Iran

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

I would rate the best topics of conversation, starting with the most appropriate, as follows: hometown, work, and family.

It would be best to avoid asking questions about political and religious opinions or beliefs. Stay away from inquiring about peoples’ professional and political pasts. The general rule of thumb is that the person with whom you are speaking should not feel intimidated by your questions. He/she will want to be assured of your discretion and comprehension.

Discussions of religion and politics may offend people because they affect private life and personal interests. Also avoid asking questions about peoples’ private lives (spouses, etc.). Iranians are very hesitant to share information about their private lives—even with friends. There is an old proverb that states that you should hide your money, your company, and your opinions. This is an extreme way of seeing things, but there is some truth to it.

When first meeting someone, it is best to be serious. It takes time and reassurance to gain someone’s trust. The rationalization of people’s behaviour is different from that in the West.

Canadian Perspective:

Iranians are friendly, curious people. Most business meetings begin with tea and fruit or sweets and a period of small talk. Iranians typically begin a conversation with a question regarding your health and family, they will then proceed to other issues of general interest such as your work, impressions of their country and recent travels. This is the standard formula regardless of whether you are meeting someone for the first time, you are speaking with a good friend, you are on the telephone or whether you have just spoken a short time before. This courtesy should be reciprocated or you might be considered rude or abrupt. Personal contacts and good relations are the basis of any successful business venture in Iran so it is important to establish a good rapport from the beginning and not to leap to the business agenda too quickly.

Iranians are proud of their history and culture and appreciate any positive comments regarding these subjects if genuinely offered.

Until you know an Iranian well, you should not raise the subjects of religion and politics. It has been my experience, however, that Iranians are more forthcoming regarding these subjects with foreigners than with other Iranians. Many Iranians were disenchanted with the Shah and wished to have a change of government but many did not expect to have a fundamentalist, Islamic regime take its place. Many members of the business elite have been educated abroad and are accustomed to a more liberal lifestyle that includes many of the freedoms that have been greatly restricted or forbidden in the Islamic Republic. Religion and politics being so closely linked in the establishment of law, government policies and business, it is not prudent for Iranians to publicly question or criticize the current ruling elite.

There are many people with negative feelings regarding Islam, much of it due to the imposition and politicization of Islam since the revolution in 1979. Although established in Iran for centuries, the Muslims are seen by some as those who tried to destroy Persian culture, language and the Zoroastrian faith. Despite the fact that more than 1,500 years have passed since the arrival of Islam and in spite of the Islamic regime, there is still a strong Zoroastrian influence. For example, the most important Iranian holiday remains Nourouz, (the advent of spring) a pre-Islamic celebration.

Ba’hai Iranians are still persecuted in different ways. There are also differing views regarding the true meaning and correct observation of Islam, which does not always accord with current government practices. All these factors and more make the discussion of religion and politics very controversial.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

This depends on the person’s personality and gender.

Between men (or between women), a good distance is about a meter; between a man and a woman, the appropriate distance is about three meters. (This is only a guideline; the context determines the distance.) It is best to keep some distance when you first meet someone, to show that you are listening and respect the other person’s feelings. In any case, it is suggested that you appear to be serious, but do not overly dramatic—your tone of voice should not be too harsh or soft. It is important to avoid being too direct or imposing your way of expressing yourself, although not to the point of appearing too docile. Basically, the rule of thumb is to be respectful.

Canadian Perspective:

An Iranian’s personal space is generally closer than that of a Canadian. Men are openly affectionate with each other often holding hands in public and frequently greeting each other with a hug and two or three kisses to the cheeks. Women are also very affectionate with each other in public. The rules become less obvious regarding men and women. I have made the mistake of offering my hand to a man in public and having him pointedly ignore it. At other times I have simply bowed and have had a man approach me to give me a kiss in greeting. The best rule of thumb for a woman would be to simply bow toward a man and let him take it from there. The Iranian men have a very gracious gesture of placing their right hand on their heart and bowing to someone in greeting, if they are meeting them for the first time. Among women whom I did not know, I usually shook hands. However, even if a meeting began somewhat formally, it would often end with a warm embrace.

