16 ways to humiliate yourself in IRAN!

Most decent travelers know the importance of respecting the local culture of their destination. Many women would dress more modestly when visiting an Islamic country even if it’s not necessarily required. You would probably not wear your super expensive Italian shoes when you visit a village where people face extreme poverty, and the list goes on.

Many times the Do’s and Don’t or the Rights and Wrongs of one place can inverse as soon as you cross the border. We’ve all had those embarrassing moments when our actions as tourists have caused everyone in the room to look back and stare and we didn’t want anything but to melt into the earth. It’s fine. We all go through it and we’ll have a memory to share and laugh about later on. But doing a little research before you board on that plane might just save you a lot of those awkward moments.

This post is all about me being frank. It’s very unpersian, I know! And my mum would kill me if I ever mention any of it to our guests since we Iranians are constantly taught that our guests come first even if we really want to kick their awful trouble making children out of the house.

This is for you. So you know what you’re getting yourself into and act less of a tourist when you’re around.

Trust me the whole Iranian nation will secretly thank me later. 😉

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#1 You’re using the squat toilet wrong!

First of all you are aiming for the hole so you need to be sitting with your back to it.           Second, you’re only supposed to take your trousers half way down or you’re going to be stuck in there for ages!
Third, if by any chance things are getting dirty, then you’re definitely doing something wrong! Ask for a local for help immediately!

#2 You use the few Arabic words you know to make conversation with a local. 

Your blood is on your own hands! We Iranians are extremely patriotic when it comes to our language. Come here and assume we speak Arabic and we’ll hate you forever.

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Under Khajoo bridge in Esfahan is a great place to blend into the locals.

#3 You empty the olive oil jar on the table.

Yes we get it! You’re a southerner from Europe who likes to have his salad floating on a pool of olive oil. But that jar of olive oil on the table was suppose to serve a lot more people. Ask for a refill from the waiter and he might give you a suspicious look thinking you’ve been flushing the whole thing down your throat. Just sayin’.

#4 Expect toilet paper in public toilets.

Haha! Doesn’t exist. Period.

#5 You think cars will stop at a zebra crossing.

In your dreams my friend! Just because there’s a zebra crossing it doesn’t mean the cars are going to stop for you. They won’t! You need to get out there and make them stop!
Tip: If you’re freaking out just follow others and let them block the cars for you (or in your head, you’re probably having the dirty thought of having them killed for you). It’s a dirty game but at least you won’t have to deal with the cars hitting on breaks right at your feet. 😉

#6 Blowing your nose in public.

I remember those winter days spent in libraries and classrooms back when I was living abroad really well… when everyone was sick and blew their nose like all their body organs were about to shoot out. Yuck! I could feel myself coming to that stage when you’re just about to throw up!! I had to block my ears sometimes and I’m not even joking.

This is probably one of the most horrible things you can do in public here. You will get a lot of disgusted looks thinking where the hell does he come from?????

#7 Enter a house with your shoes on.

We Iranians are cleaning freaks when it comes to our houses and those handmade Persian carpets on the floor are just like our own kids. Don’t you dare put your shoes on them!
Same goes for all mosques and public places covered with carpets.
Tip: There will be very few families who are ok with you entering their house with your shoes on. Make sure you take it off at all times unless the host tells you otherwise.

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#8 Telling women what they can’t do.

Yes, we Iranian women are fully aware of the rights we have and don’t have in this country! But don’t underestimate us. We are the most assertive Middle Eastern women and a lot more independent than you think. We have achieved a lot under the circumstances and have no intentions of backing off. Don’t come and give us speeches. We know them all. Negativity has never been a solution and does nothing but to invade hope. If there’s no encouragement or solution in your words keep it for friends back home. We’ve had enough.

#9 Don’t come and say you were expecting burqas!

We’ll just think you’re an ignorant westener who watches TV way too much.

#10 Eat rice with a fork.

When we were kids our mothers would a get a heart attack everytime we put a fork into our mouths with the fear of hurting ourselves. We were not given anything but spoons for years since it was taught to be the safest option. We’ll just be thinking you’re not being very practical when you can easily get a full spoon of rice in your mouth instead of half of it falling off the fork.

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#11 You bring your least fashionable clothes to wear here!

