Iranian Etiquette & Manners
Olivia He introduces Iranian Manners
Family is the foundation of Iran’s social structure and is much more private than in many other societies and cultures. Iranians see themselves as having two distinct identities: “zaher” (public) and “batin” (private). Female relatives must be protected from outside influences, so questions about an Iranians wife and female relatives are deemed inappropriate.
Although the nuclear family is generally small, with one or two children, the extended family is quite close, with loyalty to family coming before any other social relationships.
It is this inner circle that forms the basis of an individuals social and business networks as the duties of members of the inner circle extend to offering advice, to helping other members find jobs, and to cutting through bureaucracy.
Another example of the distinction of public and private can be seen through taarof, a system of politeness, communicated both verbally and non-verbally, that has deep roots in the Iranian tradition of treating your guests better than your own family and in being great hosts.
In public, Iranians appear humble, refusing compliments and appearing vulnerable there is an understanding that this practice is common courtesy and the words must not be taken at face value. While some may view taarof as a double-edged sword because anothers true intentions may be disguised, taarof does set the tone for general etiquette in Iran.
Meeting Etiquette Introductions tend to be restricted to members of the same sex, as men and women socialize in separate circles, and tend to be affectionate, with an exchange of kisses at social events or a handshake if on the street. In greeting someone, Iranians take their time and chat about general events. The most common greeting is “salaam alaykum”, or simply “salaam” (peace).
If invited to an Iranian persons house, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Punctuality is appreciated, so try to arrive at the invited time;
dress conservatively; check to see if your spouse is included in the invitation, as conservative Iranians do not entertain mixed-sex groups;
check to see if your host is wearing shoes, if not, remove yours at the door;
expect to be shown into the guests room that is usually decorated with European furniture;
shake everyones hand individually;
accept any offer of food or drink, although first declining what is offered until your hosts insistence becomes greater while this behavior may be deemed annoying and antiquated by foreigners, Iranians are very sensitive to what others will think of them and so this behavior has become an inherent part of their culture.
When at the table, it is crucial to keep in mind that Iranians are quite formal. Meals taken in the home are served on the floor and the fact that they are eaten without utensils does not automatically indicate a lack of decorum (it is only in more modern homes that meals are served on a dining table with place settings).
Here are some mealtime pointers: wait to be told where to sit; most tables are set with a spoon and fork only; eat only with the right hand; try a bit of everything that is served; there is often more food than can be eaten (Iranians like to shower guests with abundance!), so expect to be offered second and even third helpings; initial refusals will be assumed polite gestures (taarof) and not taken seriously; leave some food on your plate when you have finished eating; restaurants tend to have two sections, one for the “family” where women and families dine, and one that is men only.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Iranians will give gifts at various social occasions, such as returning from a trip or to mark the achievement of a major personal or business success.
On birthdays sweets and cakes are brought to the office, but gifts are not expected. On No Ruz, the Iranian New Year, monetary gifts, new bank notes or gold coins, are usually given to servants or other service providers. If invited to an Iranians house, one ought to bring flowers or pastry for the hosts.
Two general pointers in gift giving include: gifts should be elegantly wrapped, most shops offer this service; and, when received, gifts are not usually opened, and in fact can be left on a table and not mentioned. Lastly, no matter what you have brought, to be in accordance with taarof remember to apologize for the gifts total inadequacy.