Languages PERSIAN (official), Azeri,
Kurdish, Lurish, Gilaki, Mazandarani,
Turkmen, Arabic, Baloch, Georgian,
Armenian, Neo-Aramaic (spoken)
Iranian rial (IRR)
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Official name: Islamic republic of Iran
Location: Western Asia. Iran has borders with ten countries:
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey.
Religion: 89% Shia Muslims and 9% Sunni Muslims make up
the 98% of the population, making Islam the dominant reli-
gion. The rest of the population consists of people following
Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and the Baha’i.
Ethnicity: Persians (61%), followed by Azeri (16%), Kurd (10%),
Lur (6%), Baloch (2%), Arab (2%), Turkmen and Turkic tribes
(2%), and other (1%), make up the ethnic composition of Iran.
Climate: Iran has a hot, dry climate characterized by long, hot,
dry summers and short, cool winters. The climate is influenced
by Iran’s location between the subtropical aridity of the Ara-
bian desert areas and the subtropical humidity of the eastern
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The largest language group consists of the speakers of In-
do-Iranian languages, who in 1986 comprised about 70
percent of the population. The speakers of Indo-Iranian
languages are not, however, a homogeneous group. They
include speakers of Persian and its various dialects; speak-
ers of Kirmanji, the term for related dialects spoken by the
Kurds; speakers of Luri, the language of the Bakhtiaris and
Lurs; and Baluchi, the language of the seminomadic people
who live in Southeastern Iran. Approximately 28 percent of
the population speaks various dialects of Turkish. Speakers
of Semitic languages include Arabs and Assyrians.
The current Iranian flag was adopted in 1980 and has
three equal horizontal bands of green, white, and red.
Green is the color of Islam and represents growth, white
symbolizes honesty and peace, and red stands for bravery
and martyrdom. Centered in the middle, the white band
is the stylized representation of the word “Allah” and the
phrase La ilaha illa Allah (“None is worthy of worship but
Allah”) in the shape of a tulip. Along the inner edges of
the green and red bands are 22 copies of the phrase Alla-
hu Akbar (“God is great”).
The Persian cat is one of the world’s oldest breed of cats. The
first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported
into Western Europe from Persia around 1620. The cat has
long silky fur to protect it from the cold in the high plateau
regions of Iran.
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Taarof is a system of politeness that includes both verbal
and non-verbal communication. Iranians protest compli-
ments and attempt to appear vulnerable in public. They will
belittle their own accomplishments in an attempt to appear
humble, although other Iranians understand that this is
merely courtesy and do not take the words at face value. In
adherence to taarof, if you are offered something, like a tea
or a sweet, even if you want it, you should at first decline it
until their insistence becomes greater.
With a population of around 8.3 million and surpass-
ing 14 million in the wider metropolitan area, Tehran is
Iran’s capital, largest city and urban area, and the largest
city in Western Asia. A plan to move the capital due to
the earthquake hazard has been discussed many times
in previous years. In 2010, the government of Iran an-
nounced that “for security and administrative reasons”
the plan to move the capital from Tehran has been final-
ized. There are plans to relocate 163 state firms to the
provinces and several universities from Tehran.
Public vs. Private
Iranians see themselves as having two distinct identities:
“zaher” (public) and “batin” (private). When they are in
public, they must conform to accepted modes of behaviour.
It is only within their homes among their inner circle that
they feel free like they can be themselves. Family members
are always part of the inner circle. The inner circle forms the
basis of a person’s social and business network. Friendship is
very important and extends into business. The people from
the inner circle can be relied upon, to offer advice, help find
a job, or cut through bureaucracy.
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Three Wise Men
The Medes were of Aryan origin and the first people to unify
Iran by the 6th century B.C. One of the tribes, the Magi,
were powerful Zoroastrian priests. The most famous Magi
are the Three Wise Men of the Christian Nativity story who
brought gifts to the newborn Christ. The 13th century Italian
explorer Marco Polo claimed to have visited the graves of
the Three Wise Men in what is now Iran’s capital Tehran.
Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979, when the monarchy
was overthrown and clerics assumed political control under
supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Iranian revolution put an end to the rule of the Shah, who
had alienated powerful religious, political and popular forces
with a programme of modernization and Westernization cou-
pled with heavy repression of dissent.