When I was traveling with my Spanish friends they found it weird that they were so easily recognized as foreigners in Iran when they don’t even look that different and the women were obviously wearing the hijab. I instantly commented that it was for the way they dressed.
Just because women are suppose to be covered doesn’t mean we don’t follow fashion and trends. When you’re in super slouchy trousers and borrowed an xxxx large top from your grandma what do you expect? And we’ll instantly know you’re German if you’ve got your scarf tied on your ears rather than under your neck.
Tip: We know you don’t dress like this back home and it’s probably because you’ve been very misinformed but watch a tutorial for God’s sake!
Or check out my post on how to dress up for Iran and not look like you totally had no idea on what you’re getting yourself into.

#12 Leave a local kissing the air.

That awkward moment when you greet an Iranian with two kisses and leave her looking like a loser when she comes forward to give the third kiss but there’s no cheek waiting!
Tip: Many times we will just compromise with shaking your hand since we know you’re a foreigner. If the kissing scene happens, remember, it’s always 3!                                               We’ll forgive but we’ll never forget!

#13 You slurp your soup. 

If you’re from one of those East Asian countries who like to slurp the end of your soup from the bowl, keep those for back home. We’ll be rolling those fierce Persian eyes at you.

#14 Speaking too loud.

Dear Spaniards, we love you and your football but do keep it down a bit. Por favor!

#15 Actually accept a Tarof.

So there’s this extremely complicated thing called Tarof in Iran which I cannot express my disfavour for it any more. It basicaly means when people are offering you something but actually they don’t really mean it.

So lets get into context:
Imagine you’re at a Persian house invited for a huge feast. The host keeps insisting for you to eat more and even tries to grab your plate and fill it with more food. No, he doesn’t think you’re a dinasour. He’s just being polite and if you accept to eat everything he’ll just go over to his wife after the party and comment about how sad he feels for the poor thing. “He must have been starving or something!”
Now another one:
You’re in a taxi. when it comes for you to pay the driver keeps insisting that you be his guest. You think wow! these Iranians… and leave the car not paying. The car starts honking non stop making sure everyone knows you’re a stingy oportunist.
The worse thing is that the famous Persian hospitality and generosity will make it difficult to know when the offer is a Tarof and when it’s real.
Tip: It doesn’t work all the time but rumours say that if you refuse a Tarof for 3 times and the person is still insisting then it’s the real thing!! We’re weird like that.

IMG_3374 #16 You forget to take off the toilet slippers.

So you’ve taken off your shoes and entered a persian house. Then you want to go to the bathroom and once you open the door you’ll see a pair of sleepers waiting for you. You’ll think oh! These guys are smart! They think of everything. So you wear them and do your business while thinking how efficient these Iranians must be. Then you get out the toilet and forget to take them off!!! The woman of the house sees you wearing them and her eyes are widened with horror! She takes a deep breath and kindly tells you what you’ve done. She probably just wants to throw you out of the window, but then she remembers, she’s an Iranian. And we Iranians take hospitality to a whole new level and think our guests are angels sent from the sky!!!!

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Your turn now. Has any of these happened to you? If you’re an Iranian, which one of these has been bugging you the most? Is there anything else you would add to the list?

We’d love to know. 😉

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  • Emmy Hargreaves

    A lot of this is the same in Turkey.

    • No wonder why. Our cultures are extremely close.

  • Justsuj Someonenoemos

    So, what you do if you are sick and need to blow your nose? Go to toilet and do it secretly with your own tissue because there’s no toilet paper? And what you do in public toilet if you have no own tissue etc with you? Would have been nice to hear more answers too to know how to do things there.

    • Mahdi Saleh

      We blow the nose but quite soundless. And I am telling you that really works!
      Also there is no toilet paper in the public toilets because we use water instead but for drying hands some new public restrooms have airdriers now.

    • Behzad

      Just don’t blow your nose at the restaurant or anywhere people are eating, it’s amazing how Europeans specially the French do this at restaurants with such force in Dolby surround sound as if they are forcing their brain out of their nostrils completely oblivious to the dirty looks they are getting, and I am talking about when visiting USA. In bathrooms it is quite acceptable to do the whole horn section to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony just take whatever tissue paper you need from your table, although any decent restaurant has paper towels in their bathroom. Iranians do blow their nose at restaurants but it is done very discreetly in short soft multiple blows in cases of emergency while being wary if anyone has heard them.