There are public and private rules and it would be safest to be more formal and careful touching someone in public until you know the person well. The Canadian thumbs up gesture is considered rude and one would never point a finger at someone in a conversation.

I did not find Iranians to be particularly direct in their communications. They often make their point through an allegory, a poem or a Persian saying. They will spend hours in discussion on general issues before getting to the point of a meeting. One has to be very patient and very persistent to survive in the Iranian world.

In my experience, Iranians are master negotiators and always approach a deal as though they are operating from a position of strength, even if they have more to lose. They are very proud, very polite and difficult to scrutinize. They appreciate strength and intelligence in their opponents and like a challenge.

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

Expressing respect is very important. Affection or anger should not be expressed in a vulgar manner or using language with pejorative or sexual connotations. In order not to risk offending someone when first meeting, it is perhaps best to not to use flowery language; instead, use short and concise sentences. Avoid seeming sophisticated.

Canadian Perspective:

I have occasionally observed men yelling at each other and visibly angry in public. However, given the daily stresses of traffic, pollution, economic difficulties and social restrictions, Iranians are actually quite controlled in their behaviour. Public displays of affection are generally limited to hand-holding and greetings among married couples, parents and their children, and young men or women with their own sex. It is not acceptable for unmarried men and women to congregate or to publicly demonstrate affection for each other.

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

It is best to dress neither overly formally nor casually. It is preferable to call people Mr. or Mrs. followed by their last names.

Punctuality is very important, but do not be adamant about it. Be ready to accept some delays. You will not gain respect by being forceful or having an authoritarian attitude. Rather, respect is linked to personal or professional charisma or to having good contacts.

Canadian Perspective:

Men are quite formally dressed in the business environment wearing a suit or a jacket and dress pants. A tie is seen as a symbol of Western imperialism and is strictly avoided by government employees and those wishing to show support for the Islamic regime. Ties are worn, however, by some Iranian men who are either Western-educated or wish to protest the dictates of the Islamic government. Business attire for foreigners is generally a suit and tie unless one is doing fieldwork.

Men wishing to show their Islamic support often sport a full beard or at minimum a day’s growth. This can give them a scruffy appearance but in fact Iranians are very conscious of personal hygiene.

The Islamic dress code requires that all women cover their hair and wear at minimum a "manteau" which is a long rain coat. Female government employees usually wear a dark blue or black close-fitting scarf that completely covers their hair and a long black coat, covered in turn by the hejab (a black veil which extends from head to toe). Western women usually wear a headscarf in a conservative colour/pattern and a thin raincoat (best bought in the country where they are designed to be very lightweight, not to fend off the rain). Iran, however, is changing with respect to the dress code for women. By the time we left the country in the summer of 2001, many young women were pushing the limits wearing thigh-length coats and pants and scarves, which did not completely cover their hair. In private offices, depending on the attitude of the owners/managers, women are sometimes more relaxed in their dress but would generally keep on their headscarves. Western embassies are the exception to this rule where women are generally permitted to wear Western dress. In many private homes, men and women would dress as in Europe or North America.

Iranians tend to be formal in addressing business contacts; they usually refer to someone as Mr./Mrs. until they are well acquainted. Iranians who work in positions of service like drivers and domestic help often strike a balance by referring to someone as Mr. John or Mrs. Jane - it is a formal address but demonstrating greater affection.

In the business environment, Iranians will generally be prompt for meetings; however, they will frequently change appointments. If you attempt to confirm appointments months or weeks in advance, you may be frequently disappointed at the last minute, therefore, you should always have a contingency plan or allow for a fair bit of flexibility in your programming.

You must allow more time for meetings in Iran than in Canada. A meeting that might last for one hour in Canada may continue for an additional half an hour or more due to the Iranian hospitality and the less direct approach to discussing business.

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

The most important qualities are leadership, experience, and education. If the manager is not from the region this may pose certain additional challenges to the integration of a new boss, but respect and understanding can help smooth out relations. Above all, avoid coming across as a newcomer with little experience or maturity, as this will damage your reputation. Still, it is important to still be yourself; otherwise you may negatively affect your workplace relations. It will be hard to build a solid reputation with older colleagues if they think you are too young.