Internet and censorship
In the first decade of the 21st century, Iran experienced a
great surge in Internet usage, and, with 20 million people on
the Internet, currently has the second highest percentage of
its population online in the Middle East, after Israel. When
initially introduced, the Internet services provided by the gov-
ernment within Iran were comparatively open. Many users
saw the Internet as an easy way to get around Iran’s strict
In recent years, Internet service providers have been told to
block access to pornographic and anti-religion websites. The
ban has also targeted such popular social networking sites as
Facebook and YouTube, as well as news sites.
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Safar 29 or 30
Nowrooz (New Year)
Islamic Republic Day
Revolt of Khordad 15
Victory of the Iranian Revolution
Nationalization of Oil Industry
Tasu’a of Imam Hussain
Ashura of Imam Hussain
Arba’een of Imam Hussain
Demise of prophet
Muhammad and Martyrdom
of Imam Hassan (Mujtaba)
Martyrdom of Imam Reza
Birth of Muhammad and
Martyrdom of Fatima
Birth of Imam Ali
Mission of Muhammad
Birth of Imam Mahdi
Martyrdom of Imam Ali
Eid ul-Fitr (End of Ramadhan)
Eid ul-Fitr (End of Ramadhan)
Martyrdom of Imam Jafar
Eid ul-Adha (Ghurban)
Gregorian calendar (2015)
November - December
December - January
March - April
April - May
May - June
June - July
July - August
August - September
September - October
March - April
April - May
May - June
June - July
July - August
August - September
September - October
October - November
November - December
December - January
The Islamic or Hijri calendar abbreviated as AH is
a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first
crescent of a new moon is sighted. The Islamic lunar
calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar
year consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 days.
The Solar Hijri calendar, also called the Solar Hejri
calendar, and abbreviated as SH, is the official calendar
of Iran and Afghanistan. The determination of starting
moment is more accurate than in the Gregorian calen-
dar, because it uses astronomical observations rather
than mathematical rules.
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• The word Iran means the Land of the Aryans.
• It snows in Tehran.
• The former name of Iran was Per¬sia, which was in use
• Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world
as regards number of World Heritage Sites recog-
nized by UNESCO.
• Iran ranks second in the world in nat¬ural gas
and third in oil reserves.
• Iran’s Constitution and Parliament were
created on August 5th, 1906.
• Famous biblical people buried in Iran:
Queen Esther, Daniel, Cyrus the Great, Dar
ius the Great, St. Thaddeus.
• Iran is one of the world’s oldest continu
ous major civilizations, with historical and
urban settlements dating back to 4000
• In spite of fierce competition, Persian
rugs are still the best rugs in the world.
• The word mausoleum comes from the
famous grave of King Mausolus. Iran’s
Mausoleum of Maussollos was identified
as one of the Seven Wonders of the An-
• Persian (Farsi) is still spoken in Tajikestan
and Afghanistan. It was the official court lan
guage of India for 200 years.
• Surprisingly, Persia built the earliest known
windmills, which resembled large paddle
wheels. Iran was pioneering wind energy long
before any other nation realized the energy benefit
of natural energy powerhouse.
• Iran provides home and social security for approximately a million foreign refu-
gees – the biggest number in a single country in the world. Most of the refugees are
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from Afghanistan or are Iraqi Kurds.
• Females over the age of nine must wear a hijab in public. “Bad hijab” ― exposure
of any part of the body other than hands and face – can be subject to punishment
of up to 70 lashes or 60 days imprisonment.
• While homosexual relationships are banned in Iran,
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed that transsex-
uals are allowed to have sex change operations in
Iran. Since 2008, Iran has conducted more sex
change operations than any other country
in the world, second only to Thailand. The
government even provides financial assis-
• Iran is one of the world’s largest pro-
ducers of caviar, pistachios, and saffron.
• Short-term marriages are called
Sigheh. These are permitted in certain
Shia schools. These marriages last for
an hour or several years depending on
• Iranian households are forbidden to
have satellite television
• In Iran, men who do not marry stay with
their natal family their entire life and are de-
scribed as na-mard (not-men)
• In Iran, yogurt is referred to as “Persian Milk”
and many Iranians consider yogurt a miracle food.
