Iranian-ness (1)


Saideh Pakravan
by Saideh Pakravan

A couple of years before the revolution, having made my life in Paris, I found myself in Tehran, visiting family. One day, I was walking in Ferdowsi Square with a dear friend, a famous writer now long gone. He was also a doctor with two areas of specialty, one of which was psychiatry. He pointed at a building on the square, the top stories of nondescript bricks in a state of disrepair while the lower part sported arches covered with pretty blue mosaics. Isfahan it was not but still, at street level, the effect was quite pleasant. “See,” he said, “this building is a perfect image of the Iranian soul. Dual personalities”—he used the word ‘schizophrenic.’—“One, the façade that the outside world sees, attractive and agreeable. And then the other side, irretrievably bleak and troubled. That,” he added, “is an illustration of our psyche. What’s worse, the two sides cohabit in disharmony, just like this building with two styles of architecture that have nothing to do with each other.”

Words to remember when we look at ourselves. On one side, we’re filled with contradictions and insecurities; on the other, we’re remarkably resilient, talented, generous, and intelligent. The two sides of our soul are at war with each other. We profess to love the mellate sharif but when we’re abroad we cross the street if we see Iranians or lower our voice if we think we can be overheard by them. We will sell our last shirt to offer lavish hospitality not only to friends and family but to any stranger who crosses our threshold, and yet, through nasty jokes and banter and put-downs, we belittle and humiliate and make kheet people around us, lest for a moment they be proud of an achievement that isn’t our own. We have given the world some of the greatest art and thought humanity has known and our civilization makes us one of a handful of indispensable countries in history. Yet nowadays we rarely see the difference between tripe and great creation or original reflection and tired banalities.

Our Iranian-ness sets us apart. Does it also have to doom us?


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Thank You.   Don't

by Vishtaspa on

Thank You for that comment VPK


Don't pigeon-hole me or any other human being. This is how stereotypes are created, and I don't need anyone who's never met me telling me how I am.


Nothing more so than plenty

by Vishtaspa on

Nothing more so than plenty of other peoples, I'd say.

As if every other nationality is static and straightforward and not full of contradictions. It's a human thing, Iranians are not the only ones who have dealt with each and every one of the factors you listed.

In this respect, we're no unique specimen, so instead of engaging in this pretentious navel-gazing, how about we build a bridge and get over it?


Azadeh -Azad jan:  Best

by vildemose on

Azadeh -Azad jan:  Best analysis of our socia identity conundrum. Thanks. Please write an independent blog on this topic. I find it fascinating.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear Pakravan

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I did not take any offense at all. Nothing said was remotely offensive. I also appreciate your kind words regarding my handle thank you!!

There is no question that we have national customs and habits. You can bet there are things Iranians will and won't do. Just like there are American habits which are distinctly un-European. Such generalizations are useful for example in marketing a product. Or predicting national reaction to a particular thing. That is the useful side of generalization. The negative side is when generalization mislead us to making grossly wrong assumption hence arriving at  way off results.

For a lifetime I have heard people say "we Iranians this" and "we Iranians that". I have known plenty of Iranians (starting from my own family) and have found us all to be different. Sure most of us like rice. We have certain habits regarding bathing. But with regard to real defining characteristics we are individuals. Some of us are lazy while others are driven. Some are overly clean while others are messy. Some like to gossip while others don't. Maybe I don't have a good sampling in my friends but I go by what I got. 



Good topic

by Cost-of-Progress on

We can talk for hours (and I have) as to how and why we are the way we are, but are we any different than any other eastern culture? Is it not the way of the world for old cultures like us? Perhaps the passage of time has something to do with it, perhaps because Iran has been at the crossroad of many many conflicts, but one thing is for sure, we Iranians love our country and will fight for her no matter what - other things, we can fix with smart leadership and sustained economic development neither of which we've had for many years.

Saideh Pakravan


by Saideh Pakravan on


Azadeh Azad

Taqiyya, etc

by Azadeh Azad on

I think the Shi'a brand of Islam, a minority in the Muslim world and a majority in Iran, with its Taqiyya rule which is a licence to lie, has played a crucial role in shaping the Iranian deceptive behaviours. Moreover, the geo-political position of Iran (+ Oil) is not really shared by many countries in the region, having made her more susceptible to invasions and dictatorial regimes, under which people do not dare to be themselves.


