Cultural awareness in Iran
Dress Code in Iran
For everyone visiting Iran, it is very important to stick to the dress code that Iranian people adhere to.
In brief, for women, this means covering all the body from wrists to ankles (including the upper chest to the collar bones), not wearing super tight , body hugging leggings, wearing a tunic that covers the bottom and upper thighs to at least the knee and wearing a headscarf that covers your hair. For men this means no shorts, and usually long sleeved shirts.
Depending on where and when you are in Iran you will find that dress codes may be more relaxed or more rigid. Visiting holy cities such as Mashad or Qom, for example, you will find many women wearing black chadors (a full body cloak) and wearing black and modest clothes here is essential, covering your hair completely with your headscarf. In other cities, such as Tehran, you will discover colourful and modern dress with head scarves revealing substantial amounts of hair.
If you visit Iran at a religious festival, again you may find more modest dress. We visited at Ashura, a very religious time, for a whole month and many women wore black chadors at this time and the men wore black shirts and black trousers.
For biking we found that slightly shorter tunics worked and did not get caught up in the brakes or wheels. We always wore a scarf ready to slip over our head when we took our helmets off.
Iranians are one of the warmest, most kind and hospitable people we have ever met. Wherever we went, we were offered hospitality, be it a cup of tea in the middle of nowhere, or food as we cycled along. Often people would invite us to their homes for tea or a meal. When we were camping once we had a massive pile of various food gifts! Showing deep appreciation of this kindness is all we could do.
Removal of shoes is essential when entering a mosque or a home. Men and women go in through separate entrances. When visiting particularly holy sites, such as the shrines of Shi’a Imans and Saints, women are required to don a chador if they are not wearing one already. Dress covering all of your body and wear your headscarf.
One unexpected thing that we learned about mosques and shrines in Iran, was that they always have good toilets and cleaning facilities, so they are good places to camp next to if there is no other accommodation. And if one ever needs a toilet, just look for the nearest mosque and you will find a very civilised place for ablutions.
Women should not show affection to men in public even if they are married or in a long term partnership. In general women should not have any physical contact with men, for example, no shaking hands, slapping on the back etc. If a man offers his hand to shake, as a woman it is OK to shake it but otherwise a gesture of hand on the heart area is a good warm welcome.
We were advised not to discuss politics, but ironically, we found that most Iranians only wanted to do this. However we were always thoughtful about what we said.
As in all countries, it is respectful to ask permission if photographing people. Some people do not like their photograph being taken. Do not photograph any military buildings or any military equipment or any building that may be official in some way.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drugs are completely forbidden in Iran. Do not drink any alcohol whilst you are there even if you are offered some. Do not take any drugs. This is a very serious matter, that needs 100% adherence.