Two girls with uniform waving hands and smiling

10 Most important Iran Etiquettes & Customs

Time to read: 11 Mins | Published on January 29, 2020
Are you a responsible traveler who would like to respect community values on your trips? We'll give you all the information you'll need about Iran etiquettes and customs.

First of all, Iranians don’t expect foreigners to know all the etiquettes! But they know the Western culture and try to understand and accept it. Would you rather know Iran etiquette, stay in touch with it and mix your travel moments with the amazing local culture? Or just visit “must-see” sites in Iran from a distance?

Imagine you are a guest in your new friend’s house. Due to cultural differences, you don’t know some etiquettes. So you may do something that is fine to do in your culture, but it’s not suitable for your host. Maybe your host wouldn’t get offended by you (trust me, Iranians are very warm and friendly. They won’t get annoyed!), but do you want to do like that?

Iran is as warm as your friend’s house. You are always welcomed here. But as a responsible traveler, it’s better to improve cultural awareness when you travel to a new country.

Deciding what Iranians consider good (or bad) manners by a foreigner is tricky. So we listed ten top tips on Iran etiquette.

Why Iran Etiquette Is Important

It has been predicted that by 2020, about 1.5 billion people will travel each year. Imagine even just a fraction of those tourists made a few small changes to the place, culture, or environment they visit. The impact can be huge! How long would it take for all places, cultures or environments to change or vanish?

As the years go by, there is no trace of those different places, amazing cultures, or fascinating environments. If you don’t want it (I hope you don’t!) you are ready to protect and respect the cultures and environments. You are prepared to be a responsible traveler. Being a responsible traveler means having maximum experience and minimum impact.

Being a responsible traveler, help you to embed yourself in Iranian culture and your chance to experience immersive travel. It’s win-win for all, isn’t it?

If you want to travel to Iran, you would like to know Iran customs as a guest. So you can know locals and respect them and their culture, and finally, you can travel responsibly in Iran; initially, you need to know it. As a result, we should take a closer look at Iran etiquette. The list is endless. But we tried to include the most crucial information.

1.  How to Dress in Iran

Iran’s dress code differs from other countries. So we list several tips that might help you.

As Iran is an Islamic country, you need to follow the Islamic dress code. However, these regulations are not observed very inflexible about tourists. It’s enough to wear a long tunic/coat with long pants (or jeans)/skirt. Also, you need to cover your head with a hijab or loose scarf. But it doesn’t mean cover up them entirely.

For men, shorts and tanks are not allowed (in the street not in gyms or pools)

Read More: Iran dress code! 

2.  How to Greet in Iran

In different countries, people have different ways of greetings. If you want to interact with locals, it’s better to know a few Persian greetings. To say “hello”, you would use “salaam” (means peace), and when you are leaving, you can say “khoda hafez” (means may God protect you).

Men shake hands with men and women shake hands with women. If you are a man (woman) always wait for her (him) to extend her (his) hand. But don’t be offended if she (he) doesn’t.

Iranian greetings tend to be affectionate.  Men kiss men, and women kiss women in social events. But if you meet someone in the street, a handshake is enough.

3.  How to Dine in Iran

Iran has a large selection of restaurants of endless variety. From fast foods to Iranian foods, from Italian restaurants to local restaurants. Whether it’s a luxury international restaurant or local restaurants, table manners in Iran are the same. The following points will make dining out in Iran an enjoyable memory.

Dining out

Upon entering a restaurant, customers are expected to seat themselves. In rare cases, the waiter or waitress will ask how many people are in your party and then lead you to your table. If you couldn’t find any seat, request help.

Most of the restaurants provide Western tables and chairs, but traditional restaurants have “Takht” (something like a sofa) and cushions to sit on the Takht. In case of seating on Takht, you should take your shoes off before stepping on Takht.

Restaurants prohibit smoking. But in some cases, they allow. If you want to know, ask them. Some restaurants provide Hookah too. Hookah is an instrument for smoking tobacco. Some cafés and indoor restaurants offer both smoking and non-smoking sections.

