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15 Side Effects of Living in Tehran

by Pontia Fallahi Nov 28, 2016

1. I cross the street carelessly.

Any traveler who has been to Iran will tell you about the “craaaaazy traffic”. Iranians are insane drivers, and yet somehow, in all that insanity, they work it out. I used to wait and wait before crossing the street. Taxis would slow down and honk, thinking I was waiting for them. Why else would someone just be standing there? I often waited to cross the street with someone else. But like other things in life, I realized I had to take the first step into the street and pray that the drivers saw me. And miraculously, they do.

2. I became fluent in the language of car honks.

From “get out of my way” to “salaam!”, “bye”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, excuse me”, “do you see me?”, “don’t cross, I’m not going to wait for you”, “taxi?”… I now recognize the meaning of each individual honk.

3. I prefer yogurt with vegetables.

Give me yogurt with spinach, beets, or roasted eggplant. Yogurt with shallots or cucumbers. But strawberry yogurt? No thanks. Not any more.

4. I order soft drinks by their colors.

Not a Coke, but a “black” drink. Not a Sprite, but a “white” drink. Not a Fanta, but a “yellow” drink.

5. I started sacrificing myself for everyone.

Iranians have this thing where they say “ghorbunet beram”, literally, I’ll sacrifice myself for you to anyone and everyone- family, friend, foe.

A- “How are you?”
B- “Ghorbunet beram, I’m fine. How are you?”
A- “Ghorbunet, I’m fine too.”

A typical goodbye with my local Azeri grocer used to go like this:
A- Thank you, bye!
B- Ghorbunet beram.

It used to sound strange to me. I wouldn’t kill myself for this person, so why even fake it? But now I’ve been here too long, and it just seems so wrong NOT to say it.

6. I ask people what year they were born.

Not “How old are you?” but “What year were you born?” Iranians will always ask you your year of birth and do the math themselves. (Consequently, my mental math skills have improved.)

7. I became a millionaire overnight.

And called my parents with the good news! The US Dollar-Iranian Rial exchange rate is roughly 1 to 30,000 (or 3,000 tomans). Imagine my delight when I became a millionaire in exchange for just a few hundred dollars.

8. I drink more tea.

And it must be “taze dam”, freshly brewed. But more often I’m opting for “damnoosh”, herbal teas.

9. I put ketchup on my pizza.

Iranian pizzas usually don’t have sauce of them, and instead, they give you a few packets of ketchup. But this was supposed to be our little secret, so I was mildly mortified when Anthony Bourdain was offered pizza with ketchup when he was here for Parts Unknown. Luckily, he didn’t seem completely put off by it.

10. My concept of time has changed.

Why go to class 15 or even 20 minutes early to set up like I used to when class starts at 5? I enjoy every last free minute up until work time, and then focus on work.

11. I try to conserve water like my life depends on it.

Well, it sort of does. In fact, I haven’t had a normal shower since I’ve been here. Water goes on to rinse, off to shampoo, on again to rinse, off to lather, etc.

12. I ask people how much they pay for stuff.

Although it was hard at the beginning, I realized no one will get offended since it’s the norm here. So when in Tehran, do as the Tehranis. “Is that a new scarf? I love it! How much was it?” In fact, I’m afraid that the repatriation process back in the US may get a little awkward.

13. I have finally accepted that Saturday is the start of the work week…

… and Thursday afternoon and Friday are my weekend. It’s been hard to accept, though.

14. Weekends are for nature.

The weekend is no longer for sleeping in. If it’s Friday, Tehranis are hiking in Darband or Tochal during the wee hours of morning. If it’s winter, they are skiing in Dizin. And other times, it’s quick getaways to the Caspian or camping out in the desert until the starry skies.

15. My entire concept of hospitality has changed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Iranians are without a doubt the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, especially to visitors. My co-workers and students constantly ask if I need any help, they offer to take me grocery shopping, etc. A lady in her car once stopped to ask me directions and then offered to give me a ride if I was going in her direction. It seemed suspicious to me, but I was later told that this was normal. Yes, there is taarof, but in many cases, it’s absolutely genuine. If none of the other side effects stick with me, I know this one, for sure, will.

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