As I established in my last entry, Iran is a surprisingly normal country with an unfair and bad reputation. That, however, doesn’t mean it is like any other country, or, for that sake, similar to “home”. No, Iran has it’s uniqueness, apart from the people being extraordinarily nice. The strict laws enforced since the revolution has also made it a bit… quirky. To me, and to many of my friends here, the Sharia Laws are pretty randomly enforced and, to the people I know here, it doesn’t automatically stops them from living freely, (or breaking the laws!). The quick transformation between the two different societies that Iran used to be and now is may also be a reason for why some people still consider themselves the way they were before; intellectual, non religious and with a taste for a nice glass of wine at the end of a day. So, the first uniqueness about Iran is of course the fact that alcohol is forbidden. If you are caught drunk, the punishment is that the government gets your car. (If I understood it correctly!). Though, it is not the prohibition that is the strange thing in itself, it is actually a very strong contributing reason to why Tehran is one of the safest cities in the world (despite it’s enormous population). For there are drinks around, most people I have met make their own beer and wine, and they are daring enough to walk with a straight back through customs at the airport carrying a bottle of good spirits from another country under the coat. The difference which I actually like, is that you have a few beers with a tight group of friends at home, watching a game or having a normal house party. One doesn’t go out drunk and wreak havoc on the city. Though Iranians are outside a lot, the whole evenings and late into the night. They go to parks, pack along something to barbecue, a thermos of tea and of course, a water pipe with shisha. Sometimes it’s enough just sitting in a parking lot with a nice view wrapped in a blanket. If you feel like being inside – don’t worry, the malls are many and open until midnight. Meaning, on weekends, they are absolutely packed in the evenings with young and old, families and couples and the ordinary groups of teenagers. With food courts and coffee shops, people eat and drink tea all night long. And that’s another thing that strikes me as different from many other countries. People eat really late. And not like Mediterranean late around 10 PM, but I had dinners after midnight a few times, which was not just an informal snack, but with invited guests and the children still awake! I can’t wrap my head around the food habits. Lunch can be between two and five, while dinner is any time between seven in the evening and two in the morning.
It is illegal to have dogs in Iran, but the quirky thing is that, of course, being illegal doesn’t stop people from having them, all though with a certain amount of caution. The police have the right to take the dog and kill it if they would discover them. Having a dog takes a real dog lover and there are a few in Tehran, together they stick it to the government, claim their rights as citizens and take under cover walks with their precious after dark. Most people react astonishingly happy when they see a dog out for a walk, and the dogs around are immensely popular, due to the fact they are not as common as every where else.
Last but not least, the quirkiest of all quirkiness – the rule of Ta’arof. Ta’arof is an extension of the Iranian hospitality where if I want to pay for my taxi, the driver says “oh no, no, you don’t have to”, and then I shall insist one, two or three more times before the driver accepts my money, though, this is all clear from the start that he will and I am supposed to pay, of course. It can also go the other way, you say “oh, what tea did you order” and then I immediately say “here, take it, I’ll buy another one, it’s yours!, though I actually don’t intend to give you the tea. Luckily, you will refuse one, two or three times and I can happily sip my tea with good conscience.
I guess there’ll be one more post about other quirky things around Iran, they just keep appearing.