In fast-food restaurants (or sometimes cheaper restaurants), you should go to the cashier, order your food and then pay.

In other cases, after you sit, the waiter or waitress will give you the menu. Tourist restaurants have English-Farsi menus but don’t expect local restaurants to have an English menu. But if you are in doubt about what to order, ask your guide to help you.

Sharing dishes between people in your party is common.

You received your bill either as you order the food or after you have finished eating. In most restaurants pay on the table is not common and you should come to the cashier near the exit door to receive your bill and pay. Paying in cash and credit card is common.

If somebody invites you to a restaurant, your host will pay. Iranians never split the bill (just in a more casual situation and with friends, they will split the bill).

Tipping isn’t widespread in Iran, but it can make the waiters very happy. So tipping is up to you.

tourists having food at a Persian restaurant

The dishes are usually big enough to share.

Table manners in Iran

As we discussed, some restaurants in Iran have Takht and cushions, and some restaurants have Western-style chairs and tables. Iranian houses are the same too. Usually, they have a table and chairs; also, they sit on the floor for eating. Whether you are in a restaurant or at an Iranian house, Iran dining etiquette is the same.

Eating

Iranians eat with spoon and fork but not the knife. If you need a knife, ask the waiter. In some restaurants, rice is served in large plates called “Dis”. Everybody dishes up the rice into his/her plate.

Try to eat gently and don’t speak with a full mouth. Blowing your nose at the table, slurping, burping and audible munching are bad manners in Iran. Don’t use a toothpick at the table or at least cover up your mouth with the freehand. It is considered the right style to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.

Drinking

Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in Iran. Non-alcoholic drinks include alcohol-free beer, tea, juices, carbonated drinks, and Doogh. Doogh is a cold yogurt-based beverage that is mixed with salt and mint. It’s delicious with Kebab.

4.  Persian Tarof, a Special Social System

Tarof or Ta’arof is a system of politeness that expresses in verbal and non-verbal communications. Before getting into the cultural essence, let’s first learn how to pronounce it.

Say “ta” (as in taught) followed by “rof”. It’s so clean and nice.

Now, what is Tarof? It’s one of the most complicated Iran etiquettes. Also, it is one of those fundamental Iran cultural facts you need to know when you are in Iran. You pretend something, but you mean another thing. Let’s learn it in context. For example, you are in a taxi, and you want to pay. First, the taxi driver declines to accept your money (just for politeness) then he takes. He pretends to refuse the payment.

Tarof is like any other way that people accepted to behave to be polite. It’s a manner. It’s a consideration. Don’t forget that tarof is formed over 100s maybe 1000s years. It’s impossible to understand it without seeing and living it. So don’t worry! Almost all Iranians know that foreigners don’t realize what tarof is!

5.  Religious Customs

The state religion in Iran is Islam, but other religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are official religions too. In the last few decades, people are getting fewer religious, but religion is still important for a considerable part of people, especially in religious or smaller cities.

In Iran, two months are tricky for foreigners, especially for those who know nothing about Muslims and their circumstances: Muharram and Ramadan.

In Muharram, Shia Muslims mourn the death of Imam Husayn. Mourning over a long time, formed a culture. Each part of Iran has a particular way of commemoration. Visiting mourning procession or taking photos of these rituals are so amazing.

Another month, Ramadan has its specialties. Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims. In Ramadan, many cities never sleep. People nightlife changes and almost all the restaurants and cafes are open until morning. No one is forced to fast, but you must not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public. Many restaurants are closed before night, but on-site restaurants at your hotel are open.

For tourists who want to experience another side of Iran traditions, Ramadan, with its amazing Iftar and customs is the best opportunity.

At shrines and mosques

There are many beautiful mosques in Iran. These mosques are made over more than 1000 years and are an essential part of Iranian historical architecture. Iranian Islamic art is showed in mosques so well. Here we will describe important steps and manners to visit mosques and shrines.

Non-muslins can enter shrines and mosques. For entering historical mosques like the Imam mosque in Isfahan, there is no particular dress code. But in shrines and active mosques, women need to wear “chador”. If you don’t have one of them, there is a chador at the entrance.

