Saturday, April 10, 2004

No news
What I thought was the perfect anti-American news apparently received little attention in Iran. While I am a proponent of a free press, I am also relieved.

We are so proud of our city….

Iranians who are proud of their cities often boast about diversity. "There are 72 ethnicities in my city. We have lots of Christians and Jews too. It is the best place in Iran." Iranians are starved for diversity. "In the time of the Shah, there were foreigners here. People from all over the world lived in Iran. Now, it's just us." Well, and the Afghans…

When I reflect on the welcome I have received in Iran and how kind most people have been to me, I feel that I must urge westerners and particularly Americans to respond in kind. If you meet an Iranian traveling through your country, be nice. Invite the traveler to your home for tea or dinner (if you can). Say something nice about their culture. Thanks.


The largest bill in Iran until a couple of weeks ago was worth about a dollar. This means that if you have the equivalent of $100 in your pocket, you are carrying around a brick of money. Iranians have bills for tiny amounts of money. Those bills are worn to death. They are often dirty and taped together. When a store does not have small enough change to give you, you are offered a piece of candy or a penny's worth of gum. At first I thought it was a small gift.

I have been reading lots of traveler's accounts lately. Many of the European accounts complain of police harassment and cheating. The American accounts are different. They all marvel at the hospitality offered to them and the rich culture. My theory is that American travelers to countries such as Iran have different expectations from their European counterparts. For instance, an American expects a certain amount of price gouging (the hotels, however, engage in far too much of it). Once, when K and I traveled to the Shah's palace, we witnessed German tourists arguing with a cab driver. He wanted 2000 tumans (about 2 euros) for a trip that should have cost 1500. They were arguing. I said, "What difference does it make to them. The same trip would cost them 11 euros in Germany, and the driver is certainly not rich." K, however, believed they were right, "It's not the money," he said, "it's the principle." All of the Iranians, including K, joined the German tourists in their fight and they paid the correct fare.

Money is important in Iran. To rent an apartment in Tehran you might have to shell out a $7000 deposit. Maybe more, maybe less. Imagine that! "Iranians have money," K's nephew tells me. "They just pretend that they don't."

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