Etiquettes & Customs
In general, Iranians are warm, friendly and generous individuals with a strong interest in foreigners and other cultures. In dealing with Iranians, the following tips relating to customs and etiquette may prove useful:
When visiting an Iranian household for the first time or on a special occasion it is customary to bring a small gift. Flowers, sweets or pastries are popular gift choices.
Meal times in Iran vary considerably from those in Europe and the US. Lunch can be served from 1:00 -3:00 p.m. and dinner is often eaten after 9:00 p.m. These and other social occasions in Iran are often long, drawn-out affairs conducted in a relatively relaxed tempo, often involving pastries, fruit and possibly nuts. As it is considered rude to refuse what is served, visitors should accept the items offered, even if they do not intend to consume them.
Along with the social customs, certain additional business etiquettes should be realized prior to interaction with Iranian businessmen.
Although officials of the Islamic Republic are not allowed to wear a tie, it is very common for visiting foreigners to do so though proper business attire need not include a tie in Iran. Women must adhere to the Islamic dress code referred to below.
It is important to note that most officials will not shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, especially in public. It is highly recommended not to create an awkward situation by extending one's hand. The same is true for private citizens who are particularly religious.
Iranian officials are extremely sensitive to references to the Persian Gulf, and insist that this internationally-recognized name to be used. It is highly recommended to avoid using "the Gulf" and especially "the Arabian Gulf" when addressing this body of water.
The official language of Iran is Persian (Farsi), written in a script derived from Arabic. It should be mentioned that while a small number of Arab tribes exist is Iran - especially near the border with Iraq - Iranians are not Arabs and might be offended if mistakenly referred to as Arabs. English is not widely spoken outside of hotels and airports. Shopping, obtaining taxis and other everyday functions require a basic knowledge of Persian, though in a jam most visitors find that locals try hard to communicate in broken English.
The importation and consumption of alcohol is strictly banned. Penalties are severe and could include corporal punishment. Religious minorities, however, are allowed to manufacture and consume alcohol, but not to sell or import it. Pork and pork products are forbidden and, like alcohol, their import is illegal.
Western music and dancing is also banned in Iran. However, the visitor may notice that even shared taxis openly play the music of their choice. Still, customs may confiscate any music tapes or CDs brought in.
Men: Dress attire for men is similar to that in Europe. However, visitors should note that shorts should not be worn outside the house and garden. Short sleeved shirts used to be frowned upon, but are much more acceptable lately. They should be avoided if visiting one of the more conservative government bodies. Ties are acceptable although worn rarely by Iranian men since the revolution. Government officials never sport a tie. Jogging in tracksuits (but not shorts) is acceptable for men.
Women: In most private residences, women can dress in normal western clothes. However, in public, Islamic covering of the body and hair is mandatory. This consists of a "rupush" (a long-sleeved, non-form fitting coat that resembles a raincoat) and a headscarf covering the hair, ears and neck. This outfit must be worn all year around regardless of the temperature. Scarves should be large enough to cover the head and tie under the chin. They should be of a non-slip material, generally cotton. Usually more tolerance tends to be shown towards foreigners over the detail of the dress code than is the case for Iranian women. However, this does not include leaving one’s hair uncovered under any circumstance. "Acceptable" outfits may include a long, loose dress or shirt worn over loose skirt or pants and a scarf in the summer, and a full-length woolen coat and scarf in the winter (calf-length is acceptable if worn over pants). All colors and modest designs are generally acceptable, though it is best to stay away from particularly loud colors. Even when undertaking sporting activity in public (such as tennis or jogging), the dress code described above must be maintained.
The Iranians use their own calendar, which does not correspond to the Gregorian calendar. The calendar has 12 months, with 31 days in the first six months, 30 days in the next five months, and 29 days in the last month, except during a leap year, when this too becomes 30 days.
Iranian Calendar (1387) for Gregorian year (2007-8)
Farvardin: March 20-April 19,
Ordibehesht: April 20-May 20
Khordad: May 21-June 20
Tir: June 21-July 21
Mordad: July 22-August 21
Shahrivar: August 22-September 21
Mehr: September 22-October 21
Aban: October 22-November 20
Azar: November 21-December 20
Dey: December 21-January 19
Bahman: January 20- February 18
Esfand: February 19- March 20
There is a concentration of public holidays during the first two months of the Iranian calendar, March and April. Moreover, with an exception of Ramadan (the holy month of fasting), none of the Iranian public holidays coincide with those normally observed in the west.