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In Iran, "Great Satan" means great pizza

TEHRAN, Nov 3 (AFP) - The United States may officially remain the "Great Satan," but there's no denying that a breezy US lifestyle -- fast food, baseball hats -- has captured the imagination of Iranians.

With more than half the population under 30, Iran finds itself faced with a kind of "cultural invasion" from the United States despite a 20-year freeze in diplomatic relations.

From pizza delivery drivers willing to brave the hazards of Tehran traffic, to fake Coca-Cola available at almost any kiosk, the appetite for things American shows no sign of slowing down.

"It's great. For 42,000 rials (five dollars) we get a huge pizza and drinks as well," says Taghaneh Samieh, who lives in Tehran's Mahnaz district.

Engineer Kiusmar Khosvar, who takes his family out to the "Dania Bozi" (Games World) restaurant twice a week, says his children enjoy the chance to have fun while the family dines.

"There are more than 200 fast-food restuarants in Tehran, but this one is the best. It has a playground, pinball machines for the teenagers, hamburgers, fries and pizza -- and plenty of ketchup for everyone," he says.

His wife Farzaneh says the conversion to US-style fast food began under the imperial regime of the shah, who was overthrown by the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"After the revolution it slowed down some. But it picked up again after the (1980-1988) war with Iraq," she says.

A psychologist who asked not to be named insisted that, while the food might not be the sophisticated fare locals are used to, many Iranians like the feeling of being part of modern international culture.

"It's true that the quality in these restaurants is mediocre, while Iranians are used to good food. It's a cultural reverse. But the family aspect -- so important to Iranians -- is provided for in these fast-food places.

"They feel like they're participating in the world of today," he says. Many young Iranians, whether from the capital's well-heeled northern suburbs or the poorer south of the city, find other ways to express their affection for the United States.

T-shirts emblazoned with the logos of American universities or US baseball teams are a key to modern-day "cool," and for many help keep the dream alive that they might one day see the United States for themselves.

"My dream is to go to California, where there are tons of rich Iranians," says taxi-driver Ahmad Taghi, acknowledging the difficulty of applying for a visa when there is no US embassy here.

"I've tried in eight different countries. But alas, I'm poor," he says.


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