Canadian Perspective:

Education ranks highly among desirable attributes, experience and leadership are also well regarded. Openness to new ideas is not necessarily a requirement.

Iranians are very diplomatic and inscrutable. I have found that even among people I consider friends, I am never absolutely sure how I am regarded. They are unfailingly polite, particularly to foreigners. They are not openly confrontational in a working relationship but if they are not happy with what they have been asked to do, they will often ignore their instructions, or carry them out very slowly, as a form of passive resistance rather than open defiance.

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

Decision-making is done in a hierarchical manner by directors who keep in mind the ideas and interests of others in the workplace. You can always consult with your immediate supervisor. In other words, you can, at any time, question, criticize or refuse something all the while showing respect and goodwill to assure partners your intentions are well meaning.

Canadian Perspective:

Management is very much top down and individual initiative is not always welcome. People are very reluctant to stick out their necks, therefore, they will continue to do things the way they have always been done in order to avoid mistakes or criticism. These are generalizations, however, and one now finds companies that are more current in their management practices.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:

Gender: This is a complicated subject as it is usually men who are directors. Social norms or rules dictate relations between the sexes. As you can understand, this is a very sensitive area which is closely watched and rather critical. Barriers between the two genders are well marked and obvious. This does not mean in any way that women are humiliated, scorned, or forbidden to have a significant place in public life. It is more that they are respected and controlled in the sense that most occupations and social opportunities are open to them without there being a liberalizing of relations between men and women.

I will not go into details about cultural differences in this document; however, it is important to note that the question of gender equality is approached differently in Iran. Naturally the context is different from that of the West, but this difference should not mislead one into making generalizations or using stereotypes. Iranian society is not all homogenous, and attitudes and values vary depending on social class, level of education, and family background.

Religion: For the most part, Iranians are officially Shi’ite Muslims, but they not necessarily all devout. This means that being a Shi’ite Muslim must absolutely not be associated with fanaticism, Islamic politics, or orthodox doctrine and practices.

Class: There is a large gap between the rich and the poor and the most prestigious positions in society are associated with level of education and money. The prime examples would be the medical and engineering professions.

Ethnicity: This is not a factor that prevents people from working together. There are a number of jokes about Iranian Turks (Azaris), for example.

Gender and religion are factors that may affect the workplace environment. This is true in the sense that traditions are a factor and it is important for foreigners to take into account cultural sensitivities and show an open mind instead of imposing their normative choices.

Canadian Perspective:

Gender: Women are entering into all walks of life including law, politics, medicine, engineering and business. During our time in Iran, the number of females entering university exceeded that of males for the first time in Iranian history. Iran, however, is ruled by Sharia law (Islamic law) and this is still discriminatory, in Western eyes, regarding women. Men are responsible by law for the financial support of the family, women for the domestic duties. The freedom of a woman to receive an education, to work, to marry, to bear children or not, to divorce and to conduct her life is still largely dependent on the attitude of her closest male relative or her husband.

In times of economic difficulty men will receive the jobs available over women, even if the women are more qualified. This means that women still do not have the same opportunities for management as men. Women do not have access to the full range of jobs. Salaries are lower for women than for men. For example, female university professors receive less than their male counterparts in terms of allowances and bonuses/privileges given that they are assumed to be supported by their husbands. Women have difficulty receiving credits and loans through official channels. Money for business ventures is often raised within the extended family and women have more difficulty obtaining such resources than men. Fathers often continue to give priority to their sons for higher education.

On the plus side women are entering the universities in record-breaking numbers, they are working, they are launching their own businesses and they are gaining access to more fields of employment.

Religion: Islam is the dominant religion in Iran. Islamic law rules. Some other religions are tolerated, for example, there are a few Armenian Christian churches in Tehran and some synagogues. There are some Iranians who continue to adhere to the ancient Zoroastrian faith. However, the Ba’hai, whose leader was considered to have come after the Prophet Mohamed, are not tolerated. Non-Muslims must be very discrete in the practice of their faith and they must publicly obey the Islamic law, which rules the country. Religion plays a role in the hiring of staff within government-run operations. Some private sector employers would also be quite careful about the religious faith of their employees. There might be some discrimination regarding salaries and privileges related to religion.