It is used to treat ulcers, relieve sunburn, and even
• Women are prohibited from watching sport matches. They
resort to cross-dressing to watch the games.
• The first day of spring in Iran is a festive day. Women prepare huge feasts and mothers
eat hard-boiled eggs, one for each of their children. According to Persian ritual, the table
is set with seven items, each beginning with the letter “s” in Persian: such as apples (sib),
green grass (sabze), vinegar (serkey), berries (senjed), ground wheat (samanoo), a gold
coin (sekke), and garlic (sir).
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This tourist attraction and historic site is
a ziggurat-shaped temple built under the
kingdom of Elam, c. 1250 B.C. It is sur-
rounded by three huge walls and can be
seen from far away. Millions of bricks have
been used in the construction of this tem-
It is the palace complex built under Darius
the Great in 518 B.C. Persepolis was the
capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It was
built on an immense half-artificial, half-nat-
ural terrace, where the king of kings creat-
ed an impressive palace complex inspired
by Mesopotamian models.
This tourist attraction and historic site is
the largest inscription of the world, con-
sisting of 1119 lines of cuneiform in three
languages. The rock relieves depict Darius
the Great after an initial endeavor to arrest
the rebels who had introduced themselves
falsely as sons of Cyrus the Great.
Pasargadae is the first example of Achae-
menians’ palace compounds, as well as
one of the first examples of Persian gar-
den planning in Iranian history. Its palaces,
gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are
outstanding examples of the first phase of
royal Achaemenid art and architecture and
exceptional testimonies of Persian civiliza-
Kariz, an ancient Iranian underground water
supplement system, known as qanat, made
life possible in this oasis. Bam is situated in
a desert environment on the southern edge
of the Iranian high plateau.
This masterpiece of architecture is a unique
example of the Iranians’ precision in math-
ematics and calculation in engineering. The
mausoleum of Oljaytu was constructed
in 1302–12 in the city of Soltaniyeh, the
capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty, which was
founded by the Mongols.
Built by Shah Abbas I the Great at the be-
ginning of the 17th century, and bordered
on all sides by monumental buildings linked
by a series of two-storey arcades, the site is
known for the Royal Mosque, the Mosque
of Sheykh Lotfollah, the magnificent Portico
of Qaysariyyeh and the 15th-century Timu-
These waterfalls are the masterpieces of
engineering at the time of ancient Iranians.
The entire collection includes waterfalls,
dams, bridges, basins, mills, etc.
Armenian Monastic Ensembles
There are three monastic ensembles of
the Armenian Christians living in the North
West of present-day Iran: St Thaddeus, St
Stepanos, and the Chapel of Dzordzor.
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DOS AND DON’TS
DO understand that women are expected
to wear loose clothing covering everything
but their hands, face, and feet. Female
travellers in Iran are also expected to abide
by this dress code. In homes, western-style
clothing is acceptable.
DO wear pants and short-sleeved shirts if
you are man. However, long-sleeves may
protect you from the sun better.
DO dress conservatively for business oc-
casions. Ties are not traditionally worn by
Iranian men but they are not looked down
DO note that in some homes meals are
served on the floor without utensils, but in
more modern homes meals will be served
on a table with a spoon and fork.
DON’T sit until told where to sit.
DON’T use your left hand while eating.
DO try a little bit of everything and expect
to be offered seconds and even thirds!
DO understand that refusals are considered
polite and not taken seriously, so if you
don’t want more food you will likely have to
DO understand that restaurants will often
have two sections: “family” and “men only.”
“Family” is for women and their families.
DO leave a little bit of food on your plate to
indicate that you are done eating.
DO note that alcohol is illegal under most
Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts
DO wrap a gift nicely.
DON’T open a gift immediately.
DON’T give overly lavish gifts. Pens, art,
home decor, or something from your home
country are generally appreciated.
DO understand that since conservative
men and women do not socialize together,
greetings are done only among members of
the same sex. Because of this, wait for the
member of the opposite sex to put their
hand out for a handshake before shaking
DO shake hands upon greeting or greet
with an affectionate kiss.
