Forever Under Construction

This One Is For PPGG:)

Posted in Iran, Travel by homeyra on November 21, 2006

As my dear online friend intends to travel to Iran –to buy socks – this post is dedicated to her to subdue the inevitable “cultural shock“:

For a first-time visitor, there’s nothing quite like arriving in the Islamic Republic of Iran. A few minutes before our plane touched down at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport this weekend, all the women aboard started digging in their bags for head scarves and long-sleeved jackets called manteaus to comply with the country’s strict Islamic code. Dozens of Iranians who had been happily drinking alcohol and displaying skin-baring tops now covered up faster than you can say “the Great Satan.”

Once on the ground, I waited for several minutes in a long line before an immigration officer glanced at my U.S. passport and curtly pointed me to a different queue. There’s no sign that tells arriving Americans where to go (tip for future travelers: it’s the line on the far right), but it seemed pointless to complain.

The officer in the second booth took my passport and disappeared into a side room. Several minutes passed and soon I was the only one of the several hundred passengers from our plane still waiting in the dilapidated terminal. A parade of uniforms periodically offered reassuring gestures or grunts before going on their way. Meanwhile, I continued to sit.

I’ve been in plenty of Third World countries, so travel headaches are nothing new. But after about 45 minutes, worried that the driver I’d arranged to meet me would give up and leave, I was struggling not to lose patience. By now, it had been 21 hours since I’d arisen at 4:20 am to catch my first flight at Dulles airport and I was beat.

My thoughts were interrupted by yet another officer. “Mister, mister,” he said, indicating I should follow him to a chest-high wooden shelf behind his desk. And it was there that I was slowly, clumsily and quite sloppily fingerprinted. At one point he yanked my thumb so awkwardly I grumbled: “if you bend it any farther than that it breaks.” He didn’t understand English but I think he caught my drift.

I’d been warned by a colleague to expect this treatment, which is how Iran retaliates for the United States fingerprinting Iranian visitors. But understanding why this pointlessness was occurring didn’t make it any more enjoyable.

Suddenly, another officer nudged me with an elbow. Pointing to the man doing the fingerprinting, whose back was to us, the second officer pantomimed smearing my ink-covered hand across the his back. The young Iranian officer’s smile was so genuine, and his giggle so infectious, that it was impossible to remain irritated. And just like that, I was glad to be in Iran.” David J. Lynch, USA Today

PS: Americans are no more fingerprinted upon arrival.

Update: 06/12/04 : Iran has enacted a law requiring American citizens visiting the country to be fingerprinted upon arrival.

10 Responses

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  1. Dr. Victorino de la Vega said, on November 21, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Dear Homie,

    Yes I remember that surreal interview of Georges Marchais with J.P. Elkabash, even though I was merely a child back then- I’ve always been a political junkie of sorts!

    + You’re right to pinpoint the Marxist/Soviet roots of the Hebrew “Neocon” ideology with its twisted totalitarian “logic”

  2. peoplesgeography said, on November 21, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks “Homie” as the previous poster called you 😉 I quite anticipate the culture shock, I’ve got the manteau ready … When in Rome …

  3. peoplesgeography said, on November 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    … but I’ll still be able to wear wacky socks underneath 😉

  4. homeyra said, on November 21, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    lol! I should have majored in geography 🙂

  5. naj said, on November 21, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    If you are a woman, make sure you don’t dress yourself too conservatively 😉 I have a Manteau (a trenchcoat actually) it is black, it is loose like Nosferatu’s cloak, hiding all my bumps; it’s long and lush and I feel oh so pretty in it when it rains in Montreal (well that’s before people started shooting people in highschools, dressed in long black trenchcoats! so I have retired it this year), but when I go to Iran (seldom, though), I am forbidden to wear that or else my brother and sister will be too embarassed to walk with me in my “pre-historical” outfit!

    You shall see exhibitionism of a proportion unimaginable to those who are not in the theater business –I still hesitate to say circus 😉

    And again, if you are a woman, practice wearing makeup. In Afghaestan, for instance, people wear burqa to cover their faces. In Iran, they wear layers of foundation and powder (maybe even plaster!). A woman must hide her face, one way or the other 🙂

  6. homeyra said, on November 22, 2006 at 5:16 am

    Lol:) Naj, you should come too, I must “see” you in your Iranian outfit … and I’ll bring the press:)

  7. peoplesgeography said, on November 22, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Homeyra, can Rochonf join us for tea? We can exchange Persian-Spanish language tips 😉

    Thanks Naj, and you sound a picture of sartorial elegance. I also have a nice coat that flares out and has a really nice faux fur collar that feels great to wear. And why shouldn’t Iranian women have a well developed, keen sense of fashion, right? 😉 I’d be happy to join the fashion circus, I mean the fray. Aaah, all part of the grand pageantry of life. 🙂

    Oh, forgot to answer in the affirmative, yes, I am a woman (hear me roar! — reference to 70s song) but I haven’t worn make-up in awhile. Very occasionally, on special outings, mostly because its just too hot here! It is fun to apply though.

    I also like your poignant comment about women feeling compelled to hide their face one way or another, ,that seems to transcend the porous, if not artificial, east-west divide! 😉

    Here in Sydney, Australia, my dear hairdresser is Iranian and she has exquisite grooming. She also sculpts eyebrows (have we lost the men yet with this ‘woman talk’? 😀 ) the old-fashioned way with a piece of string, which is just amazing. As I’m sure you know the technique, she expertly moves back and forth like a concert orchestra conductor with nothing but a single piece of string to tame the unruly eyebrows into sleek arcs 😀

  8. naj said, on November 22, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    Actually, Homeyra and PG, I AM going to Iran very soon. So, if our paths cross, you will recognize me in my dracula fit, with bushy eyebrows and mal-applied makeup! 😉

  9. peoplesgeography said, on November 22, 2006 at 8:01 pm


  10. Tour « Forever Under Construction said, on December 14, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    […] Relevant information: Shopping, At Passport control […]

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