Changing our stereotypes about Iran

Cultural Insights — By on September 8, 2006 at 11:52 am

As the Iran edges closer to becoming the new face of evil for many Americans, it wouldn’t hurt to remind ourselves that there is often a considerable difference between people and government.  And the Iranian people, in fact, for the most part tend to be friendly towards America.  That is the conclusion drawn by Steven Knipp, who wrote about a recent trip to Iran for the Washington Post.

I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t admit being slightly uneasy about going to Iran … What took place over the next fortnight astonished me. Everywhere I went — from the traffic-choked streets of Tehran in the north to the dusty desert town of Yazd in central Iran, to the elegant cultural centers of Isfahan and Shiraz — I was overwhelmed by the warmth and, dare I say it, pro-Americanism of the people I met.

Ponder the irony of that last statement for a moment. While much of the rest of the world seems to be holding their collective noses at us Americans, in Iran people were literally crossing the road to shake an American’s hand and say hello. Who knew?

Initially, when Iranians asked me where I was from, I’d suggest they guess. But this game quickly proved too time-consuming — no one ever guessed correctly. So instead I would simply mumble “American.” And then their faces would light up. For better or worse, Iranians are avid fans of America: its culture, films, food, music, its open, free-wheeling society…

During my visit, I could not pause on a street corner for more than 30 seconds without someone coming up and shyly asking if they could help. Discovering that they had an American in their midst, they would often insist on walking me to my destination.

If you’d like to read a longer account of a visit to Iran and learn more about the Iranian people, I recommend the travelogue Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing.

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