DO greet by saying “salaam” which means
DO bring flowers or desserts for your hosts.
DO arrive on time. Lateness could be con-
DO look to see if your host is wearing
shoes. If they are not, take yours off before
DO accept food or drink.
DO make appointments at least a month in
advance and confirm a week before.
DON’T be late!
DO have all written business materials and
business cards translated into Farsi.
DON’T take your suit jacket off without
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DO be patient. Decisions are made slowly and Iranians can be tough business-people.
They may get angry, storm out, or threaten to end the business relationship in order to
get their way. Negotiations might be quite long.
DON’T be forceful or use pressure tactics. It may wind up working against you.
Socializing and Conversation
DON’T criticize Islam or the Iranian government.
DO discuss soccer (football) because it is very popular in Iran.
DO ask about family, but don’t be too intrusive.
DO understand that in order to visit a mosque or holy shrine, women should wear a
chador before entering. Chadors are sort of like cloaks. If you don’t have a chador, some-
times there are kiosks where you can rent one.
DO wear long-sleeved shirts when visiting a mosque or holy shrine if you are a man.
DO remove your shoes before entering a prayer area of a mosque.
DON’T take photos of a mosque while people are praying.
DO ask before entering a room at a holy site, because some places forbid non-Muslims
Good Topics of Conversation
Iran, its language, culture and history
Discussing family in general, in a non-intrusive way
Food, especially the variety of local cuisine
Sports, especially football is always a good topic
Professionals will enjoy talking about their education and employment
Questions about Islam, unless they are very simple, inquisitive questions
Contentious issues that may lead to heated discussion like the Revolution of 1979, Irani-
an-US relations, and Israeli foreign and domestic policy
Sex and roles of the sexes
Personal questions, unless a very close relationship has been established. Also don’t
divulge too much personal information about yourself
Any negative comments about Iran regarding the leadership, infrastructure or people
DOS AND DON’TS
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If you are invited to an Iranian’s house:
• Check to see if the host is wearing shoes.
If not, remove yours at the door.
• Dress conservatively. Dressing up formally
and appropriately is also regarded as a sign
of respect and people may get offended
if their guests arrive in casual outfits and
• Try to arrive at the invited time. Punctual-
ity is appreciated.
• Show respect for the elders by greeting
• Check to see if your spouse is included in
the invitation. Conservative Iranians do not
entertain mixed-sex groups.
• Expect to be shown into the guests’ room.
It is usually lavishly furnished with Europe-
• Shake everyone’s hand individually.
• Accept any offer of food or drink.
• Raising your eyebrows means no.
• Biting your lower lip with your upper
teeth expresses disbelief or shame that
someone did something.
• Placing your hand over your heart (and
slightly bowing your head down/looking
down) expresses sincerity.
• Biting your index finger or the web be-
tween your thumb and index finger is sort
of an anti-jinx.
• In Iran, counting things off is done in two
ways: by touching the finger to thumb,
starting with the pinky, or by folding each
finger down with your other hand, starting
with the pinky, or by folding each finger
down with your other hand, starting with
Gift Giving Etiquette
• Iranians give gifts at various social oc-
casions such as returning from a trip or if
someone achieves a major success in their
personal or business life.
• On birthdays, businesspeople bring
sweets and cakes to the office and do not
expect to receive gifts.
• If you are invited to an Iranian’s house,
bring flowers, or pastry to the hosts. When
giving a gift, always apologize for its inade-
• Gifts should be elegantly wrapped - most
shops will wrap them for you.
• Gifts are not generally opened when re-
ceived. In fact, they may be put on a table
and not mentioned.
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Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)
This stew is an essential part of every Per-
sian wedding menu. At the ruins of Perse-
polis, the ancient ritual capital of the Per-
sian Empire, archaeologists found inscribed
stone tablets from as far back as 515 B.C.,
which listed pantry staples of the early Ira-
nians. They included walnuts, poultry and
pomegranate preserves, the key ingredients
Bademjan (Eggplant And Tomato Stew)
This stew has the shimmering red-gold col-
or of tomatoes cooked with turmeric, with
a sheen of oil on top. Like all Persian stews,
bademjan is thick and meant to be eaten
over rice with a fork.