Class: Iranians are very class conscious. The social structure is based on what family and/or tribe one belongs to, how far back one can trace his/her lineage, wealth and education. It is very difficult to move beyond one’s family status. This is starting to change, however, as there is a larger middle-class whose children are being educated.

Canadians may have difficulty determining the proper relationship with domestic servants, drivers and personnel in offices and private homes. Iranians of many classes have servants for everything from making tea, cooking and cleaning to driving. In some cases they retain domestic servants within their families for life treating them as family but with a difference.

Ethnicity: Only about 50% of Iranians are of Persian origin; the other 50% are Kurds, Armenians, Turkomans, Arabs and nomadic groups such as the Bahktiar and Baluchi tribes. Persians are proud of their history and see themselves as superior to many other ethnic groups. They are clear in distinguishing themselves from the Arabs and are offended if people do not make this distinction. Iranians are ambivalent about Westerners. They recognize their technological superiority but with respect to their culture (only hundreds rather than thousands of years old) and their social structure (lacking in family values and disrespectful of the elderly) they are considered inferior. This means they have little tolerance for Western arrogance.

Iranians put great store in a family’s origins. However, one’s qualifications and competence can overcome many gender, class and ethnic barriers.

Iranians have the equivalent of Canadian Newfie jokes based on region and ethnicity.

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

To gain trust and respect, it is very important to establish personal relations. Inviting others out to eat or to your home may help establish a closer relationship and may be a good way to ease into business. When doing this, remember to the principle of taking the middle road to avoid being either too distant or too familiar. Either extreme can raise suspicions.

Canadian Perspective:

Good personal relationships are absolutely essential if you wish to succeed in Iran. Trust must be established before someone will feel comfortable working with you. Trust is established through honesty in your business dealings, sensitivity, hospitality and a genuine interest and concern for the Iranian people, their perspectives and problems.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

To establish a sense of control based on respect, trust, and mutual understanding, it is important to use material, economic and symbolic privileges (such as respect and courtesy). In this case, avoid any obvious injustices. Privileges should be given out based on accepted norms without provoking any confrontation or suspicion between colleagues. In other words, the workplace in Iran is not at all neutral, strict or rigid. Financial or symbolic gestures may act as catalysts to help administration run smoothly. Privileges should be given in a relatively decent, discreet, and modest way. The culture is more introverted than extroverted.

Canadian Perspective:

Colleagues and employees frequently hope for special privileges or treatment given a personal relationship or friendship. This can be very difficulty for Canadians to cope with. I have been approached for special assistance with hiring of family members, immigration favours, intervention regarding Canadian private schools and access to Canadian events and alcohol to name a few.

In Iran, personal contacts and money go a long way toward easing the problems of life. I would say that there is no blanket answer as to whether special privileges should be granted. Every Canadian has to weigh the circumstances and judge whether there is some assistance that can be provided that does not compromise his/her position or moral code.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

I encourage you to speak to him/her respectfully and discreetly in private. You may ask colleagues for criticisms and proposals by ensuring them that their opinions will not compromise their privileges, trust or mutual respect.

Canadian Perspective:

I generally worked in the non-governmental organization (NGO) environment where one has to be more careful regarding staff and volunteers, the hierarchy is not always as clear as in the business environment. My experience has been that Iranians do not often confront someone directly. You tend to hear about a problem "through the grapevine" or well after the fact. This makes it a challenge to confront someone as he/she can claim that the problem is merely hearsay. You can only try to be open and honest in approaching someone and resolving a problem. Also, try not to embarrass someone publicly as their status in society or in the workplace is very important.

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Good working conditions, money, fear of failure, and a respectful environment are the main motivational factors. You must convince colleagues of the benefit of the endeavour. Once they are convinced that they will be paid for their work, they will put their heart and soul into it. They should not feel excluded, isolated or exploited.

Canadian Perspective:

Money is a key motivator for Iranians. Iran is expensive and salaries are low by Canadian standards. Often two or three people must work in a single family in order to pay the rent and living expenses. Iranians are very conscious of money, the cost and value of an item.

