First of all, Iranians don’t expect foreigners to know all the etiquette! They know that foreigners have their own etiquette and customs. Furthermore, they are familiar, at least, with western culture and try to understand and accept it. Would you like to know about Iran’s etiquette and local culture? Or would 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 etiquette. So you may do something that is fine in your culture, but it’s not normal 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 would you want 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 in IranAmaze, we listed ten top tips on Iran etiquette.
Why Iran Etiquette Is Important
Iran has a growing tourist industry, and millions travel to the country every 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 this and want to protect different environments, then you are prepared to be a responsible traveler. Being a responsible traveler means having maximum experience and minimum impact.
Being a responsible traveler helps you to embed yourself in Iranian culture and your chance to experience immersive travel.
If you want to travel to Iran, and would like to know Iran customs as a guest, so you can know the locals and respect them and their culture, and finally, so you can travel responsibly in Iran, it would help if you knew some of the important etiquette and customs. For this reason, 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 listed several tips that might help you.
There is an dress code in Iran that you need to follow. However, these rules are flexible, especially for tourists. It’s enough to wear a long tunic/coat with long pants (or jeans)/skirt and also to cover your hair with a loose scarf. But it doesn’t mean covering up your head and hair them entirely.
For men, shorts and tanks are not allowed (in the street, not in gyms or pools)
Read More: what do people wear in Iran?
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 at 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 a local restaurant, table manners in Iran are the same. The following points will make dining out in Iran an enjoyable memory.
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 a seat, request help.
Most 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 one of these, make sure to take your shoes.
Restaurants usually prohibit smoking, though, it is allowed in some restaurants. 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 receive your bill either as you order the food or after you have finished eating. In most restaurants, paying on the table is not common, and you should go 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.
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.
Iranians eat with a spoon and fork but usually not with a knife. If you need a knife, ask the waiter. In some restaurants, rice is served on a large plate called a “Dis”. Everybody dishes up the rice on their 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 your free hand. It is considered the right style to empty your dishes to the last grain of rice.
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 goes well with Kebabs.
4. Persian Tarof, a Special Social System
Taarof or Ta’rof 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 the American pronunciation of taught) followed by “rof”.
Now, what is Taarof? 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 want to pay. Initially, the taxi driver declines to accept your money (just for politeness), then he will take your payment. He pretends to refuse the payment.
Taarof 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 Taarof is formed over 100s, maybe 1000s of years. It’s impossible to understand it without seeing and living it. So don’t worry! Almost all Iranians know that foreigners don’t know what taarof 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 less 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 customs: the Muharram festival 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 processions 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’s 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 Iran tours, 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 for more than 1000 years and are an essential part of Iranian historical architecture. Iranian Islamic art is shown in mosques so well. Here we will describe important steps and manners in visiting mosques and shrines.
Non-muslins can enter shrines and mosques. There is no particular dress code for entering historical mosques like the Imam mosque in Isfahan. But in shrines and active mosques, women must wear a “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. Don’t step on a carpet with your shoes if there is a carpet on the ground. 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
6. Social Customs
Since many years ago, Iranians have been accustomed to having travelers as a guest. Hospitality in Iran, is one of the most essential values. Iran’s etiquette and customs have been formed by a long history and rich culture. 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 inviting guests and welcoming them to your home. So trust me! You are very likely to be invited to an Iranian house. If somebody asks you to his/her home, there are a 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 applies not only to homes but also to shrines, mosques, and many other places. Iranians don’t wear shoes on carpets. Many of them wear indoor slippers at home.
Greet all people in the family, no matter whether 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 a second and third helping. The host will assume your initial refusal as Taarof!
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
In the past, Iranians bathed in traditional bathhouses. 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.
In public toilets, Iranian use water instead of toilet paper, although you will find both in Iranian homes. So usually, when you go to a public washroom, there won’t be any toilet paper. Therefore, always carry a small package of tissue with yourself.
Don’t forget to take off toilet slippers in the washroom.
7. Are Iranians Very Curious?
Iranians are often curious about foreigners and like to communicate with them. Questions like “how do you see Iran?” or “where are you from” are common. As a result, don’t be surprised or offended if someone asks how much you earn in a year or how old you are. As these can be subjects included in small-talk and they want.
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.
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.
Spitting is considered offensive and rude. Never spit on the ground. Especially in 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. However, If it’s from or to a friend, feel free!