Double or Nothing: Gambling with Yazdi Taxi Drivers

I am going to tell you a story and I want you to remember the sentence: Should I have kissed him?

Your answers at the end please.


The old city of Yazd is stunningly beautiful. A honey coloured maze of mud and straw walls baked by centuries of the merciless desert sun, this is a place where beauty is revealed in small things. The turn of each corner reveals an ancient courtyard with a tiled fountain, a folk medicine man with an Aladdin’s cave of honeycomb jars and dried herbs, or a bakery where flour covered men slap dough onto the side of inferno-like clay ovens.

A New Orleans style joie de vivre perhaps?

Perhaps not. Despite living in a city known for the sensuous curves of its adobe passages, the occupants of Yazd – the Yazdi – are famous for being uptight, financially shrewd and highly watchful of their possessions.

When Yazdi marry, the wedding guests follow the newly married couple in a walk to their new home while a family friend or relative reads out the list of wedding presents. “The aunt of the bride has bought the couple a new washing machine!” he proclaims. “The Zahedi family have given a new rug!”.

With the announcement of each gift, the wedding spectators clap and cheer loudly and the couple blush to show their unworthiness of the gifts bestowed upon them.

As more gifts and donors’ names are called out, the Yazdi guests keep a quiet tally of the couple’s newly accumulated bounty in little black books. Notes are secretly compared, the spoils of weddings past recounted and any perceived injustices duly marked for future reference.

If Tehran is the cheeky, brazen, party girl of Iran, Yazd is her distrustful, no-nonsense, ‘eye for an eye’ grandfather.

Think Tony Soprano with a pocket calculator and a hefty stash of Rials shoved into socks and underpants.

My first taste of this Yazd-iness came in the taxi from the airport. [Are you still remembering that sentence?]

Bleary eyed and clueless at how to decipher the endless series of zeros on my stack of banknotes, I handed a two 50,000 Rial notes to the driver. He sighed in that ‘stupid tourist’ sort of way, rolled down his window and flagged down another taxi to ask for change.

Through the lengthy exchange of Farsi that followed I understood that neither was willing to release his money until the other handed his across first. After a standoff of nearly five minutes, my driver finally caved and passed across my banknotes and received the smaller notes in exchange.

‘God be with you’ each muttered and the other driver spun away in a haze of dust.

So do you remember my question?

Answers on a postcard. (Confused? See background reading)

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