Status, personal recognition and access are also important factors in motivating people. Job satisfaction, loyalty, good working conditions are less of a priority. Having said this, however, I must clarify that in the NGO environment personal commitment to a cause is what drives many people, particularly women, to work or volunteer.

The Iranian work ethic is different to that of many Canadians. Iranians work hard but they also leave room for family and pleasure in their lives. You frequently encounter businessmen taking extended lunch hours or quitting work early to play tennis or fulfill a family obligation.

Iranians are very entrepreneurial. They have had to find ways of coping during the years of isolation from the West, both US and self-imposed, regarding the importation of certain goods and services.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

Read: Poetry collections of the major internationally known poets such as Hafez, Khayyâm, Rûmi, etc.

There are a number of Internet sites that may provide you with an introduction to Persian history, culture, and art. The site www.payvand.com, for example, provides interesting information on the depth and richness of Persian civilization. Being prejudiced and buying into superficial generalizations will not help you understand the Persian culture as it is without a doubt very complex. What you see may only be the tip of the iceberg. Diversity, variety, the depth of history, and the interaction between the private-public are only a few pieces of the Iranian puzzle.

Canadian Perspective:

There is a British book, which I found very useful. It was written by a former diplomat, not to be an academic tome but to provide insight to people travelling to Iran and living in the country for a short time. It was written in the 50s or 60s but many observations are still relevant today, particularly given how much the Iranian character is formed by the events of history. There is a book called, Blood and Oil, written by an elder son of the Farmanfarmian family and also one written by his step-sister Sattareh, entitled, Daughter of Persia. Both provide interesting social commentaries and personal accounts of developments in Iran’s recent history. Nine Parts of Desire provides insight into the Middle Eastern attitudes towards women. The film, Divorce Iranian Style, shows both the strength and determination of Iranian women, as well as their helplessness in the face of Sharia law. Khandahar and Return to Khandahar, although focused on Afghanistan rather than Iran, are interesting to watch vis-à-vis women’s positions in a fundamentalist Muslim society (although even the Iranians find the Taliban extreme).

Local Iranian television is in Farsi and heavily censored, therefore, difficult for foreigners to understand. There is an Iranian station in Los Angeles, which broadcasts by satellite in Iran in English and Farsi. This reflects the Iranian culture albeit in a Westernized version.

Iran has produced some world-class filmmakers such as Makamlbas who produced "A Taste of Cherry" and internationally acclaimed films, however, they are often inaccessible in Iran itself.

Iranian cuisine does not enjoy the widespread popularity of, for example, Lebanese or Greek food. There are some restaurants in Vancouver and in Toronto but these are best discovered by talking to local Iranian-Canadians.

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

You may require an interpreter to help you manage and understand what’s going on. It is not easy to get by in English as Persian is the only language used. There are many activities to choose from: classical or folklore music concerts, art and photography shows, theatre, cinema, religious sites, historical sites, traditional sports centres, important football games, Sufism centres, fascinating scenery in all corners of the country, winter skiing north of Teheran, mounting hiking, beaches in the north of Iran, fishing, etc. There are enough things to do and see to give you a change of scenery and keep you entertained and fit. You should also visit the Caspian Sea area and major historical and cultural cities such as Isfahan, Chiraz, Kerman, etc.

Canadian Perspective:

To learn about the culture and people of Iran the best thing to do is to meet the people. Pursue an interest whether in art, carpets, antiques, sports and you will encounter individuals who will provide many insights. As a woman, I found a good source was the Canadian Women’s Club, which is composed of both Canadian and Iranian-Canadian women. These women have an understanding of and a sensitivity to the West, while at the same time they have chosen to spend a good part of each year in Iran for reasons of business, family, culture and/or lifestyle. They were excellent guides.

There are some very interesting museums in Tehran and smaller ones outside of the capital. Among them are the National Museum, which has wonderful artefacts including some from Persepolis; the carpet museum; Sadabad Palace, which contains six or seven museums on the same site; and a small privately-run museum with a cross-section of artefacts including an excellent collection of miniatures, pottery and calligraphy. The bazaars of Iran and the mosques are also important windows on Iranian culture.