Zereshk Polo (Barberry Rice)
Iranians love sour flavors. Like cranberries,
barberries have a vibrant red color, but they
are even more sour. This classic rice dish
is studded with the red berries, which are
dried and rehydrated before cooking.
Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew)
Made from herbs, kidney beans and lamb,
deep green gormeh sabzi satisfies two Per-
sian flavor obsessions: it is sour and full of
Ash e Reshteh (Noodle and Bean Soup)
A richly textured soup full of noodles,
beans, herbs and leafy greens like spinach
and beet leaves. It is topped with mint oil,
crunchy fried onions and sour kashk, a fer-
mented whey product eaten in the Middle
East that tastes akin to sour yogurt.
Tahdig (Crunchy Fried Rice)
Tahdig is the soul food of Persian cooking.
It is the crisp, golden layer of fried rice at
the bottom of the rice pot, and it tastes like
a combination of popcorn and potato chips,
but with the delicate flavor of basmati rice.
Jeweled Rice (with Nuts and Dried Fruit)
Dotted with brightly colored dried fruit and
nuts, like little jewels, this is a sweet-and-
savory dish that shows off some of the na-
tive ingredients of Iran, including pistachios,
almonds, candied orange peel, barberries,
carrots and saffron.
Kebab (Lamb, Chicken, Ground Meat)
Kebabs have more variety than you might
think. First, there’s koobideh, ground meat
seasoned with minced onion, salt and
pepper. Chicken kebab, known as joojeh, is
traditionally made from a whole chicken,
bones and all, for more flavor, marinated in
lemon and onion, and basted with saffron
Sabzi Khordan (Herb and Cheese Plate)
No Persian meal is complete without a dish
of sabzi khordan, or edible herbs. The plate
can include mint, tarragon, basil and cilan-
tro, alongside scallions, radishes, walnuts,
feta cheese and Iranian nan (flatbread).
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Iranian culture is class-based, traditional and patriarchal. Tradition for most
is rooted in religion, and class and patriarchy have been constant features of
Iranian society since ancient times.
PEOPLE IN IRAN
A downward gaze in Iran is a sign of re-
spect. For men, downcast eyes are a de-
fense measure, since staring at a woman
is usually taken as a sign of interest, and
can cause difficulties. On the other hand,
staring directly into the eyes of a friend is
a sign of affection and intimacy.
Very conservative Muslims may avoid
shaking hands or kissing unrelated indi-
viduals of the opposite sex. At the same
time, it is well accepted for individuals of
the same sex to touch each other, wheth-
er they are related or not.
• Introductions are generally restricted to
members of the same sex since men and
women socialize separately.
• Greetings tend to be affectionate. Men
kiss other men and women kiss other
women at social events. If they meet on
the street, a handshake is more common.
• When Iranians greet each other, they
take their time and converse about gener-
The most common greeting is “salaam
alaykum” or more simply “salaam”.
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IRAN AND ITS PEOPLE
Some groups living within Iranian borders do assert autonomy occasionally, however.
Chief among these are the Kurds, living on Iran’s western border. Fiercely independent,
they have pressed the Iranian central government to grant economic concessions and au-
tonomous decision-making powers. However, outside of the urban areas in their region,
the Kurds already have formidable control over their regions. Iranian central government
officials tread very lightly in these areas. The Kurds in Iran, along with their brethren in
Iraq and Turkey, have long desired an independent state. The immediate prospects for
this are dim.
The nomadic tribal groups in the southern and western regions of the Iranian central pla-
teau have likewise caused problems for the Iranian central government. Because they are
in movement with their sheep and goats for more than half of the year, they have histor-
ically been difficult to control. They are also generally self-sufficient, and a small minority
are even quite well-off. Attempts to settle these tribes in the past have met with violent
action. At present, they entertain an uneasy peace with Iranian central authorities.
