Iranians: They’re Just Like Us!

EXCLUSIVE! A nation of millions under thirty loves the same things we do, but that doesn’t mean traveling there is any easier.

By Trish Schuh

March 12, 2008, 8:31 AM

Hell’s Angels, the Persian branch? Iranians on their Harley out for a spin.

All this could have been smoothed over with a bit of a “baksheesh” (bribe), a colleague hinted. The big corporate news agencies pay around $60,000 dollars for a visa, not counting press agency fees, hotel commissions, etc. (In a hotel, restaurant, or store the quoted price is often doubled when dealing with foreigners.) “You should have brought some sort of a slush fund,” he sniffed.

Such bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption is commonplace in the region. In Iran it is a far bigger obstacle to U.S. businesspeople than any reputed anti-American sentiment.

In fact, Iran is the only genuinely pro-American country in the Middle East. OK, so one person in a taxi launched into an anti-American tirade, angrily castigating me for being an American. But it turned out he was from Canada.

Despite the Iraq War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Lebanon War of 2006, and Iran’s Islamic Revolution, younger Iranians love America. After September 11, for example, Iranians were among the first to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims.

Some of this affinity is due to the proliferating “poison of Western culture” or “westoxification,” as the Ayatollah Khomeini condemned it. My taxi driver from Khomeini airport didn’t want to talk politics, Islam ,or about the weather. He wanted to talk about Tom Cruise. And he told me he dressed like him too.

Almost 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30, and they emulate Western trends via satellite TV and the Internet. On the streets of the capital, young men sport subversively moussed hairdos that are short and stand on end. They wear everything from three-piece suits to European leather jackets with black suede pants and Italian loafers. Long hair and goatees in a neo-hippie style are not uncommon.

Among women in affluent north Tehran, females sometimes don fuchsia pink hijab (yes, these Islamofashion freedom fighters can be arrested for being too colorful). An Iranian Code Pink?

Other women are a bit more underground. In central Tehran, I saw copper-frosted spiked bangs poking out from under a headscarf, punk jewelry, Goth lipstick, and Joan Jett eyeliner. One middle-aged matron wore denim jeans and cowboy boots under a full chador.

As a Western visitor, I was reminded to do as the Romans do. While chatting with friends at Iran’s new television channel, Press TV, one of them scolded me for my overly conservative hijab. “It’s too tight — show some hair. Loosen up a bit. You look like an Islamic fundamentalist! We are not the Taliban here.”

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