Friday, May 14, 2004

Joop, aged 16, Netherlands

It seemed like every foreigner traveling in Iran during the past couple of weeks was either from France or the Netherlands. The French women wore their scarves either in turbans (like the clerics in Iran) or barely covering their hair. Few, if any of them, bothered with a manteau. The Dutch women, on the other hand, were much more conservative. Some of them even wore long manteaus and hoods instead of scarves. Still, they managed to look stunning.

During our spring travels we met up with a great family from the Netherlands and did some traveling together. Their son, Joop, was quite the attraction. Tall, blond, and cute, he attracted notice from Iranians of all ages. I am sure that almost every Iranian with a camera who crossed our path has a photograph of Joop. He was photographed with babies, young women, old women, young men, old men; women in chadors and women wearing their sexy manteaus. Joop has to have been the most photographed person in Iran during the last month. I doubt that more photos were taken of even Khatami. Joop handled it exceedingly well despite the fact that we Westerners are fairly squeamish about having our photos taken.

I thought that it would be impossible for us to see a taller person than Joop during our travels. He is well over 6 feet (but normal in his class in the Netherlands, can you believe that? "It's because we Dutch sleep so much," his mother told me), but with all of the Dutch tourists in Iran, we did manage to see two men who were taller.

What surprised me most about the Dutch tourists was how little they spoke with another. "We can talk when we get home." So many times we found ourselves in situations where Iranian or American tourists would have talked to each other and shared their experiences, but the Dutch were silent with one another.

The Dutch, however, speak with everyone else. Iranians seemed particularly drawn to the Dutch family we were traveling with and engaged them in all sorts of discussions. What surprised K and I the most was how many soldiers came up and talked to them. "They are not allowed to speak with foreigners," K explained. Many of the soldiers leapt into discussions about politics and culture that surprised me. It seems that Nicholas Kristof had similar experiences during his trip to Iran.

Shy no more
It is impossible to be shy in Iran. Sure, Iranians can feel shyness, but they cannot act on it. Even the shyest child has to learn to carry on a conversation. Iran is curing me of any last vestiges of shyness that may have lingered from my teen years (I think I became more shy as a teen than I was as a child.) In Iran you are expected to discuss your age, your weight, your family state, and any other bit of personal information with anyone who asks. You may be asked to dance or sing at a family gathering, and it would be terrible to say no, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. (Not that I did not say no hundreds of times, it's just now that I have learned to play along, I have much more fun everywhere.)

It is with my new brazen personality that I embarked on our spring travels. This means that I talked to all sorts of people I would have not spoken to before. In addition, I allowed myself to be the center of attention more than once without retreating into a corner and blushing until my face felt like it would burn off.

It is fun not to be shy. I would recommend Iran as a cure for those of you facing any issues with shyness. Mind you, you'll have to stay long enough that you are no longer annoyed by all of the attention you will receive, but it will be worth it.

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