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Customs of Iran

Marriage and Family

Children usually live with their parents until they marry, regardless of their age. Women marry between the ages of 16 and 25; men marry somewhat later because of military service or because they are not yet earning enough money to start a family. Most marriages are arranged by families. In the past, this meant that many young females married their cousins. More liberal attitudes have emerged in some areas regarding education, work, and freedom in selecting marriage partners. Weddings are occasions for elaborate celebrations. It is legal for a man to have up to four wives if he can provide for each equally; most men, however, choose to have only one wife. Divorce is rare.

In some cases, a couple may choose to have a temporary marriage (sigheh) that can last between a few days and 99 years. Couples might choose the sigheh as a trial marriage or because it is much less expensive than a conventional wedding. However, this type of marriage is not common, as many women oppose the practice. Under this arrangement, the woman and any children born to the marriage do not have the same rights and privileges as conventional wives and children, but the children are accepted as legitimate. Both a man and woman must consent to a sigheh, and a woman marrying for the first time must have the consent of her parents.

The father is usually considered the head of the household. The elderly are respected and cared for by younger members of the extended family. Relatives remain very close to one another. Parents feel a lifelong commitment to children, often providing them with financial support well after marriage. Distinctions between upper and lower social classes were blurred during the costly war with Iraq in the 1980s, but recent economic changes have allowed a small business class to flourish.

Before the rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925–1941), people were identified by their given name and another name that was usually the name of their father or a description of their craft. The Shah required that people have both a given name and a family name. In the process of selecting these family names, some families chose the same surname. If the families could not compromise on which family should have the name, they could choose a second family name, which was usually a reference to their birthplace. For example, former president Rafsanjani’s name is Ali Akbar; his first family name is Hashemi; and his second family name is Rafsanjani because he was born near the town of Rafsanjān. People are referred to by the last part of the family name.

Eating

The diet varies throughout the country, but in general Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Under current law, alcohol consumption is forbidden. Rice and wheat bread are the most common staples. Rice is often served with a meat and vegetable stew. Yogurt, also very common, is served with rice or other foods. Fresh vegetables and fruits are important components of the diet. White cheeses are also popular.

The midday meal is the most important meal of the day. Dinner is usually served later in the evening, after 8 pm. Elaborate meals will often be prepared for guests, and a host may insist that several helpings be eaten. Muslims eat with the right hand only. Tea is almost always offered to guests. During the entire month of Ramezan (Ramadan), most Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk; the fast is broken in the evenings, when families eat together and visit friends and relatives.

Socializing

A handshake is the customary greeting in Iran. A slight bow or nod while shaking hands shows respect. Since the 1979 revolution, women are not allowed to shake hands with men in public. To shake hands with a child shows respect for the parents. Iranians of the same sex will often kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting and sign of affection. A person will often ask about the health of the other and his or her family. A typical Farsi greeting is Dorood (“Greetings”); an appropriate response is Dorood-bar-to (“Greetings to you”). People often use Arabic greetings, such as Salam (“Peace”). A common parting is Khoda hafiz (“May Allah protect you”). Formal titles and surnames are used to show respect. It is usual to stand when someone enters the room for the first time and when someone leaves.

Objects are passed with the right hand or both hands, but not with the left hand alone. The soles of the feet should not point at any person. Slouching or stretching one’s legs in a group is considered offensive. Out of respect, and to maintain proper distance between members of the opposite sex, men and women do not always make eye contact during conversation, nor do they display affection in public, even if married. However, friendship and affection are often shown between members of the same sex.

Hospitality is a cherished tradition in Iran. Iranian philosophy claims a guest is a gift from (or friend of) Allah. Respecting the guest is a way of respecting Allah. Guests are therefore the center of attention in an Iranian home, and everything is done to make them feel comfortable. Visitors usually remove their shoes before entering carpeted areas of a home, although this custom is not often practiced in larger cities. Generous compliments are welcomed by the host and are likely to be returned, but guests should avoid admiring specific family or personal possessions because the host may feel obliged to offer the object to the guest.

When invited to dinner, it is customary for the guest to take a potted plant, cut flowers, or candy for the host. Iranians do not open gifts in front of the giver. When offered invitations, gifts, or refreshments, it is polite to decline a few times before graciously accepting and thanking the host several times. The oldest man or woman present receives the greatest respect. Because visiting is so much a part of the culture, families and friends visit one another often; the common term for visiting is did-o-bazdid.

Recreation

Socializing with family or friends is the main recreational activity, along with visits to teahouses and the bazaar, and strolls through the streets. Iranians enjoy such sports as soccer, wrestling, the martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and table tennis. In cities, people also enjoy going to the cinema to see films, which are subject to strict censorship laws.

Holidays and Celebrations

In Iran, the lunar calendar is used to determine religious festivals and the new year; the solar (Gregorian) calendar is used to set the dates of official public holidays.

National holidays include National Day (11 February), Oil Nationalization Day (20 March), and Islamic Republic Day (1 April).

The Iranian New Year, called Now Ruz, is celebrated around 21 March, or the vernal equinox. This holiday predates Islam, and is believed to derive from pastoral festivals heralding the arrival of spring. The holiday lasts for 13 days, and involves wearing new clothes, giving gifts, visiting friends and relatives, and eating special foods. In particular, seven foods beginning with the letter S are taken, and symbolic objects are placed on the table, including a mirror, candlesticks, and a bowl with a single green leaf floating in it. On the final day of the holiday, families go on picnics.

Religious holidays occur on different days each year. They include feasts for Aid-Fetr, to end the month-long fast of Ramezan, and Aid-ghorban, to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at the behest of Allah. Other holidays mark the birth and death of the Prophet Muhammad and the imams, such as the martyrdom of Imar Ali.

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas