– Iranian hospitality and friendliness
“I love you”. The boy shouts loud standing only one meter in front of me with both arms straight out and an enthusiastic smile. It was a fairly strong statement from a young boy to an over 60-year-old man. I hope I managed to accept the greeting in a nice way, though our female Iranian guide almost died in suppressed hysterical laughter behind the boy’s back.
We were heading from Esfahan to Shiraz and had just stopped in a small town for a smoke and a visit to the toilet. It was quite cold and the snow lay in patches beyond the plain and on the mountain peaks. I had just moved a few feet from the mini bus when two young boys, in their early twenties I guess, stops right in front of me and one of them comes with this totally surprising declaration.
In many ways this little incident illustrates the reception we got from ordinary people on the streets and squares in Iran. Almost everyone we met came with a greeting like “Welcome to Iran” or Welcome to whatever town we found ourselves in at the moment. They followed up quickly with questions like “where do you came from?” When our answer was “Norwege” they nodded and replied “Good”! In most cases that were the end of their English language skills, so some more intelligent conversation rarely happened.
In this manner we were greeted with almost childlike curiosity from these smiling people wherever we went. When we walked past one of the many bakeries that lie close together in all Iranian cities, the workers stopped for some moments and shouted out greetings and the normal question about where we came from. “Welcome to Iran”, they cried back and uninvited shared with us plenty of warm crispy and spicy nan-like bread. Bread that tastes wonderful in the moment it comes out of the oven, but is less interesting just an hour later. It is perhaps why they bake bread almost around the clock in the many bakeries throughout Iran.
You do not meet many other tourists when you wander the streets of Iran. But Iranians meets you with curiosity and great interest, as they look you in the eye and smiles. The men raise his hand to his chest (heart) and ask, “How are you?” Women, both the elderly as young ones in full chador, met my eye and smiled warmly but shyly to my little greeting. Young teenage girls walking in groups, made each other aware of the older man on the sidewalk long before they passed me and giggled as only young girls can. “How are you?” The question was usually not pronounced before they had safely passed. When I turned and saluted back, their happiness was done. Giggling went into a happy laughter and often the bravest of them took courage and asked the usual questions.
I’ve never been anywhere in the world where I’ve gotten so much attention from young women and girls. Probably it is a quizzical wonder about something completely different. An elderly man with a ponytail and dressed differently, though jeans are common enough in Iran. But with my yellow glasses and European manners, I was spotted as a foreigner at once. I was a sought-after photo subject and often had to set up for shooting with mature men, younger boys and giggling schoolgirls. As a tourist in Iran We were as great attraction for them as their ancient history and culture was for us.
I wonder why that is? Iranians are known for their hospitality and cordiality, but I can not help but ponder on whether or not the isolation and the strict regime contributes to the almost desperate quest for contact?