I know, I know. Before I came to Iran, I had the same idea as well. I would have to hide my nationality from people in order to avoid their ire. When they would find out I am American, they would treat me poorly, or even become violent. Soldiers with machine guns would constantly be asking for identification to make sure I’m not up to no good. Things would be dangerous and I would have to be wary of your belongings due to pickpockets. I might even have to put myself on high alert due to the off chance that a bomber might attack. But have no fear!
The fact of the matter is that is exactly the opposite of what I have received in my three months here in Tehran. Whereas the media would lead you to believe that everyone here chants “Death to America” while burning Ol’ Glory, most Iranians really like the American people (the government might be another story, however). I often hide my nationality not because I am scared of what they might do to me, but because I am in a hurry to get somewhere and fear a drawn-out conversation of a curious Tehrani wanting to know the intricate details of what life is like in the U.S. Because Iran has been isolated from the West due to sanctions, the average Iranian is very inquisitive when they see a foreigner, especially when that person is of a Western background, and particularly so if they are American. Be prepared to receive a lot of questions about what life is like in the U.S., what you think of Iranian people, how your expectations match up with your experiences, and, of course, your thoughts on the food. At the end of the conversation, you will undoubtedly receive some praise on how happy they are that you have chosen to come here and see the country for your own eyes, instead of relying on hearsay.
The country is also exceedingly safe. Since I have been here, I have not encountered any sort of violence and the chance you would get pickpocketed is much less than other metropolises in the Middle East. The government takes security here very seriously, so don’t feel like you are putting yourself at risk by coming to Iran. Perhaps your biggest danger is, as I mentioned before, getting smothered by good old-fashioned Iranian hospitality.
The Iranian people in general are some of the warmest people I have met on my travels. People in the Middle East in general get a bad rap, but in reality this is a region with some of the friendliest people on Earth. I have lived in four other countries before I came here, and I can say hands-down this has been the country where have made friends the quickest. Remember that bars and nightclubs are prohibited here, so it really goes to show just how social Iranians are. Iranians always interested in chatting: the taboo of talking to strangers in the West is not a concept ingrained in the average Iranian psyche. In fact, in the off chance you meet someone standoffish, it will take you off-guard.
If you have any doubts on coming to Iran as an American: don’t. The people will make you feel right at home, even though you are on the other side of the Earth, and will do anything for their guests. As the Iranian proverb goes: “The guest is a gift from God.” So book your trip already, and see what this wonderful country has in store for you!
Profile of Author:
Casey Edgarian is a first year Master’s of Iranian Studies student at the University of Tehran. Originally from San Diego, California, he has lived in Vancouver, Canada, Uppsala, Sweden, and Yerevan, Armenia. In his free time, he likes going on runs, learning new languages, and exploring the endless maze that is Tehran.