Preface: Throw out any preconceived notion of Iran you might have. The way the media across the western world has painted the picture of Iran is not the real Iran. Iran is a magnificent, mysterious country with a rich history and culture. Go to Iran with an open mind and heart. Iran is one of the safest countries in the world where major crime or terrorism is concerned.
People: One of the best things about Iran is its proud people. Depending on where you travel, there will be more or less educated people and more or fewer city folks which change their understanding, beliefs, and behavior as in any part of the world. Iranians of all parts are kind, warm, friendly, helpful, proud, generous, and close. There is one thing that ties them all together and that’s Iran. Although they have not had a great many tourists in most parts of Iran since 1979, they remain respectful and curious towards tourists. They will welcome you, thank you for visiting and ask you questions.
Pride: Iran has many different cultural groups such as Azeri, Kurdish, Persian, etc, each proud of their own culture and of being Iranian. Due in major part to the long history of Iran and its invasion by other countries over centuries, Iranians are very sensitive about certain things. Do not call Iranians “Arabs” or “Muslims”. They are not Arab and they are mostly Shia Muslims. Do not use the expressions “the Gulf” and “the Arabian Gulf”. It is the Persian Gulf.
Sights: Iran has destinations to offer any type of interest. From mountains for skiing and hiking to beaches for swimming to cities for sightseeing, to history for uncovering.
Clothes: Iranians especially Tehrani’s are very fashion conscious. Most of the young ladies around the country now wear form-fitting manteau (raincoat type of item) with tight pants underneath. Open toe shoes, makeup, nail polish, tiny scarves, and sunglasses are a staple of most Tehrani ladies. In order to go under the radar, don’t use excessive makeup, nail polish, or shorter than ankle length pants. Tourists get away with wearing long and loose shirts with pants and any type of scarf. Men can wear t-shirts and pants anywhere. Shorts are not appropriate for men except on the beach or at the gym.
Food: Iran has some of the best dishes in the world. The Persian cuisine consists of a delicious array of stews and different rice among many other dishes. And of course Persian bread. These used to be all made inside brick ovens (Tanoors) by hand but machines have taken the place of many. Still, Persian bread is a part of any good meal and they are simply delicious. Persian sweets and pastries are absolutely wonderful and you can find pastry shops in every corner of main streets. If you get lucky enough to be invited to someone’s house for lunch or dinner, be sure to pick up a box of fresh pastries at a local shop. Fast food stores abound serving all sorts of creative sandwiches. Don’t be shy to try different things and most certainly don’t stay away from eating real Iranian food. The majority of people in Iran are conscious of properly cleaning fruits and vegetables and general cooking hygiene. Tap water is safe to drink in any part of the country although you might not like the taste in some parts. Bottled water is readily available.
Taarof: This is a polite exchange that takes place in all aspects of life in Iran, in shops, in streets, in businesses, at homes. Simply stated, it is a form of one person making an offering and the other, refusing it. This ritual may repeat itself several times before the individuals finally determine whether the offer and refusal are real or simply polite. Be very careful how and with whom you taarof so that it does not interfere with your stay. Use common sense as to when to do it and when not to.
Tipping: It is not common to tip in Iran except for certain things such as bellboys in a hotel. At the airport, the luggage carts are free for anyone to use but if you get assistance from someone with the cart, you should tip him. People generally leave 10% tip in fancy restaurants.
Help: Do not be afraid to ask any Iranian anything. If they speak English, they will endeavor to help you to the best way they can. They will not stray you or make up stories. If asking for directions, as in any other country make sure to ask a few people as you go along until you reach your destination.