Iranian Hospitality Culture – Book Sample from ‘Forever Off Track’

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The upcoming book Forever Off Track chronicles Karin-Marijke and Coen’s remarkable 3.5-year overland journey from Europe to Southeast Asia in a rugged Land Cruiser. Join them as they step out of their comfort zones, deal with fears, explore the beauty of the world, and embrace a life of full-time nomadism.

This story is a sample of their journey through Iran.

Background Information

The initial weeks in this country proved challenging, with both of us battling illness and me grappling with a culture shock. Until, one day, the sun finally pierced through the clouds and revitalized our journey in every possible way…

To Khorram Abad

As we journeyed south, the bad weather cleared, which immediately improved our mood. Over the following days, the medicines were kicking in and driving was no longer constantly interrupted by the need to dash behind the bushes along the roadside.

The day we entered the town of Khorram Abad, the sun bathed us in its warming rays from a blissfully brilliant sky. Birds warbled from yellow-leaved trees, and the sparkling stream that traversed the city murmured whispers of welcome. 

In our quest for a car repair shop we asked for directions and met Reza. After a friendly chat he offered to help us. He hopped into the Land Cruiser, gave instructions where to go and inquired about the wiper part – in vain; there were none to be found. When we reached another workshop around noon, the owner promised he’d ask around and instructed us to return at three.

“Please, come to my house for lunch. I want you to meet my family,” Reza offered. “I have already called my mother. She’s preparing a meal for you.”

We went through the ta’arof ritual (the Iranian cultural ritual of polite insistence, where individuals offer or refuse something multiple times to display courtesy and humility), and then drove to his house. On the rooftop terrace we met his mother and two younger sisters, who were grilling chicken on the barbecue.

The single piece of furniture in the living room was a cabinet with a television. Proud of owning a Western product, or a locally made copy with an international brand name on it, Iranians often left stickers such as Samsung or Panasonic on their electronic devices. Here it was no different.

Reza’s sister put a tablecloth on the floor and served a meal for two. No one joined us. I searched the house and found our hosts in the kitchen, eating their meal while seated on the floor. I gasped and insisted they join us.

“No, we won’t. You are our guests,” Reza said. “We’ll stay here.”

I returned to the living room and picked at my food. This was awkward.

“Stop it,” Coen said. “Let’s show our respect by finishing our plates. If this is the way they treat guests we should accept it with a smile.”

Coen was more adept at being on the receiving end than I was, and he was right. I set aside my feelings of discomfort and dug in with relish.

Back at the car repair shop, the mechanic apologized for not having the part. Now what? Options were running low. Across the road a man parked his car, a Toyota similar to ours. 

“Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a minute,” Reza instructed, and ran across the street.

“Look!”

I followed Coen’s stare.

“The owner of that Toyota is taking his wiper apart. What the heck is he doing?”

Within minutes Reza was back.

“Here you are. The Toyota owner gives you his wiper part. He says he’ll find another one.”

We stared at Reza dumbfounded, speechless at this extraordinary gesture.

“He can’t do that. He’ll need it himself. You’ve seen how difficult it is to get one,” Coen sputtered when he got his voice back.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s a gift. I have already asked the mechanic to install it for you.”

“Then at least let me pay for it,” Coen insisted.

It was no use arguing. Even the mechanic didn’t accept money for his work, and another ta’arof session followed. We lost, at least that was how it felt – we were not allowed to pay for anything at all.

After expressing our thanks to the kind men, we drove to Reza’s home to drop him off. In front of his house we thanked him profusely and said goodbye.

“What do you mean, goodbye? You can’t leave. You have to come inside. It is dinnertime. You have to stay and meet my relatives. We have a bed for you. You have to spend the night!”

It wasn’t a question. His gesture was warm and sounded sincere enough, but the idea of eating another meal in the living room while the family sat in the kitchen wasn’t too enticing.

“We shouldn’t, Reza. You’ve done so much for us already,” I argued.

It was like talking to a brick wall, albeit a smiling one.

“Stop the ta’arof, and please come inside.”

What do you think, did we accept Reza’s invitation, or didn’t we?

Find out in our upcoming book, Forever Off Track.

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