Friday, May 13, 2005

Talks with Taxi Drivers, Part 115….

Well, I have been lazy. It's one of the drawbacks of "going native." I have written about this before… Things no longer seem strange to me.

I have even commented that the driving habits of Tehranians have gotten much better. Then I got into a taxi with three touring friends. At one point the driver pulled a standard move: pulling out into moving traffic in order to make a left turn. It was clear to me that we would not be hit, but our three friends all flinched and yelled in fright at the exact same moment. Is it possible that driving habits have not improved at all?

A friend tells me there were 26,000 traffic deaths last year. That would mean that, in fact, driving habits have not improved in the least.

"You foreigners should relax," a driver tells me when I ask him to slow down. "We know what we are doing."

"Hey," I respond, "you guys still have the highest accident rate in the world. Maybe it's time you became a little less relaxed."


Another driver asks me when Bush will come to Iran? "You don't really want him here," I respond.

"I don't want him to attack us, you're right. No one wants a foreign power to attack their country. But I do want him to visit us."


K and I are waiting for a taxi when a young woman pulls over. "I'm going to Valiasr Square she tells us. Do you want a ride?" This is not uncommon in Iran. People often pull over to give foreigners a lift somewhere. They feel sorry for us.

K and I hop in. We thank her. "We wouldn't want your wife to have a bad experience here and write a book," she tells K. We all laugh.

It turns out she is studying English so that she can apply for a visa to Australia, get citizenship there, and then try to get a job in America working for Industrial Light and Magic.


"How did Bush manage to become president again if Americas hate him so much?" a driver asks me.

"Who do you think the next president of Iran will be?" I respond.

He laughs. "Oh I get it."


K is sitting up front chatting with a driver about politics. The driver is going on an on about how evil the British are. At a certain point he turns to K and says, "Your wife's not British, is she?"

I laugh. "It's a little late to ask," I respond in Persian. The poor driver is shocked. "Your wife understands Persian," he says to K.

"Yeah. Some say that she understands more than I do," he responds. "But don't worry, she's not English."

When we pull up to our house, the driver says, "Make sure to tell Americans how much we like them. Iranians love Americans. We have no problem with the people. It's just our two governments that have problems."

I promise to pass on his message. I even put it in bold.


Goldie said...

I generally love your blog, but that line about Bush becoming president in a manner similar to the Iranian political system is not cool. Bush was democratically elected and, despite what you may hear over there, enjoys broad support across America. I know more than ten lifelong Democrats (including myself) who voted for Bush in the last election (and no Republicans who voted for Kerry). That's how Bush got elected.

From everything I hear, the Iranian political system is corrupt to the core. Our system, whatever its shortcomings, is absolutely not. When you draw a parallel between the two to a random Iranian cab driver, do you think he understands that you're not serious? (Unless you are, in which case you need to visit home more often.)

America is far from perfect, but there's no reason to make citizens of corrupt theocracies think our problems compare to theirs. You're doing both your country and your listener a disservice when you do that. An Iranian cab driver should know that a better political system is not only possible but truly does exist somewhere in the world.

ET said...

Goldie, I am sorry that you misunderstood the meaning of what I said and what I wrote. What I meant, and what the driver understood, is sometimes we vote for people we do not necessarily like because we believe they can get the job done. In one of my earlier posts, I wrote that many Iranians are optimistic about Bush and Rafsanjani not because they like them or even agree with them, but because they believe that they have enough hard-line credibility to negotiate with one another.

Despite the fact that the Iranian system is corrupt, people still vote (albeit, some vote more than once and most vote under pressure), and there are still surprises. You can guess who the next president will be, but there is no certainty.

Khatami was a president that Iranians liked. By liked, I mean in the sense that you like your neighbor or priest or teacher. You'd be hard-pressed to find an Iranian who wants to vote for someone they like again.

And why do you say that there is no sense comparing theocracies to America? Am I wrong in saying that we have elected representatives who have tacitly approved the actions of Christianists (my term for political Christianity of the intolerant type) who believe that the will of God gives them permission to break the law? Is it not true that this small group of Christianists wields power that is far outside the scope of their actual support?

I have resisted comparisons in the past, but America, I am sorry to say is giving me too many reasons to make comparisons.

Thanks for your comment.