Working in Iran

Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran and formerly known internationally as Persia until 1935, is a country in Central Eurasia, located on the northeastern shore of the Persian Gulf and the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Both the names “Persia” and “Iran” are used interchangeably in cultural context, however Iran is the name used officially in political context. The name Iran is a cognate of Aryan, and means “Land of the Aryans.”

The only official language spoken in Iran is Farsi or Persian. Some, but not many, Iranians are able to understand English although this may be limited to a few words or phrases.

Iranian food

The Iranian food is probably the best in the world. Its combination of fresh produce, both meat and vegetables, cooked in a loving manner result in some incredible food. Main courses are in the forms of Rice Plates such as Adass Polo (Lentil Rice), Baghali Polo (Lima Bean Rice), Chelo Sefeed (White Rice), Haveeg Polo (Carrot Rice), Sabzi Polo (Vegetable Rice), Tah-Cheen (Pot-Bottom Crust with Chicken, and in the form of stew such as Khoresht Fesenjan, Khoresht Bamieh (Okra Stew), Khoresht Ghormeh_Sabzi (Green Vegetable Stew), Abgousht (Beef Stew), and also in the forms of Souffle, Sea Food (Vegetable-White fish), Kebabs (Grilled meat, barbequed meat etc.) and some special desserts in Iran are Halva and Ranginak, etc.

Meetings and Greetings

When meeting someone in an official or business context you should always shake hands. If you are a male or female you should wait to see if the people extend their hands or not, if they do not, then you can simply nod your head and smile. Men can also place their hands on the heart and bow to greet a female.

The most common greeting in Iran is ‘Salaam’ which means “peace”. One would also reply with ‘Salaam’. Good-bye is ‘khoda-hafez’ which literally means “remember God”.

Introductions are usually restricted to members of the same sex since generally women and men socialize separately and men kiss other men and women kiss other women at the social events. But if they meet on the street, a handshake is a more common greeting than any other type of greetings.

Stick to formal titles until your counterpart starts to call you by your first name. Men are referred to with the prefix “Agha”, women “Khanoom”. So Mr John Smith would be “Agha-yeh-Smith”, while Ms Sally Brown would be “Khanoom-eh-Brown”.

Business Meetings

Business hours are Saturday to Thursday 8.30a.m. To 4 p.m. Lunch is usually at around 12.30 p.m. Friday is a holiday. Use it for sightseeing. The period to avoid going to Iran for business is 21st March or there about, as it is the Iranian New year. All offices, businesses, most shops, will close for 2-3 weeks. Other times to avoid are the month of fasting (Ramadan) this year will be around 25th September, and Muharram, at around middle to the end of January. Check the Iranian Calendar for the holidays. As all these days are calculated upon lunar movement so will differ in time each year.

Punctuality in Iran is rare. Having said that, if you are punctual, it is appreciated. Private organizations seem to be more organized and able to keep appointments, responsibilities of government bodies mean an important issue needs to be addressed first before seeing you. Be patient. Appointments should be made in advance in writing. Prior to arriving in Iran, telephone again just to confirm time and place.

Business Negotiating

Before doing business in Iran appreciate this: Your success is defined by your aptitude to build effective personal relationships combined with a clearly outlined and well presented proposal.

Business is personal in Iran. Many businesses are family owned and run. Even within government, officials usually work within networks of friends and associates. If you have influential friends in Iran, do not be afraid to call in favors. Just be prepared to re-pay them in the future. This is all part of doing business in Iran.

Building a relationship with your Iranian counterpart(s) is critical. The first meeting should be solely focused on getting to know each other. Once a relationship has been established you can safely move on to business matters.

Iranians are astute business people. They enjoy haggling and getting concessions so be prepared for long negotiations.

Decision making can be slow. It is most likely that you will meet and negotiate with less senior members of a family or state department first. Once you are seen as trustworthy you will then move on to meet more senior members.

Implementing decisions are just as slow. Iran’s red tape and layered bureaucracy means a lot of waiting. Applying pressure in a non-confrontational way can help speed matters up although the most effective way to do so is to use people of influence to help you.

Dress code

When doing business in Iran you will notice that most Iranian officials and business people wear clothing comprising of trousers, shirt and jacket. Many officials will be seen with collarless shirts. Ties are very uncommon.

As a male you would be expected to be smart and conservative. A suit is standard although wearing a tie is not necessary.

Whether doing business in Iran or visiting, women should wear very conservative clothing that covers arms, legs and hair. When in public women must cover their hair with a scarf. However, the last decade has seen incredible changes in what the authorities are willing to tolerate. Women can now be seen wearing make-up, jeans and scarves that barely cover the hair. However, as a foreigner it is best to err on the side of caution.


Taarof is the display of extreme politeness that is routine in everyday dealings with others in Iran. If your counterpart insists that you walk first through a door, he is displaying Taarof. Be careful not to take this surface show too literally. If offered more tea, more to eat or perhaps an invitation back to a person’s home, always refuse initially. Only when the invitation is repeated at least twice should you take it seriously.

Source by Neil Payne

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