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.
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.