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Iranian hospitality attack
(A survival guide for the non-Iranian traveler)

By Hamid Taghavi
March 20, 1998
The Iranian

Beware! Forget about all the xenophobic, anti-Iranian propaganda dominating the media. What they say about terrorism and your life being in danger in Iran is absolute hogwash (I have no idea what that word means, but I like the sound of it: hogwash...). If anything, all that Iranians can be accused of is excessive hospitality. So, when traveling to Iran, beware of innocent looking situations which could turn into the experience of your life. Kind of like walking into The Twilight Zone.

  1. As you walk the streets, do not talk to or make eye contact with anyone. If you do, they'll say hello to you and invite you to their homes.

  2. Do not ask anyone for directions, unless you want them to be your tour guide for the length of your stay in Iran. They could be on their way home to eat. They could be due for some important business meeting. They could be a doctor on their way to save a patient's life. Doesn't matter where they're going. It will all have to wait so that they can take you to where you want and give you a complete guided tour even though all you asked for was simple directions.

  3. If someone says hello to you, immediately treat them to lunch. That's largely a pre-emptive strike. Because if you don't, then they will. If they invite you to lunch, perhaps you will be lucky and they'll take you out to eat. Or you may not be so lucky and they may take you home for the food, in which case, forget about the rest of the day. It doesn't matter if you had plans to see the city or if you have flight out in a couple of hours. You'll just have to be pampered for the rest of the day at the whim of your hosts hospitality.

  4. If someone takes you to lunch, and the time comes for paying the bill, be ready. You'll have to grab the bill at whatever cost. Don't worry about grabbing, scratching, pinching or punching your host/opponent. In fact, you may see people at other tables in what appears to be fighting situations. Don't be alarmed. Those are simple struggles to pay the bill. It is really a fight to the death. But unlike the Western countries, in Iran whoever pays is considered the winner. After you win, feel proud and walk around with a triumphant grin. You may want to do some trash talk after you win also "What? He says he wants to pay... How dare he thinks he can beat me at this? You think I'm some kind of amateur? Hogwash!" (There is my favorite word again.)

  5. If somehow you're invited to somebody's house for what innocently appears to be just some tea and pastry, don't believe it. You're in for more, a lot more.

  6. When invited, it doesn't matter if you're expected at the house or not. You could walk into any house in Iran, as a complete stranger, with the lady of the house not expecting you, with their food pantry completely empty. It's all immaterial. Half an hour after your arrival you're presented with a Herculean volume of incredible food. Don't even ask how the lady could do so much in so little time. That's part of being an Iranian woman. Perhaps it's a magic trick that enables them to wave a wand and have food appear on the table. Or perhaps they can warp time and get 2 day work done in a blink of an eye. Whatever it is, nobody knows how they do it. Even I don't, and I'm allegedly a so-called Iranian man.

  7. If you end up going to someone's house, don't take off your shoes. You may never leave that house with your shoes again. If you refuse to stay peacefully, they'll hide your shoes. You'll either put up, or will have to slip out of the house... bare-footed.

  8. If you do end up going to someone's house, remember that long greetings are the order of the day. You don't just say "Hi. How are you? I'm fine," and be done with it. No sir. You have to spend half an hour passing niceties: "Hi! How are you? How's your mother? How's your mother's mother? How's your parakeet? How's your left pant leg? How's your turnip? How's your spare tire? Is it still flat? Is everything fine at work? How are the interest rates? I'm fine thank you for asking thank you ever so much I'm fine only because of your constant prayers for me if it wasn't for your mere presence God may not have created me I'm so thankful that you invited me... So, how are you? How's your mother? How's your turnip?" And make sure you repeat everything three times because the hosts may not have heard it the first time since they were asking the same questions simultaneously.

  9. If you're served food, be careful. As your plate empties, your host will keep serving food onto your dish, sometimes without asking you, sometimes despite your objections. Your best bet is to eat slowly, slower than your host. Try to bore your host with your eating pace. Have some defensive moves ready. Like, the minute they try to fill your plate, grab your plate and move it away behind you and swear on your grandmother's grave you're so full, you're about to explode. If you have to, grab the plate, get up and run around the room yelling "no thank you no thank you" keeping the plate away from the hosts at all times. Another tactic maybe to stage a counterattack. As soon as your host's plate begins to empty, you start serving HIM more food. This way they'll know they're dealing with a professional and may back off. Remember, if you're not really careful, you WILL explode.

  10. After you eat, keep telling them how it was the best food that you ever ate. In return, the hosts will keep apologizing how awful the food was, and that there wasn't enough variety and they promise you that next time they'll have a 240 course meal instead of only 85. Do not be intimidated though. Keep bombarding them with complements: "What? What are you talking about? Are you out of your minds? That was simply the best food anyone on the planet could make. That was a kingly feast. That was an unabashed triumphant success beyond anyone's wildest imagination. That food was delectably heavenly." You can try even wilder lines and eventually settle for those lines that work best for you.
Finally - If you don't want to leave, don't feel compelled to. You may end up staying there for the night, or the next day or two, or the next five years. Who knows. I know a person who went to visit some distant acquaintance in some remote village in Iran, and he's still staying there enjoying his visit. It has been over twenty five years now. But don't worry. It's not like they don't like having you. You will never be asked to leave. You'll never hear any complaints from your hosts. Just sit there, enjoy being pampered and don't worry about a thing for the rest of your natural life. And any time they apologize for not pampering you enough, just remember that word I told you: "Hogwash!"