced concoction of starch noodles, rose water, and lemon juice………
It is an experience that many tourists and visitors to Iran share – Iranians, even deeply pious ones, opening up to a foreigner, treating them as guests of honor in their country no matter their origin, and displaying the kind of hospitality to strangers that is unheard of in the West.
……..Esfahanis ……..in their veneer of arrogant pride and haughty attitude, the general demeanour of those who live in what they believe is the greatest city on earth, indeed, according to them, half the world.
By the time we said our goodbyes, his present to Khash of a gold coin in hand (the traditional gift for a newborn family member)……..
…….President Khatami told me …….. “We have always wanted freedom, democracy, human rights, and so on…….but we have never instituted the culture for them……….We haven’t figured out how to reconcile those concepts with our culture. We cant be completely modern, or reject all modernity. Neither works in our culture, as much as we might try.” ……..The culture he referred-to, which he is proud of………is one of beauty, poetry, hospitality and manners, yet was still very much formed by Shia Islam: mournful, strict, and austere. Islamic culture never fully supplanted an ancient Persian culture that revered power and authority, whether exercised by tribal and village chiefs, priests, or kings and “kings of kings,”………..The political culture of Iran has always been authoritarian, and what Khatami was saying was that reconciling Persian culture with the concept of democracy meant that the political culture had to change, yes, but also that other elements of Persian culture and even of Shia Islam (which unlike Salafist or Wahhabi Islam actually allows for interpretation) had to adapt.
……….a society where three-quarters of the population was under thirty.
It has always been this way in Iran, since before the time of the ayatollahs and Islamic-approved curricula: know the facts, but don’t present opinions that might conflict with any shah- or state-approved message. And since it has also always been impossible for anyone to know exactly what might offend at any given time, leaders have most often kept their opinions to themselves. Ahmadinejad is a glaring exception……….
………it’s the paradoxical nature of Persian culture. While creative thinking abounds in Iran, it is often kept close to the chest for fear of not just political repercussions but ridicule. Hence a culture that reveres poetry above all tends to disdain artistic endeavours as impractical; the great Persian poets are quoted every day, and their contributions to math, science, and medicine are almost equally heralded, but no consideration is given to the idea that perhaps it was their creative thinking that led to advances in science in the glory years of the Persian empires – advances that Iranians boast of but that have ceased, leaving Iranians at a loss to explain why.
But conspiracy, and the concept that there is always something hidden in any news we hear, is not just an obsession of ordinary Iranians; its part of Iran’s political culture.
………for most Iranians, the concept of animals as pets is alien………
If anything, Iran is a land of contradictions, and Iranian-ness a mess of contradictory emotions…..