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Frequently Asked Questions

I'm a big fan of the bullet point, so instead of writing out questions, and the paragraphed answers that correspond to them, here's a more efficient way to get some info out there:

  • I just turned 24, and have been in Iran for about nine months (as of June 2006)
  • My main objective is to study Farsi in Iran, with strong focus on reading and writing; estimated time frame: about a year (because my dad tells me I need come back to CA and get a job)
  • Yes, my name really is Shiva, and no, I am not the Hindu god of destruction (although some would liken me to such a figure)
  • I recently graduated from USC, and decided to study abroad in Iran, afterwards, due to a lack of pressing commitments (i.e., job or school)
  • In college, I double-majored in communication and international relations, with a minor in journalism
  • I did not come to Iran to invest money, to get married, or to carry out espionage activities
  • I am a fan of the "X-Files," in an obsessive way
  • This website was my final project for a web publishing class, under my journalism minor; it was never intended for a broad audience, but rather for my own special group of friends and close contacts in the U.S.; a way to "keep in touch" and "remain a good friend" and "stop being so darn reclusive" like the "inconsiderate bitch that I am", etc.
  • The website's design reflects the multi-featured model of my final project; therefore, the fact that I've neglected to fully develop the various tabs on the navigation bar should be forgiven, as it was just for the project...
  • I'm scheduled to leave Iran before the end of summer, 2006
  • I was born and raised in California, and I speak fluent Farsi, albeit with a subtle American accent (or so I'm told); my Spanish proficiency is superior to my Farsi...which can be seen as a very pathetic circumstance
  • I do not work for the mullahs, and I am not brainwashed
  • I am the spawn of two Iranians, whom I call mom...and dad. Both left Iran before the revolution as students, to study in wickedly frigid states on the east coast. Down the road, by some kind of cruel fate, they ended up meeting and marrying in California, back in the day, when Compton had more Iranians than African Americans (it's TRUE!)
  • It is safe to travel to Iran, for both ex-patriots and foreigners; people do it all the time, and I think every country has an embassy here, except for Israel. Even U.S. interests have a headquarters in the Swiss embassy
  • I can be bashful at times because Iranians can be really "in-your-face"
  • That last statement is an outright lie; I'm not bashful
  • Did I mention I like bullet points?
  • I really miss chilli-cheese dogs and nachos; spicy Mexican food visits me in my dreams; and the international food courts here are a farce—you can't "Iranianize" Indian, Turkish, Mexican, Japanese, etc. foods and still maintain a straight face…oh, and, where's the hot sauce and hummus?!?
  • The Iranian government does not sanction the killing of Jews, homosexuals, Baha'is, or any other minority; nor do they kill self-exiled Iranians upon return to Iran; I don't care what you've heard
  • Iranian women do not wear "burkas," and do not cover their faces (unless they come from the southern region, where cultural attire differs greatly, and is generally more colorful)

OK, now for a handful of questions I've answered over time via e-mail that may prove useful, and would also look awkward in bullet form:

Where can I study Farsi language in Iran?

Deh Khoda International Center for Persian Studies

University of Tehran

Tehran, Iran

+ (98) (21) 227-130-23

International Scientific Cooperation Office

University of Isfahan

Isfahan, Iran

+ (98) (311) 793-2039 through -41

Persian Language Center

Imam Khomeini International University

Qazvin, Iran

+ (98) (281) 378-0067

International Relations Office

Shiraz University

Shiraz, Iran


What are some of the attitudes Iranians have towards American tourists?

Iranians have the same attitude towards American tourists as they have toward American journalists—they tell you everything you want to hear. I can guarantee that you'll not get an accurate account of virtually anything. Iranians will either wildly exaggerate issues, or blatantly lie. Otherwise, you'll get the Iranians who'll be extremely suspicious of any foreigner asking them questions, and may not be as forthcoming with an answer. In other words, they may respond coldly, or with heightened discretion, while carrying the assumption that you are a spy.

How can an Iranian tell if a person is American?

An Iranian can tell if you're a foreigner, and that's all that matters. It doesn't make a difference if you're American, British, Canadian, or whatever. You'll get the same kind of behavior. However, if they know for sure that you're American or British, perhaps because you've identified yourself as such, then you'll get a higher degree of what I've described in the previous paragraph.

What are some things about Iranian culture Americans have a difficult time understanding?

