Iranian hospitality

How we were welcomed with open arms, doors were opened to homes and people, we were bailed out and welcomed by strangers as friends. A small or rather a big thank you!


This last post is a must after our journey through Iran. One that revolves around all the people we met on the way, for a short or longer time, and who made a special mark on this part of the journey. One in which we try to express our gratitude for all the warmth we encountered.

In previous countries we have always experienced a lot of goodwill and support from the people and almost always a great openness towards us. However, anyone who has read travel reports about Iran will know that the hospitality there is always particularly emphasised. We were able to experience first-hand what this really means.

Iranian hospitality actually begins even before we set foot in the country for the first time. Through contacts from Switzerland of Iranians who had emigrated, we had already received invitations from their relatives who are still in their home country. But even a short chat by the roadside, a puzzled standing about in a village or a waiting at a red light can lead to an invitation. The language barrier is no obstacle, hands and feet or Google translate help to get the message across anyway. We quickly realise that curiosity is much greater than the linguistic hurdle and we want to adopt this as our own. What a shame if we let ourselves be limited by this and miss out on exciting encounters.

It is very helpful in these encounters to know about the so-called "Taruf", a typical Persian rule of politeness. For us, it took a little getting used to at first, but you quickly learn to deal with it. Invitations or other offers are always declined first. Then the request is voiced again and one declines again with thanks. Only when the invitation/offer is made a third time may it be accepted with thanks. If you accept the offer the first time, it is considered impolite. For example, we were seemingly invited in taxis, restaurants, at the market, etc., and then when we insisted once more, the money was always accepted. It would have been interesting to see the puzzled look on a taxi driver's face if we had simply accepted his offer, but of course we never did.

Another characteristic of Iranian hospitality: There is always a way. A solution is always found, even if it means involving more people, making a phone call or searching Google. When we ask for a place, we are not simply told the way, but we are accompanied directly there (even if they have to drive in front of us at walking pace) and the next contact person is informed about our request. We believe that a whole trip would have been organised for us if we had wanted it. On the way, we are served delicacies and regularly take breaks because we are invited for a picnic or tea.

Actually, we are invited to people's homes every day. Nowhere has it been easier to catch a glimpse behind the scenes. In no time at all, one sits "at the table" with the whole family, which is usually a beautiful carpet in Iran. Tea is served, as well as local delicacies and delicious menus. The best food in Iran can be found at people's homes. The food is usually prepared over several hours and much of it is handmade from local products. Rice is a must, along with meat dishes, vegetables and local delicacies such as herbs, which are gathered in the area, usually by the roadside. If there is something from the grill, it is 99% sure to be kebab, meat skewers with minced meat, chicken or offal. Anyway, kebabs seem to be a true national pride. Often we seem a bit stiff next to the fit grandparents, who sit down cross-legged on the floor without any problems and get up again easily. You can tell the daily exercise and we are impressed. Later, the "table" is dismantled again and the mats for sleeping are rolled out. Often the houses consist of only one or two rooms and a kitchen. In these rooms, the whole life takes place, mainly on the floor. We saw chairs, tables or sofas in somewhat better-off families, but even there they were mostly decorative.

But it doesn't stop at the food. During these visits, we get to know typical instruments of the country, discovering similarities to the traditional instruments of Switzerland. We are allowed to demonstrate our musical talent (more badly than good) and listen to the skilful musical sounds of the hosts, sometimes a whole family band. We are dressed in traditional clothes and asked for a photo shoot with the whole family. We are driven to nearby attractions where, of course, there are always plenty of photos to be taken. We are taken through traditional bazaars, ride pedalos on the city pond, visit tourist attractions and much more. Most of the time, there is not much else to do but go with the flow, as we would say nowadays. Because often we don't know what the programme, which has apparently already been planned for us, now looks like. Sometimes no effort is spared, so that, for example, the German teacher of our hostess comes along on the excursion so that he can translate for us. We are amazed and often a bit ashamed about the huge effort that is made especially for us. Several times we spend several days with a family and are thus allowed to immerse ourselves even more in the family's everyday life. We experience barbecues in the family garden, are allowed to ride their own horses and so on. At some point, we have to say goodbye, but our onward journey is always ensured, which means discussing the route, organising bus tickets or booking hotels in the next town. Often it makes things easier when a local takes over the organisation and we are grateful for the support.

The list of encounters seems almost endless and when we think about it, new memories keep popping up that have enriched our trip. Some are funny or a bit bizarre, but never unpleasant. We marvel at the courage of people to welcome strangers into their homes so unhesitatingly and take a leaf out of their book. In our eyes, it is indisputable that when travelling through Iran, the encounters with the people make a significant difference. Politics and society, in this case, are two different things all together. For us, it felt like two parallel worlds that somehow coexist but have little in common. The ideas and implementation of the concerns of the respective fronts are miles apart and society often does not feel represented by politics at all, at least that was our impression from the conversations and meetings.

So we thank all our newly won Iranian friends for their openness and hospitality, which really blew us away. We are grateful for all the help, big and small, that we could always count on people when we didn't know what to do and hope only the best for the people in this country. Merci!

A little spoiler for those who don't know exactly where to go from here. We are now staying in Switzerland for a month before we are allowed to go on more travel adventures, but now on a different continent and with different means of transport. Stay tuned!