Saideh Pakravan

Dear Azadeh, Thank you

by Saideh Pakravan on

Dear Azadeh,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. What you say is very true but on the whole applies to cultures similar to ours, generally in our part of the world but elsewhere as well. What I've been working on defining is what makes us specifically Iranian as, important though historic circumstances may be, we are shaped by other factors as well.

Saïdeh Pakravan

Saideh Pakravan

Sure. I hope

by Saideh Pakravan on

Sure. I hope "contradictions" and "insecurities" will be, among other things, part of the discussion we will have together on what makes us Iranians.

Azadeh Azad

Looking for the roots

by Azadeh Azad on

 Dear Saideh,

I don’t think any intelligent Iranian could disagree with you.

 (The term schizophrenic is often misused to describe what is in fact a Dissociative Identity Disorder.)

What is important is to find out what the root of this National Dissociative Identity Disorder is, in order to heal and rectify it . I believe Dictatorship is the root of this cultural phenomenon. Let’s take your example of Hospitality versus Belittling others.

I believe Iranian hospitality has nothing to do with kindness or generosity, but with the concept of *aaberou,* which is synonymous of "appearances" glossed in quasi-sacredness. Keeping up aaberou = keeping up appearances. For most Iranians, *Appearances* and *What Other People Say About Us* constitute Our Social Identity. On the other hand, laughing at other people behind their back is a part of Our Private or True Identity.

This dichotomy has its source in three historical facts: 1) Having been dominated repeatedly by ruthless invaders, 2) Having lived under local or national dictatorships of different kinds for over 2500 years, which have become the model of human relationships, and 3) Having adopted patriarchal religions such as Islam and Christianity where dominant-submissive forms of relationships are decreed.

When you are ruled by a dictator, or by a practising Muslim husband who demands obedience from you, you have no respect for him, you devalue him behind his back. While, at the same time, you keep up the appearances of a nice and agreeable person in order to survive his wrath or arbitrary orders. The dictator,or the husband for instance, is "the Other" and as time passes, you treat not only the dictator but also whomever is not part of your emotional inner circle as "the Other," adopting a dissociative behaviour towards him/her.

Moreover, within dictatorship, individuality or individual identity remains under-developped.

I think practising Democracy in politics as well as in inter-personal relationships will remedy this ill.

I have given you a little sketch of this idea here, which needs further analysis and development.


Sargord Pirouz


by Sargord Pirouz on

Can you elaborate on (or list the) "contradictions" and "insecurities"?


Saideh Pakravan


by Saideh Pakravan on

Sorry, Prophet (Great ID pick!) Individual traits and national identity are two separate things but the second certainly informs the first. Looking at any given group allows to see certain general features emerge, not an insulting process in itself. Taking offense when an attempt is made to define us is a typical--and negative--characteristic of our Iranian-ness. Happily, positive characteristics abound.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Over generalization

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


Who is anyone to tell me what my psyche is? We are all individuals with different mental and psychological states. I am truly sick of hearing about "us this" and "us that". No one speaks for me except for myself. I welcome my Iranian ness but I don't welcome other people telling me what it means and how I am supposed to be.

If a psychologist wants to diagnose me the least they can do is to interview me. Trying to analyze 70 millions people and come up with one single diagnosis is doomed to failure.

We are all unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses.


maziar 58


by maziar 58 on

thanks most of us knows that -ness already without acknowledgment.

waiting eagerly for part II and hopefuly more.           Maziar


Good place to start

by Princess on

Honest self-analysis and exercising self-criticism are not our not our forte, that's why every time something goes wrong, it's always somebody else's fault, as if the gods have conspired against us. 

So to answer your question,  "Does it also have to doom us?", I daresay yes, but it doesn't have to be that way. This is just as good a place to start as any.


Jahanshah Javid

Honest discussion

by Jahanshah Javid on

Thank you Saideh. These are important issues we rarely discuss. We tent to ignore and deny the negative in us and glamorize and exaggerate the positive. And there's so much to discuss, it's like a 2,500-year-old person going to therapy for the first time. For the most part we've had a closed society where direct and honest discussion of issues has been suppressed on all levels from family up to government. Thank goodness for exile. Nothing can stop us now.

Temporary Bride


by Temporary Bride on

...and from my experiences in Iran, not unfair.

Sometimes I wonder if Iranians don't create a further layer of repression for themselves by living with such concern for what the neighbours and extended family will think.