“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.
This week’s post is written by Ida C., a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and grew up in Huntington Beach, California. Her dreams include opening her own language school, marrying George Clooney, and working for Rick Steves.
Iran is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world. I went to a lecture recently, and an Iranian author put it perfectly (I paraphrase): “Americans know two Irans: the Persian Empire or nuclear Iran and nothing in between.” But there is so much more to know! As an Iranian American, I feel that I am constantly defending my birth nation. While I can get defensive, who wouldn’t after seeing and hearing negative images and opinions about your country on a daily basis?
1. Iran is not an Arab nation, and we do not speak Arabic. Iran is surrounded partially by Arab nations and has friendly relations with Arab nations, but Iranians are not Arabs. Like Spain, Iran was conquered at one point by Arabs, meaning that many aspects of its culture reflect Arabian culture. For example, Farsi (or Persian) has Arabic vocabulary and uses Arabic script, but it is an Indo-European language very similar to Urdu.
2. Iran women have a lot of freedom. As Iran is under Islamic rule, there are many restrictions on what women can do and wear, but not to the extreme that most people believe. Women can work, study, drive, go out alone in public, and hold government positions.
3. Iran is a modern nation. We have cars; we don’t ride camels. We have an expansive highway, metro and bus system. We have modern homes with modern furniture. We have Nike, Puma, Apple and Samsung stores. But sadly, our technology has limits. ETA of magic carpets is…well…never.
4. “Iranians do not like Americans.” I can’t even begin to explain how wrong this statement is. What Americans see about Iran in the media does not even represent 1% of what the country and its people are about. In reality, over 1 million Iranians live, work, and study in the U.S.
5. “Persians” and “Iranians” are the same. When describing Iran’s inhabitants, some people say Persian, some say Iranian, and some say both. For many Americans, the word “Persian” conjures up images of cats or rugs, but for those who call themselves Persians, it’s a way of separating themselves from Iran’s negative image in U.S. media.
I do not pretend to be an expert on Iran or its people. This is just my opinion. However, what bothers me is people making judgements about a country that they know nothing about. Iran has a beautiful history and culture ready to be discovered with eager Iranians who are willing to guide interested discoverers on their journey.