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YOUR GUIDE TO IRANIAN CUSTOMS

Since ancient Silk Days, Iranians have been accustomed to having travellers as guests. Wherever you are, Iranians will come up to you and say “hello,” take pictures with you, and invite you to their home or even offer you a free guided tour of their hometown.

Greet people of the same sex with a handshake, three kisses or both, but avoid physical contact with people of the opposite sex in public. Wait for them to introduce themselves instead, or just introduce yourself normally. (Bowing with a hand over your heart has been outdated since the 70s and is rarely done.)

Tarof is a genuine Persian form of civility emphasizing both self-deference and social rank. The term encompasses a range of social behaviors, from a man displaying etiquette by opening the door for another person, to a group of colleagues standing on ceremony in front of a door that can permit the entry of only one at the time, earnestly imploring the most senior to break the deadlock. Tarof also governs the rules of hospitality: a host is obliged to offer anything a guest might want, and a guest is equally obliged to refuse it. This ritual may repeat itself several times before the host and guest finally determine whether the host’s offer and the guest’s refusal are real or simply polite. It is possible to ask someone, not to Tarof (Tarof näkonid), but that raises new difficulties since the request itself might be a devious type of Tarof. The best approach to handle Tarof is to be politely direct. Accept or reject as soon as you wish to, and be sure that Iranians will not be offended. Even though Tarof is purely about the art of civility, your engagement in Tarof might enter you into a vicious cycle of hypocrisy that may ruin your entire stay. The exception to this may be with food; as mentioned above, guests are expected to accept food they are offered at dinner, regardless of whether they intend to eat it.