Time Zone: IRDT ( UTC/GMT +4.30)
Official language: Farsi
Iran is a collectivist country, implying that family and long-standing friendships are the glue to society.
"Iran shows a clear short term oriented LTO score, which is very common among Muslim countries. In combination with its high score for uncertainty avoidance, this makes up the importance of adhering to religious rules and fulfilling its duties and its emphasis on the past."
Iran is a Feminine country, indicating a preference for quality of life, harmony and cooperation, as opposed to striving for achievement and success. We can see this in the caring roles men can take up, in spite of the differentiation of the sexes.
Iran shows a clear short term oriented LTO score, which is very common among Muslim countries. In combination with its high score for uncertainty avoidance, this makes up the importance of adhering to religious rules and fulfilling its duties and its emphasis on the past.
Iran is a restraint culture, though far less than other Muslim countries. In combination with its Femininity we see that you are is allowed to enjoy life and beautiful things, as long as you adhere to the imposed rules.
Some cornerstones of Iranian culture
Life in Iran is religious to the outside world, while inside the homes people may relax from the austerity of public life.
Nearly 95% of its population is Shia Muslim, with around 4 % Sunni Muslims mainly living in the north and the extreme South East. Less than 1% is non-Muslim. Shia Islam and the Farsi language are strong binding factors everywhere in Iran.
Business is not conducted on religious and national holidays. Iran’s most important holiday is Newroz on March 21, the Iranian new year. During the month of Ramadhan business is low, shops and the bureaucracy will close early. Foreigners can eat in a restaurant hotel. Evidently, restaurants open after the sunset until the early morning hours. It is wise to avoid the month of Ramadhan for business, unless you want to build strong social bonds.
Major religious holidays include both national holidays with a fixed date and religious holidays based on moon months, shifting every year. It is wise to verify this information on Wikipedia or with your local business partner before scheduling your visit.
When in Iran: Good to know
- It is good to have an intermediary who can assist with planning appointments and assist in interpreting Iranian culture and language.
- Punctuality is relaxed; although as a foreigner you are expected to be on time.
- People prefer relaxed conversation before and after business. Business and private are often mixed and your partner may have various business talks going on at the same moment.
- Have business cards printed in English on one side and the Farsi translation on the other. Present the card with the Farsi side facing your Iranian partner. Business cards are usually casually put away. People prefer to look each other in the eyes rather than at a business card.
- Titles are important and should be included on business cards. You can address a person by using his or her title only.
- In public, no alcohol is consumed nor available.
- Do not table subjects as politics or religion yourself, but if someone else brings it up, listen interestedly and ask some questions. Do not openly state that you are an atheist or a non-believer. Be aware that Iranians are very capable readers of your mind and will notice a negative judgment immediately, even if you do not pronounce it.
- Do not be mistaken by appearance or attire: a powerful and respected person may look very humble.
- Iran is a very safe country with extremely low levels of criminality.
- Men can greet each other with kisses and warm hugs and walk hand in hand, and so can women. Distance between men and between women is usually close and more touching occurs.
- Greetings between the sexes are usually more distanced. Instead of shaking hands, you may notice that people put their right hand on their heart and bow slightly to indicate respect. You can call someone from the opposite sex brother or sister.
- Shaking hands with children is considered very respectable.
- Iran is a country where beauty and fashion are highly appreciated and followed. It is a fashionista country and plastic surgery is common for the rich and poor.
- In public, make sure you observe the religious rules and dress conservatively at all times.
- For women: a head scarf is obligatory, preferably also covering the neck. The scarf can be fashionably designed in any colour you like. The aim is to cover the hair, but it does not need to be tightly wrapped.
- Women can use sleeves that cover the elbow, and the blouse should cover below your hips. You will often notice a "manteau": a kind of light coat; (you can google Iranian/Persian manteau).
- Inside homes: feel free to wear whatever you like.
- Some cities or regions may be more conservative. Look at how the locals dress and imitate.
- Elegant and fashionable dress is equally important to men. Although you can certainly wear a t-shirt in public, you make a far better impression if you dress up fashionable. Ties are not very common.
- But take care: highly ranking people may dress very humble, so don’t be mistaken by their attire.
- Shoes are taken off when visiting homes or mosques, so do take care to wear a good pair of socks.
Family / Religion / Beauty / Harmony / Prosperity / Relationships / Hierarchy
The end-user of your product or goods can also fall under the US sanctions. As an entrepreneur, it is hard to know or find out whether your products falls under the US sanctions. Check with your bank.
Banking systems, cash withdrawal and money transfer are rapidly changing, from day to day. At this very moment, it is still next to impossible to withdraw cash or pay by card in shops or hotels. Take enough cash with you, and check with your bank about the actual situation with regard to money transfers and withdrawals.
An EU visa may be difficult to obtain for your Iranian partner. Plan his/her visit well ahead and check with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs about what your company needs to do to invite your Iranian business partner.
- It is paramount to build good relations. Only after a strong bond has been forged, can there be trust and can business be conducted quickly and pleasantly. Invest heavily in time to forge this bond.
- You can discuss religion, but only if you are genuinely interested. Iranians are good readers of someone’s mind and they will detect rejection and judgments immediately, even if you do not express them. Have an open mind towards their religious life. It can be a bridgehead to building this relationship. If you, for example, enquire about Ramadhan, express your interest in joining for a day or more, or sit in on an Iftar (the first meal when the sun goes down).
- Should your Iranian business partner pay you a business visit in your country, then make sure (s)he is never alone. Plan outings, dinners and touristic trips. Do not be surprised if your Iranian business partner asks you to arrange a visit to a clinic for a medical check-up.
- Good conversation topics: history, chess or backgammon, food, volleyball, football, music, poetry and arts
- Bad conversation topics: politics, Daesh, refugees, minorities, why your country is better.
- Harmony is important in Iran. Do not be critical, arguing, cynical, pound the table or show your frustrations.
- Do show your interest and appreciation for the architecture, cuisine, its achievements, sports heroes.
- Do not discuss women or try to approach them. For men: in a business meeting, give a friendly nod and show your respect and let her be the first to reach out or start a conversation.
- Your network is your gateway to successful business. Treat them well.
- Accept that the bureaucracy can be horrendous, be patient.
- As a foreigner, never try to bribe someone. You do not know who, what, how or when and you run a big risk.
Great efforts are made to build relations with you, a foreigner, as you are a guest to their country. You will never be alone and everyone will take great pride in showing you around, or taking you for dinner or an outing.
In a restaurant everyone in the group will offer to pay the bill. You should then say: ‘nemishe’ (not possible). If you are invited to a home and offered food or drinks, say: Na merci (No thank you). Most likely they will insist a second or third time and that time you should act humbly and accept their offering. Taarof is the name of this polite and elegant way.
This collectivist attitude makes Iranians able readers of clues to whether you are happy or displeased. If you come from an individualist society, such as Northern Europe, you may not be aware of your non-verbal behaviour and the signals you send out and that are picked up by the Iranians. In other words, be aware that you are an open book to them.
Take care not to favour one employee over another. He or she may have a difficult time among colleagues.
Long Term Orientation
For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how Iran compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool.