However, unlike many other nations, little is known about Iran in the West. Let’s rectify that. Here are 19 fascinating facts about Iran and Iranians.
19. Iranians marry young (or they can)
Sharia-based Iranian law permits girls as young as 13 to marry, while boys have to be 15 before they can wed. This can be startling to some. As young teens, most of us were probably hanging around malls, shopping and complaining about homework, not planning weddings.
18. Iranians are young
With those under 30 accounting for around 70% of the 80-million-strong population of Iran, the country’s population is among the youngest worldwide. Given their numbers and thus the importance of young people in Iran, in addition to the fact that until about a decade ago, Iranians could vote from the age of 15 (it’s now 18), the country has the most highly politicized young people of the world’s 57 Islamic nations.
17. Iranians aren’t supposed to drink alcohol (but they do)
Officially, there is a ban on alcohol in Iran. Unofficially, there is a huge black market in alcoholic drinks. The smuggling of alcohol is a big business in the country and is worth around US $700 million per year.
16. Iranians eat with their right hand
Share dinner with an Iranian family and you will see a room full of people sitting on the floor on cushions. The dining table is simply not an Iranian custom. Neither are utensils. In Iran, it is common practice to eat with your hands, specifically, your right hand. Also, if you are invited around for a meal in Iran, come hungry and wait to be seated! You’ll be told exactly where to take a seat and you’ll then be expected to try absolutely everything you’re served. This can mean digging into quite a few dishes.
15. Iranians hate their noses
Iran has the dubious honor of being the ‘nose job capital of the world’—yes, that’s right, Iran is the place where nose plastic surgery is the most popular. It seems that Iranians, particularly young women, do not like their noses and instead want what they consider to be a classic Western nose.
14. Iran has high levels of opium use
Opium is very cheap and easily accessible in Iran as it is grown in copious amounts in surrounding countries. Alcohol may be prohibited by Sharia law but opium use is seen by many as a traditional practice and the use of raw opium is so prevalent that the country is among the highest-ranking nations worldwide for opiate addiction.
13. Iran embraces transgender people
Some Iranian customs and laws may appear retrograde to people in the West but the country is a trailblazer when it comes to sex reassignment surgery. Not only is this surgery entirely legal, but it’s also state-funded. Most nations in the world should take Iran as an inspiration when it comes to transgender rights, including the US.
12. Iranians don’t wear ties
In Iran, the tie is viewed as an archetypal symbol of the West so it’s eschewed by Iranians. Before 1979, you may have seen men sporting ties but when the government changed, so did clothing preferences.
11. Iranian marriages aren’t always supposed to last a lifetime
In Iran, the government permits the practice of sigheh, according to which a couple can be married short term. This form of marriage, allowed by Sharia law and generally accepted by Shia Islam, can endure for years or just a few hours and is generally used by men on pilgrimage and far from relatives.
10. Iran is the home of the Persian cat
Persian cats originally came from the mountains of Iran. The Persian cat is among the oldest cat breeds on Earth and is known for its long, silky fur, which enabled the cat to survive the glacial conditions of the Iranian Plateau. The breed first arrived in Europe in the 1600s when Italian traders brought it home with them. Persian cats quickly became a status symbol and a symbol of faraway, exotic lands. These days, the breed’s unique beauty makes it popular across the globe.
9. Tehran suffers from serious air pollution
The Iranian capital of Tehran experiences absolutely horrendous levels of air pollution. The quality of the air is so bad that it is believed to be responsible for 27 deaths every day. If you plan a visit, make sure you have travel insurance, as you might get sick from the poor air quality in the capital. Better safe than sorry!
8. Iran has terrible teens just like anywhere else
Fancy cars, skimpy bikinis, and gaudy bling are not unique to Beverly Hills. The so-called ‘Rich Kids of Tehran’ are stars of Instagram and generate as much mischief as rich kids anywhere. Local laws may be particularly restrictive in Iran but this doesn’t stop these wealthy youngsters from misbehaving. They are known for throwing lavish parties at their parents’ mansions with (illegal) alcohol available in abundance.
7. Iranians are master rug-makers
Rugs have been woven for two and a half millennia in Iran and they are the nation’s second-biggest export (oil is the first). However, don’t expect your gorgeous Iranian rug to be perfect. As Muslim belief dictates that only God is perfect, Iranian rug-weavers will intentionally weave one mistake into each of their creations. So, don’t be too hard on bargaining at the market if you spot a mistake on a rug, it’s traditional!
6. Iran has a private internet network
In 2012, the country’s Chief of Police made the announcement that the search engine Google was being used as a tool to spy on Iran and Iranians. As a result, the Iranian government established its own state-controlled internet, which can be more accurately described as an intra network (an intranet). The government’s fear that social media can facilitate the organization of mass demonstrations means that you can’t access Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms on the Iranian internet network. Locals who want to use these services have to access them with a private VPN. Clearly, the Iranian government wants to exert control over what people can view online but it has stated that its goal in creating its own internet is to provide Iranians with inexpensive, high-quality connectivity. Nice claim.
5. Iranians can marry young, marry short term, AND marry for free
Weddings can cost a great deal and Iran’s economy has been struggling for many years now. This has led to a decline in marriage rates in the country. To encourage more couples to tie the knot, the Iranian government has established a US $720 million annual wedding fund to help people afford a traditional Iranian wedding. However, to obtain a marriage license, all couples must still undergo a 60-minute contraception lecture.
4. Iran is a dry country (and we’re not talking about the ban on alcohol)
It doesn’t rain much in Iran. Annual rainfall in the country is only approximately four inches. Nonetheless, the country does experience four distinct seasons and some areas do see snow.
3. Iran boasts 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites
The Persian Empire was born in Iran and thus the country gave birth to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It is unsurprising then, that Iran is home to an impressive number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Achaemenid Empire’s capital Takht-e-Jamshid, otherwise known as Persepolis.
2. Iran is home to 10% of the world’s oil
The Middle East is rich in oil with a minimum of 60% of all the oil on the planet being located in the Persian Gulf and 10% (250 billion barrels) in Iran alone. The country is the world’s fourth-biggest producer of oil, pumping around 4 million barrels daily. They have energy for years to come, that’s for sure, no matter what is the current political situation.
1. There used to be a Star of David on the roof of Tehran International Airport
Previously depicted using ornamental tiles (which were removed years ago), the Star of David on the top of Tehran Airport’s chief terminal building went unnoticed until its outline was spotted by a Google Earth user. Soon after, Iran’s government had it expunged entirely.