Teahouse talk
Mashad (Iran), March 13th 2013 

There aren’t many things as pleasurable as sipping a tea in a traditional Iranian teahouse. These atmospheric places are perfect to have a good conversation with the normal Iranians. In teahouses you will meet Iranians from all backgrounds and sometimes they talk very frankly about a variety of subjects. This amazes us every time, as Iran has a notoriously effective secret police. Subjects like politics and religion are still discussed on a regular basis, but normally on a very low volume.

While we are sipping a tea, a man comes to our table and asks us if he can join us. He has a bit foolish first impression, but we feel objected to send him away. This thirty-five year old wants to emigrate to the European Union, but as he knows that this is difficult, he wants to try it via Turkey. While most people want to emigrate out of economical or political reasons, his reasons are of a completely different kind: SEX. Vividly, he tells us how he had to bribe police officers in Istanbul after visiting a prostitute and how he enjoyed looking at bikini clad western ladies on Turkey’s beaches. We aren’t feeling very comfortable with this man at our table and drink our tea a bit faster than normal. He is, however, exemplary of the men who can’t get married. Men have to pay a significant dowry and some are not able to do so. Iran isn’t a country where those men can go to a prostitute or can have a one-night stand with a girl from the non-existing bar. Porn movies are forbidden and while the Islamic religion says that all those sexual needs will be fulfilled in the afterlife; men like our companion have difficulty waiting for it. He doesn’t like Asia at all, with Bangkok as the notable exception: we all know why!

A day later, we are sitting in the same teahouse. Not long after we ordered our second pot of tea with local sweets, a modern looking Iranian girls asks is she can join us. She gives a completely different picture from modern day Iran. She is married to a medical specialist and while having a Canadian passport, she doesn’t even consider moving to Canada. The girl studied for four years in Europe and says that she regularly drinks a wine at home. Off course this is illegal, but in Iran everything has to do with connections. Still, she has her worries. Life is getting harder for Iran’s upper class. Iran’s currency has at this moment a value that is four times lower than one year ago. This makes it four times more expensive to let family members study abroad. Many families are not able to pay for it and are getting their students back to Iran. Due to stricter enforcement of the ban on satellite television and strict internet censorship, people are getting more influenced by the government propaganda that dictates local media. Students who study abroad are taking western values back home, and our companion pities that this gets lost. This doesn’t mean that she places everything from the west on a pedestal. Family values of he Iranian families are very important to her and she would definitely miss the quality of the food. A small grin appears on her face when she says: “Europeans are always so proud on the Italian kitchen, but it is so simple, so boring and so unsophisticated”. When we ask her why she bothered to apply for Canadian citizenship, her answer is understandable: “My husband and I want to have an escape plan, in case the political situation further deteriorates or the religious police gets even stricter. Moreover, travelling abroad is almost impossible as an Iranian which makes me a prisoner in my own country. In most countries, it is very difficult to get a visa with an Iranian passport, but as a Canadian I am welcome everywhere.” After more than one-and-a-half hour, our new friend has to go to another appointment and after exchanging contact details, we say goodbye. A few minutes later, we walk to the cashier to pay our bill. “Your bill is already paid” the cashier says. Iranians take their hospitality very serious, even when it is in a teahouse!

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