10 Fun Facts About Iran (And Persian)

Iranian lady at cinema museum in Tehran

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Let me guess. You are curious about the Persian culture. You’re about to set off for Iran but you have questions yet to be answered. Or this is a complete mistake and you feel betrayed because internet brought you here for no reason (well then, stay for a good read… please?). No matter what brings you to this blog, I would like to share with you some interesting things about Iran and the Persian culture. From yummy Persian food, chai with sugar cube, to hijab dress code and Persian dancers, here are 10 fun facts about Iran and its people…

Iranian twin brothers

1. Rial and Toman

Sure everyone gets confused at first when they visit Iran when it comes to the currency (apart from the countless zeros on the banknotes). While you exchange money to Rial, which is the official currency of Iran, people tell you prices in Toman when you try to buy something. So what are Rial and Toman? Basically, Rial is the printed currency and Toman is the discussed currency used by local people – at the end they are the same thing. For example, 10,000 Rial is equivalent to 1000 Toman, which means Persian people simply deduct a zero and change the unit whenever they give prices verbally.

persian tea

2. Chai

Persians drink chai (tea) in the morning, after each meal, and not to mention throughout the day. If you visit any Persian home, the first thing you will be offered is a hot cup of black tea. One fun fact about chai in Iran is that teas from Sri Lanka and India are widely consumed, despite local tea cultivation in the country’s northern provinces. Also, since tea is a big part of Persian culture, here’s a tip: the proper way to drink Persian tea is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Enjoy!

Tehran grand bazaar in Iran

3. Persian People

Having travelled in many countries, I have to say Persian people are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, hands down. It is true that they are especially friendly to foreigners but I’ve also noticed during my stay in Persian households, and in occasions such as local gatherings and weddings, that Persians are such warm and laid back people that they simply enjoy each other’s company wherever they are. On my second day in Iran, I got invited to a lunch and ghelyoon (shisha) by a Persian man when I was wandering aimlessly at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran. It turned out to be quite an eye-opening experience – when you treat people who approach you with an open mind, you’d find something rewarding.

asian in hijab

4. Hijab

In case you don’t know already, women are supposed to cover their body in Iran. However, no matter what media tells you about the hijab law in Iran, there’s nothing that tells you the truth more than being there to see it yourself. I can at least say this from experience, that in bigger cities such as Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, young women wear hijab loosely over the head, proudly showing their hair – they know how to work within the rules to style themselves in bold, new ways. Hijab doesn’t have to be black, you can wear any head scarfs with any color or patterns you like (except during Muharram – the mourning of Imam Hussain). I even wore a beanie during my visit in December (it was freezing!) and it’s not hard to spot some Persian ladies who did the same.

Sour food in Iran

5. Sour, sour, sour

Something I still can’t get used to after visiting Iran for 3 times within 7 months. Persians LOVE sour food and they can pretty much eat a lemon alone (without puckering their face!). Lavashak (Persian fruit roll) and Gojeh Sabz (unripe, super sour plums) are some of the Persian favorites. If you happen to visit Iran, be prepared to be offered some of these bad boys!    

isfahan Vank Cathedral

6. Misconception

Spoiler alert: Persians do not hate Americans. In fact, if you ask any Persian on the street if they have a chance to move to another country which country it would be, you’ll hear the same answer: America. While most Americans’ perceptions of Iran are limited to images of crowds chanting “Death to America!”, a 2009 World Public Opinion poll found that 51% of Iranians hold a favorable opinion of Americans. Always keep in mind that there is a huge disconnection between most Persians and their government. Persians love Americans, and they don’t shy away from sharing their affection (ask any American who’s visited Iran).

7. Persians can dance

Persian dance is one of the most graceful things I’ve ever seen. Persian dance (especially for women) focuses more on the hand and arm movements and that’s why I find it less physically demanding than, say, African dance (oh that painful experience trying to learn shoulder dancing in Ethiopia…). Most Persians grow up in environments that encourage them to dance since an early age. So when Persians politely refuse to dance in a gathering/wedding, don’t get fooled because it is usually just a humble gesture – you would find them dancing passionately with everyone (or solo) on the dance floor eventually.

persian men

8. Persian men and military service

Persian men are not given a passport until they complete their military service. I know this for a personal reason and I’m not gonna lie – I was quite shocked when I figured this out. Some Persian men never thought of leaving the country so they never apply for the military. It is also quite common to pay a sum of money in exchange for the passport 8 years after university graduation (or at the age of 26 for those who don’t attend university after reaching 18). Just a fun fact in case you wonder why there are so many young ‘soldiers’ walking around in the city.

9. Fitness trend in Iran

When I was staying with a Persian family in Marvdasht (a city located 15km away from Persepolis), I saw quite a few gyms around the city and the guys were relatively buff compared to those in other cities. Apparently the fitness scene in Iran is pretty big (especially in the South) – women can also work out at the gym but fitness centres have different opening hours for men and women (bonus fun fact: men and women also sit in separate sections in public transport and stadiums but not on intercity buses and cinemas).

Farsi writing

10. Farsi and Persian

Many people outside of Iran have no idea what Farsi is but when you say Persian they would understand that you’re referring to the language spoken in Iran. However, Persians often refer to their language as Farsi instead of Persian. So what’s the difference? Basically, Farsi is the native name of the language while Persian is the name by which it is known to the English-speaking world. Persian also has a broader meaning which encompasses all aspects of the Persian culture, including food, literature, history, and language.

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