The Arab population of the Southwestern trans-Zagros Gulf province of Khuzestan has
entertained political aspirations of breaking away from Iran. These aspirations have been
encouraged by Iraq and other Arab states. In times of conflict between Iran and Iraq, Iraqi
leaders have supported this separatist movement as a way of antagonizing Iranian offi-
The severest social persecution in Iran has been directed at religious minorities. For cen-
turies, periods of relative tolerance have alternated with periods of discrimination. Under
the current Islamic republic, these minorities have had a difficult time. Although theoret-
ically protected as “People of the Book” according to Islamic law, Jews, Christians, and
Zoroastrians have faced accusations of spying for Western nations or for Israel. Islamic
officials also take a dim view of their tolerance of alcohol consumption, and the relative
freedom accorded to women.
Iran has been somewhat blessed by an absence of specific ethnic conflict.
This is noteworthy, given the large number of ethnic groups living within its
borders, both today and in the past. It is safe to conclude that the general
Iranian population neither persecutes ethnic minorities, nor openly discrimi-
nates against them.
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SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Islam and Shi’ism
Islam is practised by the majority of Iranians, and it governs their personal, political,
economic and legal lives. Iran is the only country of all Muslim countries that is officially
a Shi’ite state. The others are considered as Sunni states.
Contrary to the stereotype images of Muslim males in the media, most Iranian men do
not have beards and if they do, it is not necessarily for religious reasons.
Traditional vs Modern
Iranians are very conscious about the way they dress and on the whole they dress well
and dress codes are very important in distinguishing modern and traditional
groups. Generally among the affluent, men and women are expect-
ed to dress in expensive and fashionable clothes with expen-
sive jewelry and accessories (mainly watches and rings for
men) and to drive luxury cars. Among more modern
people, females have no problems wearing heavy
make-up, exposing body parts while in the company
of males. Among more traditional people, female
dress codes are modest and much more conser-
vative, with darker colors and little make-up. In
mixed gatherings of such groups, males and fe-
males normally end up as clusters on their own
if not segregated in the first place. However, in
private, in all female gatherings even tradition-
al Muslim women may dress freely or expose
Iranians will not normally joke about each other’s
wives or other related females, unless they are
very close friends or related. If alcohol is served,
males will normally serve the drinks and many wom-
en, especially the older generation, do not consume
alcohol. It is best to ask people if they drink alcohol before
offering any to them – however, very strict religious people
might be offended if you offer them alcohol. Usually such people
either do not socialize with non-Muslims, or will make it clear before-
hand that they do observe Islamic codes with respect to eating and drinking.
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Food preparation is a major part of any get togeth-
er, and there will be plenty of different dishes. The
higher the status of the guests, the more elaborate
the party. Guests are constantly served with some
food items, tea or drinks, and the hostess – mainly
the lady of the house (sometimes daughters too) –
has the task of serving. She refuses to take no for an
answer and insists that guests should have what they
Respecting the elderly is another ancient practice
that has survived. Traditionally, the elderly are re-
spected, listened to and are treated accordingly. It is
customary for all to stand up once they enter a room,
the best seats are allocated to them and they are
offered drinks and food before anyone else.
The priority for females is marriage and childbear-
ing. Due to economic necessity and with the phe-
nomenal increase in the number of highly educated
Iranian women, such culturally accepted norms are
creating major problems for working mothers and
challenging the status quo. So far, the solution for
most appears to be reliance on family members such
as grandparents to look after the children. Day-care
centres are not generally trusted, and a nanny is pre-
ferred if affordable.
Male/female relationships seem to be a complicated matter for many Iranians. Educated
and modern classes have little problems understanding the dynamics of such relation-
ships and engaging in them. Both sexes respect and treat their partners as equals, and
most have left behind medieval courting habits generations ago. However, traditional and
less educated groups might have problems with western courting styles. Males belong-
ing to such groups normally marry virgin women, and they can be controlling and expect
obedience, and may not involve their wives in decision-making processes. Any socializing
with the opposite sex might be regarded indecent and offensive. Dress codes are tightly
observed and children are also controlled and expected to behave according to the com-
munal codes, rather than following their own individual styles or western ones.
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FAMILY IN IRAN
Iran’s constitution dictates that women are mothers and homemakers. Female relatives
must be protected from outside influences and are taken care of at all times. It is inappro-
priate to ask questions about an Iranian’s wife or other female relatives. If they want to
work outside of the home, they need permission from the male head of the household.
