Signboards in Iran – Religious & Western Influences


  • Road signs, billboards, indecipherable or translated texts all contribute to an image you form of a country when traversing it. Especially Coen, as a graphic designer, tends to study all kinds of marketing.

And so I decided to start a series on this, beginning with Iran. The signs and texts we encountered were interesting for a number of reasons.

  • During our journey in 2003, Khomeini was still looking down on life from high walls in such a way that we felt he was still ruling the country, even from his grave.
  • Iran solved the international boycott by making its own products, using European brands with a twitch.
  • We were in Bam a couple of weeks after the devastating earthquake of Dec 26, 2003. The international aid organizations made sure their names were well visible.
  • And, do they really have a McDonald’s in Iran?

The Iranian Alphabet

Iranians speak Farsi, which has an alphabet that is indecipherable to us. Reading (road) signs and menus often help to pick up words in a new language but, obviously, this doesn’t work when you can’t read the words.

We traveled in Iran for almost three months. We did manage to learn to count, read the numbers, and say some basic phrases in Farsi but we never got to understand what was written on walls such as these. However, the script is so elegant that we enjoyed studying these texts nonetheless.

Read More:  Signboards in China; the Funniest Translations

Murals & Paintings

Art takes an important place in Iranian culture. Murals and paintings are just one form of expression. We came across a lot of birds, whether in paintings or in statues. An Iranian told us that it has a meaning, signifying that if you behave like a good Muslim, you will be free as a bird.

The Earthquake in Bam

We were in Bam a couple of weeks after the devastating earthquake of Dec 26, 2003. At the time Akbar Guesthouse was famous among travelers, and maybe still is. His guesthouse was destroyed en Mr. Akbar and his family were living in a tent, just like thousands of others.

There were more than enough reasons to shed a tear; sometimes a sign was enough.

Mr. Akbar wanted to set up a tent and restart business right away. To make sure everybody could find him, Coen made a sign for him.

The international aid organizations made sure their names were well visible, and this was just a handful of them. The sheer number was mind-boggling.

Do you see they are remarkable similar colored logos, by the way? Apparently they ‘need’ to be in blue or red – what would be the psychology behind that?

Signboards in Iran Betraying Western Influences

So they can’t have McDonald’s or Coca Cola, and you can argue whether they are really missing anything (although not having the choice obviously isn’t a good thing). But leave it to the Iranians to find their own ways and improvise.

And other western foods were penetrating the Iranian market as well.

Read More: Signboards in Pakistan

Since Iran can’t import goods, it simply makes its own. The people who do own a western product, keep the stickers prominently on the apparatus – I guess it gives them status. Others may be thinking they are buying Philips, Panasonic or Bosch, but they are not.

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4 thoughts on “Signboards in Iran – Religious & Western Influences”

  1. Hi to both !
    We can say that we have an extensive experience about Iran , excepting for farsi….; we were there several times and each time for about 5-6 weeks , driving all over , really all over the country ; as you may know , GPS is not allowed in the country and also there isn’t any available gps cartography to be used in the devices ; despite such fact , we drove several thousand kms within the country and very seldom we had to ask for directions cause the main signs were posted both in farsi and english , and that helped a lot !
    Last time we were there we also visited BAM on our way to Pakistan, which we crossed entirely.
    As to food , no , there is no COCA-COLA,neither Mc’Donalds nor KFC , but they made quite good ….copies !
    We loved the country and very especially the people , maybe the nicest people on this planet !!!!
    stay well and safe

    • Heya David, no I didn’t know a GPS is not allowed in the country. Why would that be? If I look at my Open Street Maps, I find sufficient roads, so that is not a problem. I agree with you about the people. Amazing. Keep up your travels!

      • Hi Coen and David

        I’m really glad to see more and more tourists visit Iran.

        I want to share to very odd aspects of Iran: First Coca-Cola is being represented by representative company. Same goes for Pepsi and their subsidiaries. However at least until 2010 Mc’Donalds and KFC were not available in Iran. But you will get surprised when you find out that a lot of western brands have active direct (or indirect) representatives like actual Philips (not Philibs), Siemens, DHL and TNT (logestic companies!!!), Grundig televisions, Bosch (not Boosch), etc, as well as of Asian brands like Samsung, LG, Sony etc. Interesting part is that you can find notes in Persian on the packaging of these western products that such and such brand is a trademark of such company and also is protected by copyright law, meanwhile Iran does not enforce (at lest did not) copyright law. The big question was and still is that how all these happen after all embargoes and sanction imposed on Iran. To me it doesn’t make sense.

        Regrading GPS, as far as I know is legal in Iran. I’ve used GPS in Iran without any problem. I owned a Garmin 60csx that was widely available in Iran back in 2009 (and newer models are widely available as well) and you can get topographic maps for GPS units, the only downside is (or maybe was) that all those maps are in Persian. Also Google Maps has pretty decent maps for Iran, however navigation is not available.

        Generally in Iran you can get a lot that at first glance they may seem illegal or inaccessible!!!!

        Forgot to mention I’m an Iranian and Left the country at 2010.

  2. Also forgot to say that at aftermaths of Bam’s earthquake despite of all tries by international aid organizations, Iranians didn’t get informed about all efforts done by those international volunteers because of lack of appreciation and publicization in Iranian media.


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