Iran Cultural Profile

Background

  • Iran is located north of the Caspian Sea with Russia to the north, Iraq and Turkey to the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, and the Persian Gulf to the south. The northern part of Iran is coastal while the southern part is hot and humid. The in between is desert.
  • The Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 toppled the country’s monarchy, resulting in the establishment of an Islamic republic. In more recent history, a harsh penal law was established in 2008 (though some revisions have been made since), and an election in 2009 saw outbreaks of protesting and violence. Many people fled persecution stemming from these and other events.
  • Immediately prior to the revolution, the country was mostly westernized. After the revolution, alcohol was banned, severe wardrobe restrictions were enforced, many forms of entertainment (casinos, nightclubs) were banned or shut down, and women saw many restrictions placed specifically on their activities.
  • More women are now attending college and working than before the revolution.
  • As of 2015, the population of Iran is nearing 80 million.

Culture and Religion

  • The official language of Iran is Farsi, sometimes called Persian.
  • There are a number of national and ethnic groups living in various parts of Iran. According to anthropological research, the most studied of these groups with specific history, culture, customs, and language are the Turks, Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Turkmans and Lurs.
  • People in Iran fall into one of four classes, or divisions: upper, middle, working, and lower. Upper class individuals own their own homes, often own businesses, employ home staff, might have a personal driver or other luxuries, and generally have minimal children. The middle class encompasses careers such as bankers and teachers who are homeowners, both husband and wife typically work, and families have two to three children. The working class is also referred to as the urban class, a group of industrial workers. It is part of the overall lower class, which is comprised of people living just above, at, or below the poverty line. Lower class income varies monthly, and these individuals may receive some form of aid. The revolution was fought partly to abolish these social classes. Regardless of class, most people can be found dining in their own homes as it is more comfortable than being in public adhering to wardrobe restrictions, bans on alcohol, etc.
  • The majority of Iranians are Shi’a Muslims (90-95%), followed by Sunni/Sufi Muslims (5-10%), with the remaining peoples being Jewish, Christian, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Mandean or Yarsani.
  • Some marriages are still arranged, but the practice is not as common as it once was. Arranged marriages are more common in the lower and working classes. As it is in the United States, it is common for the man to ask the woman’s father for her hand in marriage. There are usually engagement parties, and a dowry offering (security to protect the wife) is still quite common. Dowries are made in the form of money, property, or gold. The “aghd,” or wedding, then follows.
  • Family is of the utmost importance to Iranians, extended family included. Much of a person’s free time is spent with family.
  • Education is highly important in Iran. To earn a bachelor’s degree is satisfactory, a master’s degree is well-respected, and a PhD means you are accomplished. This is more of an unspoken expectation.
  • Education is also important to Iranian women, not necessarily for working purposes, but more for prestige. Most women tend to the home and children, and many do not want to work due to the dress requirements imposed on them in public settings. In public women refrain from voicing strong viewpoints, but in the home they often discuss politics and other subjects.

Adjusting to Life in America

  • Coming to America provides Iranians with a sense of relief in a way, as there are so many freedoms in the United States. All the formalities Iranians practice aren’t generally observed in the States.
  • Obesity is uncommon in Iran; healthy eating is of great importance, therefore the obesity rates in the United States aren’t easily understood by Iranians.
  • Having a choice in pursuing higher education is also new for incoming Iranians as higher education is expected in Iran.
  • The dress in America is much more revealing than in Iran.
  • The cost of living in America is more expensive than in Iran, and men typically handle the finances. Credit cards are uncommon in Iran as well.
  • American holidays are also an adjustment as Iranians mainly celebrate the Persian New Year and little else.
  • Very religious Muslim women do not wear makeup in public, but non-Muslim women do not leave the house without having done their hair and make-up. Seeing American women without makeup, with messy hair/ballcaps, and/or workout clothes is an adjustment. Short hair on women is also uncommon in Iran as long hair is believed to be a sign of femininity.
  • Adjusting to an American routine can be difficult. In Iran, a normal schedule is work from 8am to 2:30pm, a two hour break for rest/meal (offices/markets close), then back to work until late in the evening.
  • Same-sex relationships and cross-gender individuals are not the norm in Iranian culture and society, so refugees may be initially confused by the LGBTIQQ lifestyle here in America.