The government also segregates schools by gender, and at the university level, there are
some subjects women are not allowed to study. On city buses, men and women sit apart,
and a woman may not appear in public with a man unless it is her husband or family
member. However, unlike women in Saudi Arabia, Iranian women can drive and vote.
Polygamy is legal in Iran, and men can marry up to four wives. Once married, a girl can
no longer go to high school. The marriage age of girls is currently 13, up from 9 years old
after the Revolution. Boys may marry at 15, the legal age Iranians can vote.
Polygyny is allowed, but not widely practiced, however, because Iranian officials in this
century have followed the Islamic prescription that a man taking two wives must treat
them with absolute equality. Women in polygynous marriages hold their husbands to this
and will seek legal relief if they feel they are disadvantaged. Statistics are difficult to as-
certain, but one recent study claims that only 1 percent of all marriages are polygynous.
Divorce is less common in Iran than in the West. Families prefer to stay together even un-
der difficult circumstances, since it is extremely difficult to disentangle the close network
of interrelationships between the spouses’ two extended families.
Children of a marriage belong to the father. After a divorce, men assume custody of boys
over three years and girls over seven. Women have been known to renounce their divorce
payment in exchange for custody of their children. There is no impediment to remarriage
with another partner for either men or women.
In Iran, the family is the basis of the social structure. The concept of family is
more private than in many other cultures. Iranians take their family responsibili-
ties quite seriously. Families tend to be small, only 1 or 2 children, but the extend-
ed family is quite close. The individual derives a social network and assistance in
times of need from the family. Elderly relatives are kept at home, not placed in a
nursing home. Loyalty to the family comes before other social relationships, even
business. Nepotism is considered a good thing, since it implies that employing
people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.
19 Country profile IRANLearnmera Oy www.thelanguagemenu.com
Relationships & Communication
Who you know is often more important
than what you know, so it is important to
network and cultivate a number of con-
Expect to be offered tea whenever you
meet someone, as this demonstrates hospi-
Since Iranians judge people on appearanc-
es, dress appropriately and stay in a high
Business Meeting Etiquette
It is a good idea to avoid scheduling meet-
ings during Ramazan (Ramadan), as the
need to fast would preclude your business
colleagues from offering you hospitality.
Arrive at meetings on time, since punctu-
ality is seen as a virtue. The first meeting
with an Iranian company is generally not
business-focused. Expect your colleagues to
spend time getting to know you as a person
over tea and snacks. Be patient, as meet-
ings are frequently interrupted.
Do not remove your suit jacket without per-
mission. Do not look at your watch or try to
rush the meeting. If you appear fixated on
the amount of time the meeting is taking,
you will not be trusted.
It takes time for Iranians to warm up to-
wards foreign business people. Until then,
they may appear somewhat stiff and for-
mal. Personal relationships form the basis
of business dealings.
Decisions are made slowly. Iranians are
deliberate negotiators who can drive a hard
bargain. Do not use high-pressure tactics.
They will work against you.
Iranians prefer to do business
with those they know and re-
spect, therefore they expect to
spend time cultivating a per-
sonal relationship before busi-
ness is conducted.
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Iranians may display emotion, or even walk
out of the meeting, or threaten to termi-
nate the relationship in an attempt to con-
vince you to change your position.
Iranians often use time as a negotiating
tactic, especially if they know that you have
a deadline. Be cautious about letting your
business colleagues know that you are un-
der time pressure.
Companies are hierarchical. Decisions are
made at the top of the company, either by
one person or a small council.
Address your Iranian business associates by
their title and their surname.
The title “doktor” is used for both M.D.s
and Ph.D.s. Engineers are called “mohan
dis”. The title “agha” (sir) is used when ad-
dressing men. The title “khanoom” (mad-
am) is used when addressing women.
Wait to be invited before starting to use
first names. Only close friends and family
use this informal form.
Business attire is formal and conservative.
Men should wear dark colored conservative
Ties are not worn by Iranians but it is per-
fectly acceptable for you to do so.
Dress well to make a good impression.
Women should always dress modestly and
cover their hair.
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