When we arrived in Iran in 1997, there was only one concert, which I was aware of and attended featuring an all-male musical group playing traditional Iranian instruments and classical Persian music. By the final year of our posting, four years later, there were several theatre productions, featuring both men and women based on traditional Persian epics. There were also more musical concerts, in some cases featuring female musicians. Unless one speaks Farsi or has a good interpreter, it is difficult to follow the theatre but it is still worth experiencing for the colour, props and overall presentation. There is also a restaurant in the south of Tehran near the railway station, which provides traditional fare and music with Persian instruments. It is worth discovering and has a more indigenous feeling than many restaurants in the north of the city.

The artistic community is very lively, prolific and worth tapping into. There is a high-quality publication entitled, Art and Architecture, which is produced in English and Farsi and provides information on the arts, as well as interviews with artists and important cultural figures.

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

In Sports: Takhti (a wrestling champion who symbolizes physical and mental strength) and Ali Daei (the soccer player). Another important category of hero includes scientists, philosophers, and poets, all of which Iranians are proud. Some examples include Ferdowsi (represents the face of the Persian identity standing strong against cultural and military invasions), Avicenne, Kharazmi, Hafez, Molana (Rùmi), etc.

Canadian Perspective:

Iranians have a love of language, poetry, culture and history. Poets are their heroes including, among others, Ferdowsi, Rumi, Sadi and Hafez. Political figures who have fought to preserve the Iranian language, culture and pride are honoured. Cyrus the Great who ruled over 2,000 years ago is a national hero because he exhibited the best in Persian culture, conquering much of the known world and demonstrating strength, tolerance and support for the arts. Prime Minister Mossadeq is a hero to many Iranians. Khomeni is a figure larger than life, respected by most, a hero to many, but not necessarily universally loved.

A modern-day hero is Ghooghoosh, an Iranian female performer. She is beloved for her music and for her loyalty to her country. After the Islamic revolution she could no longer perform in public, but despite her potential for stardom elsewhere in the world, she chose to remain silent in Iran. She has acquired a cult status among young people in Iran. She recently came out of "retirement" with a North American tour where she was greeted by adoring fans everywhere.

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

None. Nothing.

Canadian Perspective:

The only historical event which comes to mind regarding Iranian-Canadian relations is the assistance the Canadian Embassy gave to the American Embassy hostages taken by Iran in 1979/80. This incident, however, was never raised in my presence.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

Iranians are generally very hospitable. They are receptive and welcoming toward Canadians. There are no Canadian stereotypes although there are perhaps some Iranians who may recall the Montreal Olympic Games at which Iranian athletes had a strong presence.

Canadian Perspective:

Many Canadians believe that all Iranian women are repressed. The situation is not so simple. Iranian women are strong, talented, dynamic individuals working hard in their respective fields to move the country forward. Many are well-educated and they have the key responsibility for family relations, which in the Iranian context is very important. The power relations in families are also beginning to shift as more women are working and making a financial contribution to the family. Westerners tend to focus on women wearing the hejab, but it does not prevent them from pursuing their interests. The reality is that despite the appearance of greater repression through the symbol of the hejab, Iranian women are far ahead of many of their counterparts in the Gulf states and the Middle East in general, for example, they are educated, can work, drive, hold political office and vote.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter, the youngest in his family, was born in Tehran and studied cultural management at the Allameh Tabatabaei University. His studies first took him abroad to Montreal. His professional and academic interests include the French language, translation, and cultural relations. He currently lives in Montreal, where he will begin graduate studies in September 2003.

Canadian Interpreter:

Your cultural interpreter was born in Oliver, B.C., the second of four children. She was raised in this town until the age of sixteen when she attended Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific. She studied in Ottawa at the University of Ottawa completing an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences. She then became a Parliamentary Intern, which involved a year's apprenticeship in the House of Commons and a month of travel in several European countries, as well as Israel, learning about their respective political systems. She later studied at Waikato University in New Zealand, where she completed a Master of Philosophy. She worked for several years in both the NGO and government sectors in Ottawa focusing on international and women's issues. She has spent nine of the last next thirteen years living, travelling and working abroad in Saudi Arabia, France and Iran. She has been living in Canada in North Vancouver for the past year and a half.

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.