Americans have a difficult time understanding the concept of "tarroof". Chinese culture has a similar practice, in which you offer things to people out of politeness, and the individual receiving the offer must be able to distinguish when it's genuine, or not. If you accept an offer that is meant only out of politeness, then you are considered unabashedly rude. In Iran, whenever you want to pay for something, people will say "ghabelli nadare", meaning "it's not worthy of you", meaning "take it; it's free". But of course, you must never take these offers literally, because then you'd be committing a crime (receiving a service or good without paying), and angering a bunch of people. The concept of tarroof, especially in distinguishing genuine offers (i.e. those pertaining to hosting a guest) from customary procedures of politeness, is the most difficult cultural practice for westerners to grasp. It is also one of the most essential aspects of Iranian culture.

What are some misconceptions Iranians have about Americans?

Iranians have many assumptions about Americans. People from America are perceived to be arrogant, wealthy, blonde, naiive, exploitative, alcohol consuming, scantily clad, sexually promiscuous, club-going, fun-loving, irreligious, liberal people. Many Iranians believe that people from America don't have to work hard, study hard, or do anything else for all the luxuries they have. Iranians tend to think that poor people do not exist in America, that there are no flaws in America, and other idealistic ideas. Despite all this, Iranians never trust foreigners, which is why they exaggerate, perhaps never openly expressing accurate information regarding their society. If you want real information, without emotions or idealism, you must go to scholars, journalists, and government. Truthfully, I think the most accurate and abundant info can be derived from government sources.

What are some dangers Americans might encounter in Iran, and why?

Americans won't encounter dangers in Iran, unless they do something illegal, or attempt to carry out espionage-like activities. Most Iranians, even the most conservative, will always host a guest, even a foreigner. But there are times when things get dangerous. For instance, the Canadian journalist that died in custody after being raped and beaten by her cell guards was in a dangerous situation. She had not received permission to carry out journalism in the country, taking it upon herself to sneak into a prison and snap photos of the prisoners, which is illegal in every country. When she was caught, she proceeded to yell and become aggressive in her tone of voice and actions, which got her arrested. Under detainment, she was treated aggressively (and wrongly, of course) by her cell guards, who were also behaving against the law.

So, if you do anything wrong, just stay calm, act like you didn't know, and you'll be fine. The Canadian journalist's case is rare, and the government has issued an official apology for the horrible treatment of the guards.

Also, I've heard that Iranian girls will try to tempt foreign men to engage in sexual relations with them, or even just a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, in order to marry them, later. If the guy refuses, she turns him over to the authorities as a foreigner trying to corrupt a good Muslim girl. So, my suggestion to foreign men is to completely abstain from having intimate relationships in Iran, unless you're prepared to marry the girl.

If you don't know any Farsi, can you get by on a moderate level of Arabic?

Iran is different from other sightseeing-heavy countries because you really cannot get around by yourself without knowing some Farsi. The only Arabic that's popularly spoken is classical, Quranic Arabic, and it's not comprehensive—just enough to understand the holy text. Arabic and Farsi are as different as night and day; only the alphabet is shared. There are, however, many tourism companies that can teach you about Iran, and its 10,000+ year history, in practically any language. They can also help you with questions about getting around to surrounding countries, such as Turkey or Iraq.

Are there lots of people visiting Iran, despite all the strife going on?

You'll make friends here from all over the world. I met students from S. Korea, America, New Zealand, Germany, and Italy. I've seen students in other classes hailing from Japan, Africa, China, and other places in Europe. It's definitely an interesting crowd, ranging from all ages (but nobody too old), and here in Iran for all sorts of reasons. Also, I can count the number of Iranian-Americans in this school on one hand. If you decide to study here, you'll be one of the few brave soldiers who ventured out to the mysterious black cloud that is Iran (haha, j/k, but that's what people will think).

What was your inspiration for starting the site? I know that it had something to do with a project for Professor X's class.

My original motivation for starting this site was to have an efficient way to keep in touch with my friends, while studying abroad. I was going to post my experiences in a blog, so that my buddies could keep up with me in Iran, while learning stuff about the country as well. My blog then evolved into a multi-functioning site (with a slightly different aim) when Professor X heard the original idea, and encouraged me to pursue it for the final project. He found "Inside Iran" to be more interesting than my alternative concept, "IR Forum"—an academic discussion board for USC international relations students and teachers; I still think it was an awesome idea.

I won't lie to you. It took me all of 15 minutes to compile this.... I was just being lazy, before, and consumed with study.

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