"Why do you come here - don't you think we are all terrorists??" We keep getting asked this question. It does surprise me - although I am not sure how to answer this. Why do Iranians think this? What does The Sun say about Iranians? We laugh it off and say that we have watched many Iranian films, and name a few. ('Marmulak' [The Lizard] always raises a smile because it was a comedy taking the mickey out of the mullahs. The film was eventually banned - the mullahs obviously have no sense of humour.) We also say that the news in Britain is only about Ahmedinijad, not much about the Iranian people. We've not mentioned public executions - though I have read that these have been recently stopped. It is terrible that the Iranians feel they are misunderstood - as a nation they are the most hospitable and friendliest we have come across, and possibly the best-educated. "Do you know Islam? Are you muslim? Have you read the Quran?" are other more common questions which have led to some interesting conversations. It is hard to explain that we live in a country where many faiths are practised and where agnosticism and atheism are common.
Iran is a safe country to travel, except when trying to cross the roads. Iran has a shocking road-fatality record, and the only police we ever see are on the main roads setting speed traps and checking tachographs of buses and trucks. There is no such thing as a pedestrian crossing here and the traffic in the cities is bad - crossing the road is our greatest hazard. A secondary danger is the number of hamburgers we are consuming. None of that fancy Persian cuisine for us. Sometimes the only cheap food we can find is the dreaded burger, but at least it's not McDonald's..........Thankfully, there are juice stalls everywhere.
It is parliamentary election day tomorrow, so it has given us a chance to ask people about the politics of Iran. Some like their president, but most think they are being misruled - that the whole system is undemocratic and unrepresentative. Many have said there is no point in voting. Someone said they would like the US and the UK to invade, like in Iraq - desperate stuff. This may show how helpless and impotent the people feel. We keep meeting young people who tell us they want to leave Iran as soon as they can. Iran suffers from a terrible brain drain - smart young kids keep telling us they want to go abroad to study, to live. These are inevitably the better-educated and wealthier youngsters we meet. Men have to serve two years' national service before they can get a passport, so for some it's a long-term goal.
We also have learnt that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot gets aired on Iranian TV. Benny Hill is much missed - his show somehow never met with official Islamic Republic approval. Good call in my opinion. "Is he still alive?" someone asked us, "I hope not" came the reply. Satellite dishes are illegal but there are lots of them around, so they must be tolerated. Goodness knows what people watch. The young guys really get to look pretty here, as the women are all having to shlepp about in dour headscarves and coats, if not chadors. There's a mix of styles from mid-seventies to ultra-trendy. Notably it's their haircuts that stand out - probably because you never see a woman's hair...........
We got invited to a wedding the other day - a real honour for us. The ceremony took place in a building with function rooms, the groom, mullah and men on one floor and the bride and women on another. Despite our lack of Farsi we both had an interesting time, separately! Gayle finally got to see women without their headscarves and chadors "They're just like me! Except for the make-up!" Whilst the men sat around talking and eating, the women had music and danced. If a man walked in, an alarm cry of ululating women would signal the reappearance of all the chadors. A real cultural experience.
John answers enquiries as to why he supports Manchester City.