While entering the mosque or building of a shrine, behave respectfully. If there is a carpet on the ground, don’t step on it with shoes. Give your shoes to the staff at the entrance or take them with you in provided plastic bags.

Photography is usually permitted. But it’s often forbidden inside the building of shrines. So follow the signs.

Three female tourists wearing chador standing inside a mosque

It’s a fun way to experience Hijab in Iran. (Image source: www.travelblog.org)

6.  Social Customs

Since many years ago, Iranians have been accustomed to having travelers as a guest. Hospitality is one of the most essential Iran values. But as a country that has a long history and rich culture, Iran etiquette is so respectable here. The following is a list of important Iranian traditions that help you increase your cultural awareness.

Inside the house

One of the most important Iranian values is embodied in hospitality. It emphasizes on inviting guests and welcoming them. So trust me! It’s likely to be invited to an Iranian house. If somebody asked you to his/her home, there are few formalities you need to know.

First of all, bring flowers or pastries (or a small gift) for your host. It’s a polite gesture. Try to be on time. Punctuality represents your respect for your host.

When you arrive, check to see if your host is warning shoes. If not, take off your shoes. There is a clear line between inside and outside. As we discussed, this rule is not only for homes but also for shrines, mosques, and many places. Iranians don’t wear shoes on carpets. Many of them wear indoor slippers at home.

Greet to all people in the family, no matter you know them or not.

Usually, people serve meals on the floor. But nowadays many houses have a dining table and chairs.

Iranians like their guests. The honor and respect extended to a guest is reflected in their welcoming. So there is always more food than guests can eat. Usually, your host offers second and third helping. The host will assume your initial refusal as Tarof!

Also, Iranians use separate slippers for the toilette. These slippers are only for the washroom. Don’t forget to remove your toilette slippers after usage inside the restroom.

Iranian bathrooms and toilets

Years ago, Iran’s traditional bath was common. It was a communal space for washing and massage. There are several active historical bathrooms in different cities. Taking a bath in the traditional Iranian style can be an amazing experience.

Now, a typical bathroom in Iranian houses has a shower and no bathtub. Usually, the bathroom and toilet are separated.

There are two types of toilets in Iran: Iranian-style and Western-style.

Almost all hotels have a Western-style toilet but if you are in doubt, ask your hotel before booking. Newer homes might have both types. It’s the same for public washrooms. Older facilities might have only an Iranian-style toilet.

Iranian use water instead of toilet paper. So usually in public washrooms, there is no toilet paper. Therefore, always carry a small package of tissue with yourself.

Don’t forget to take off toilet slippers in the washroom.

A tourist standing next to an Iranian toilet

Going to the toilet is like a quick exercise of squatting in Iran.

7.  Are Iranians Very Curious?

Iranians are often curious about foreigners and like to communicate them. Questions like “how do you see Iran?” or “where are you from” are the common ones. As a result, don’t be surprised or offended if someone asks how much you earn in a year or how old you are. It’s a kind of greeting. They want to know you better.

Certainly, interaction with locals is up to you. Many of these conversations and questions can lead to more productive communication with locals or even build a friendship with them.

Several tips

Iran is an ancient country with 1000s years of civilization. Explaining all Iran etiquettes in a few pages is impossible. We tried to cover all the crucial tips about Iran culture facts. Furthermore, the following includes additional points you might need to know about Iran.

8.   Calling Someone

It’s decorum to address an Iranian by his/her name, followed by a title like “Agha” (Mr.) or “Khanom” (Ms.). Similarly, they never address elders by their first name without a title. Calling your Iranian friends by their name is not offensive.

9.   Spitting

Spitting considers an offense, and it’s rude. Never spit on the ground.  Especially historical and religious places.

10.Taking and Giving Objects

When taking or delivering an object, use both hands. It is respect. It’s better to receive or give objects to older people with both hands. If you are a friend, feel free!

10 most important Iran etiquettes and customs

Fatemeh Tabatabaei

Author

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