Customs in Iran

Every country has its own customs, dos and don’ts. Iran is no different. So before visiting Iran get some insight into Iranian etiquette and customs.

Iran is a proud and ancient civilisation which, in addition to current day Islamic customs and practices, has also preserved many pre-Islamic customs.

The family is extremely important in Iran, and customs relating to the family place it at the core of the social structure. It is custom for female relatives to be protected from outside influences and are taken care of at all times. For this reason, it is inappropriate to ask questions about an Iranian’s wife or other female relatives.
Although the custom in Iran is to only have 1 or 2 children, the extended family is usually very close; forming an tight network. It is custom for family loyalties to be prioritised against any other relationships and nepotism in Iran is generally considered a good thing.

Iranians typically see themselves as having two distinct identities: “zaher” (public) and “batin” (private). When they are in public, they must conform to accepted modes of behaviour – which are often legally dictated. It is only within their homes among their inner circle that they feel free to be themselves and family members are always part of the inner circle. It is custom in Iran for the inner circle to form the basis of a person’s social and business network. Friendship is very important and extends into business. The people from the inner circle can be relied upon to: offer advice, help find a job, or cut through bureaucracy.

Taarof (Iranian Politeness)

The ‘taarof’ cusom is a system of politeness that includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. Iranians protest compliments and attempt to appear vulnerable in public. They will belittle their own accomplishments in an attempt to appear humble, although other Iranians understand that this is merely courtesy and do not take the words at face value.

In adherence to taarof, if you are ever offered something, like a tea or sweet, even if you want it, at first decline it until their insistence becomes greater.

When being introduced to Iranians you may find that introductions are restricted to members of the same sex since it is often the custom for men and women to socialize separately.

Greetings tend to be affectionate. Men kiss other men and women kiss other women at social events. If they meet on the street, a handshake is the more common greeting. The most common greeting amongst Iranians is “salaam alaykum” or more simply “salaam” (peace).

Dining Customs

If you are invited to an Iranian’s house then you should check to see if the host is wearing shoes. If not, remove yours at the door.

It is custom to dress conservatively if invited to someone’s house for dinner. You should also try to arrive at the invited time as punctuality in Iran is appreciated.

You should check to see if your spouse is included in the invitation as it is custom for conservative Iranians to only entertain single-sex groups.

On arrival, you should expect to be shown into the guests’ room which is usually lavishly furnished with European furniture.

Iranians are rather formal when it comes to customs of eating and dining. Although some meals in the home are served on the floor and without eating utensils, it does not indicate a lack of decorum. In more modern Iranian homes, meals are served on a dining table with place settings. It is custom in Iran to only set the table with a spoon and fork.

Customs for visiting Mosques in Iran

Many people like to visit the wonderful array of mosques in Iran. However it is important to take note of some basic mosque etiquette. The main custom for visiting a mosque in Iran is to remove your shoes before going inside on the carpet. If unsure just observe others and follow them. It is also another custom in mosques in Iran to dress modestly so that your body and limbs are covered. Women must cover their hair and not expose anything above their ankles. Men should not wear shorts. In some mosques the caretaker provides visitors with a long robe when their clothes are inappropriate for the mosque.

You should not talk loudly in a mosque as this is a place of worship. If someone is praying, do not under any circumstances walk directly in front of them. Many people will not appreciate having their pictures taken during worship. At the time for congregational prayers, i.e. at the time for the call to prayer, you should leave the mosque.

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