Today’s Iranian culture is a mix of ancient and modern elements, from far east to far west. Three main influences can be found in Iranian culture; the ancient (classic) Persian culture, the Islamic culture and the modern western culture. As a result, a very diversified cultural elements can be observed in Iran; such as both Islamic and classic holidays, Islamic and western clothing styles and even classic and modern superstitions.
The population of Iran is as diverse as its culture and many different ethnicities live in this land; Persians, Azari’s, Gilaki’s, Arabs, Kurds, Lurs, Balouchi’s and etc.
Every region of Iran has their own traditional clothing; which is based on the classical aspect of Iranian culture. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, it is mandatory for women to wear hijab in public, which ofcourse refers to the Islamic aspects of the culture. However it is not mandatory to wear Chadors or black clothing as usually portrayed in the western media. As a matter of fact, the majority of Iranians, especially the younger generations, wear colorful modern clothing and try to keep up with the latest trends. This latest refers to the western influence on the culture.
Iran uses its unique calendar ever since from the ancient times. Since this calendar is based on the position of earth on its revolution around the sun, it is called the solar calendar. Iranian calendar begins on the vernal equinox as determined by the astronomical calculations. As a result it is more accurate than Gregorian calendar in determination of starting moment. Iranian year usually begins within a day of 21 March of the Gregorian calendar.
Iranian/Persian music has different genres and styles; folk music, traditional music, underground music and etc. The folk and traditional music of Iran is distinguished by its many eastern instruments such as Setar and Santoor. The lyrics are usually famous poems and therefore the music is very meaningful. Many poems of famous Iranian poets such as Hafez, Khayam and Sa-adi have been used as lyrics.
Iranian food is rich in flavors and spices. Most of the dishes are prepared with rice. Even though there are many different Iranian vegetarian dishes, most dishes are based on rice with either lam’s meat, chicken or fish. The national dish of Iran is Kabab Koubideh ; Barbequed minced red meat and rice (Chelo), served with Dough as drink!
The hot drink of choice for many Iranians is thee; from breakfast to before the sleep drink!
Something which should be noted is that it is forbidden and punishable by law to serve, sell and even possess alcoholic drinks in Iran.
Iranians are well-known for the hospitality and being warm. Having guests over is an honor in the Iranian culture and the host try’s its best to satisfy its guests. At the dinner parties, it is usual to serve a round of thee and sit around chitchat till the dinner is served. Chitchatting some more over another cup of thee after dinner and munch on fruits and confections and nuts is how the dinner parties usually end. One interesting concept in Iranian culture which is clearly observed in the parties and gathering is “Tarof”, even though it is not expected from the foreigners to conform to this cultural phenomenon, it is interesting to know about. Below you will read more about Tarof.
Being polite and modest is extremely important in the Iranian culture. This importance is such significant that resulted in Tarof being appreciated by many. The concept of Tarof is a bit complex to explain; but I will take on this challenge and try to explain it as good as I can!
Tarof is being polite and modest, even if it is by means of pretending to avoid looking greedy, disrespectful or inconsiderate. It can be applied to everything from eating to walking to a room or paying for the bill in a restaurant! It is easier to explain the concept with examples:
- Imagine two people who want to enter a room, well normally they would take turn walking in the room based on which one is closer to the door! But apply Tarof to this scenario and you will have them both standing by the door requesting the other person to enter the room first as a sign of respect.
Or imagine you are in a house party and the host keeps asking you to please have some fruit or sweets even though you mentioned that you don’t want any now. This is Tarof. On the other hand, imagine that you in reality want to have some fruits but decline the first time the hosts offers you some just to be well-mannered and not greedy, this is also Tarof!
Another scenario is at the restaurant, imagine you and your friend had a nice meal and the bill arrives at your table. In this situation you might usually share the bill but in Iran, it is customary to not let the other person pay and insist on paying the bill by yourself. This might end in several minutes of insisting from both sides and in some instances (truly happened to me!) running to the cashier and struggling to let loose of the other person in order to be able to pay the bill yourself!
As you might have already figured out, Tarof is even too complex to comprehend for Iranians themselves, let alone for foreigners! But don’t worry, as it was already mentioned it is not expected for foreigners to do Tarof and not doing it will definitely not be considered a sign of disrespect or such.
Superstitions, popular beliefs and more.
As mentioned before, Iranian culture is influenced by classical, Islamic and western cultures. As a result popular beliefs and even superstitions from many corners of the world can be seen between Iranians. One famous superstition is “the evil eye”. According to this superstition, malevolent glare from people with “evil eye” could cause misfortune. To avoid this, a success or achievement should not be bragged about in front of people who might envy you or might not have sincere delight for your achievement. To repel this misfortune, “cheshm nazar”, which is an eye-shaped amulet should be carried by the people who might be the subject of “evil eye”. Another repellent for evil eye is knocking on the wood. As you might have already noticed this exact superstition is to be found in many other cultures as well.
One famous traditional belief between Iranians is that whatever you are doing at the start of the new year, you will be doing for the rest of that year! So it is typical for Iranians to clean their houses from 1 month before new year and sit together with family and friends at the exact moment of the new year to be hopefully spending the rest of the year together as well. Other popular beliefs include jumping over fire on the eve of the last Wednesday (Chahar Shanbe Souri) of the year and going to picnic in the nature on the 13th day of the new year (Sizdah be dar)for good luck.
A religious belief between Muslim Iranians is giving food to others as “Nazri” in order for their wish to come true. Receiving “Nazri” from your neighbor, friends or a stranger on the street does not mean he/she thinks you are in need of food, but rather it is considered a holy food with miraculous effects that keeps you away from harm and helps the sick recover faster.