By Shahed Ghoreishi, B.A. student.
Insight from Tehran, Iran.
This summer I traveled to Iran for the purpose of visiting family. It was a particularly amazing experience because it was my first time visiting since I was 15, allowing me to gain a mature perspective and perceive my surroundings with the context of my International Studies classes. I would like to focus on a misunderstood people rather than the commonly described political situation.
Culturally, Iranians are very hospitable. They invite you into their homes, offer endless amounts of food, and attempt to impress their guests. When I visited Iran this past summer, it was no different. Countless offers to visit family and stranger’s homes, constant practicing of Iranian taarof (the act of politely denying offers, which is followed by subsequent reoffering, which over an unnecessary period of time is eventually accepted), and acts of immense trust. No matter where we were in Iran or where we were shopping, the simple act of asking for a price was replied with ghabel nadareh, essentially meaning “for you, it’s free.” After a back and forth of taarof, the shopkeeper, waiter, and taxi driver, or whoever we were talking to, would eventually tell us the price.
This inefficient, but lovely, politeness is only a part of the story of Iranian trust. Once, I mistakenly walked out of a store after a shopkeeper gave me extra change. The shopkeeper had asked whether I would give him the difference but I simply walked out. Surprisingly, the shopkeeper did not care to ask me again as or come out after me as I walked out. (I later came back after finding out to give him the difference.) I even noticed that crossing the street in Iran is a form of trust. As chaotic driving there appears, the people relaxingly cross the street even though a car is speeding towards them. The only conclusion I had was that people must really trust the drivers.
The most extreme example of trust I saw was something that my uncle does. In Iran debit cards are rare. My uncle had one, and was very willing to give his card to fellow business owners that competed with him. My father explained a scenario that he witnessed, where a local shopkeeper came into my uncle’s store to borrow his debit card and repeatedly returned because he kept forgetting my uncle’s pin number. Of course the shopkeeper planned on returning the money soon, but comparing that to the United States, no one usually provides their pin numbers to their best friends let alone their competing business interests. The institutional and societal norms may be very different between the two countries, but I still found this shocking.
The Iranians did not keep this sense of family just for one another. Visitors felt it too. When I was in Isfahan, a visiting German told me that “many people offered me assistance and invited me to their homes, honestly I was very surprised by all the help,” which perfectly exemplified the contrasting impression people have of Iranians in the West versus when they visit in person. Another tourist in Isfahan, this time from Spain, replied to my question about this being her first visit or not, told me “this is my first time, but it definitely won’t be my last!” Although Iranians and Westerners could be natural friends, the political tension becomes intertwined with a negative impression of the people to the detriment of both cultures. Hopefully overtime impressions will change and political tension does not dictate the knowledge of an entire people.
Shahed Ghoreishi is a International Studies major (International Political Economy track). Currently, he is representing University of Washington students as a Senator in the Associated Students of the University of Washington. Also, he is interning at Senator Maria Cantwell’s Seattle office.
Shahed was born and raised in Seattle’s eastside and is fluent in Persian. He was first inspired to study international relations when he visited Iran in 7th grade. Shahed will graduate in 2013 and hopes to continue his studies in International Studies.
Shahed was in Iran to see family and attend a cousin’s wedding. It was his first visit to Iran since he was 15 and he hoped to gain a more mature perspective on Iran, particularly in light of his education in the Jackson School. His visit also helped to perfect his formal Persian speaking skills.