    • Yup! Pretty much what everyone else said. It’s fine to do it in the bathroom and you should always have tissues just in case. 😉

    • Justsuj Someonenoemos

      Ahah, obviously I just didn’t think enough. I automatically try to blow my nose politely, unobtrusively and as quietly as possible. I think it comes so automatically that related to new and exciting culture I immediately started to think that “wow, really, what I do then?!” Ahah, natural solutions. 😀 The same thing with toilets. New culture <3 so I only thought about the paper which I'm used to (with water) and forgot the bidet showers. Both ways together or alone are equally ok, of course, haha. 😀

  • Debbie McCabe

    Loved this. I visited Iran last year with my son and you are so right! I carried my own pack of tissues at all times for toilet paper. I learned to dodge the traffic. I brought one manteau and head scarf with me and bought the rest of my gear in Tehran. There are some lovely outfits to purchase. The Iranian people were lovely and happy to speak English. Many of them could.

    • Yes, Iranians love a good chit chat with foreigners. 😉 You made a great decision doing some of your shopping in Tehran. It’s something most visitors avoid and it’s truly a genuine experience. Not to mention you can find some pretty good pieces. 😉

  • Behzad

    TAWRAUF (Tarof): You probably can write a whole book on this multifacet subject and still leave something out. Some people like the author of this article finds a form of insincerity while it is truly a fascinating part of the culture which adds to its intricacy and richness for example it is used to soften the blow in case of how much, by saying: mentioning it wouldn’t be worthy of someone of your high stature. Or just politeness when entering someone’s house that still exercises tradition of taking your shoes off, they may tell you don’t have to, if you see other guests have no shoes on you in turn would say that you would be more comfortable with them off (hopefully you are wearing clean socks with no holes in them, if not better to jump off the balcony) ? these are just 2 small examples that may co

    • Behzad, you should taken have the post a lot less seriously. There was obviously a lot of exaggeration involved. About the food I actually know people who won’t eat until you insist a few times. While I’m sure Tarof comes from a fascinating source, in today’s society it makes life a lot more complicated than it is. You only mentioned a few very minor examples, there are times that this “tarof” can bring a lot of misunderstandings and prejudice. But again everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Cheers!

  • gabebritto

    About the #5, I swear to you: once a driver stopped his car just to wait me to cross the street at the zebra. It was in Shiraz and was an amazing moment in my life. =)

  • Patrick Duclos

    #1: The squat toilet should be the only type in the world! The West has got it wrong. Period.
    #2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16: I consider these points talk about “faux pas”, i.e. things you shouldn’t do at all or not as much considering you’re not iranian.
    #4, 5: These are travel tips as far as I’m concerned.
    #8: Whaaaat? I understand the point, but why is it in this list? To be guilty of this is not a faux-pas, it’s called being an idiot or misogynist!
    #9: Similar to #8, except this is more related to ignorance than stupidity; not a faux-pas in my book, just misinformation or laziness to get even slightly informed before visiting Iran (about the only place there isn’t internet is deep in the oceans!).

    Kheyli mamnoon! And I won’t tell your mom you told us! Promise! LOL!

  • cmholm

    #17, Scene: entrance to the Esfahan bazaar, at noon. Finished my shopping by buying a couple of pastries from a cart vendor, and as I walk over to the bus stop, I bit into one… almost immediately heard mumbling around me about farengi. The awful realization came flooding in, I’m EATING in PUBLIC during the middle of RAMADAN. I’ve vividly embarrassed myself in many ways over the years since, but as a teenager, I think that earned the reddest cheeks.

    • haha! This is actually not that embarrassing anymore. You’d be surprised to see how many people actually eat and drink in public during Ramadan despite the restrictions. Last year I saw someone licking on an ice cream!

      • Fabrice Moreau

        Perhaps now. But in August 2010, I can testify that the water fom public fontains was unusually warm. No use => water at external temperature.

        Fabrice

  • Nico Lauwerys

    lol
    too funny!!!!
    A spoon is actually veeeeeeery convenient to eat with.
    You can put a whole lot more of rice in your mouth than with a fork 😛
    Smart Iranians 😉

    I’m packing a roll of toiletpaper for my next trip now, that’s for sure!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anuq Blume

    Wow, it seems like you really have bad experience or views of tourists. I hope not everyone is looking at tourists like this since it it will be my first visit next week. One question: Should the toilet paper be thrown in the toilet or in a bin, like in China? I´m glad im not blowing my noise loudly in general 😀

    • haha! You do realize I was exaggerating right? 😛
      And yes toilet paper goes in the bin. We don’t one you ruining our flush system :)))

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