Doing Business in Iran
Culture influences language and language, in turn, influences culture. This happens in ways both obvious and almost imperceptible. TJC Global understands that being fluent in a language also means being fluent in the subtleties and intricacies of the culture and business etiquette associated with it. To ensure that no embarrassing misunderstandings occur in a professional context, all our translators and interpreters are experts in the business culture and etiquette associated with the languages they work with.
Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, formerly known as Persia, is of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations. The history of Iran covers thousands of years. Throughout history; Iran has been of great strategic importance because of its central location in Eurasia. It is a large Western Asian country located in the Middle East and Central Asia with a population of 77 million and an area of 48,195 km² which is almost equal to the size of the four major European countries; Germany, UK, Spain and France put together.
The Shi’a branch of Islam is the official state religion of Iran with 90% adhering to this faith. It is the only Muslim state of official Shi’ism with th rest being Sunni states. Religion is strictly observed and governs almost every aspect of life in Iran. It is important during your time in Iran to respect religious customs. Women should cover up and wear a headscarf in public, men should wear long sleeves when entering a mosque and both should remove their shoes.
Iran is a founding member of the United Nations, ECO, OIC and OPEC. Its extensive reserves of petroleum and natural gas means it exerts considerable influence, playing a major role in economy and international energy security.
The only official language spoken in Iran is Farsi or Persian. But many Iranians are able to understand English to a certain extent since English is the first foreign language taught in schools and universities.
Other languages spoken in Iran are Turkish (Azeri), Kurdish, Arabic, Luri, Gilaki, Mazanderani, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashto, and dialect forms. People in different cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Mash’had, Yazd, Kashan etc. speak Farsi with different accents. Do not worry if you cannot understand Farsi: you will still enjoy visiting Iran. If you learn a few Farsi phrases every day then it will make your trip more memorable. Even a few words can make a huge difference.
Business Meetings and Greetings
It is important to understand that Iran is a religious country in which women and men do not have much to do with with one another in public. Physical contact between the sexes is completely unacceptable and it common practice for introductions and greetings to take place only between members of the same sex. Men kiss other men and women may hug or kiss other women at social events. A meeting on the street is more likely to merit a handshake.
Types of acknowledgement and greeting depend upon whether or not those you are meeting are religious; your own sex and the business context. In the public sector, religious rules are observed while in the private sector there is more flexibility. Those who are religious either do not greet the other sex (as eye contact between men and women should not be made in public), or merely exchange a small bow. Rules are different for foreigners however. If you are unsure when meeting someone of the opposite sex, it is best to watch for what the other person does before extending your own hand for a handshake. This is especially true when foreign men meet women – if no handshake is offered simply nod your head and smile at the other person.
The most common greeting in Iran is “salaam alaykum” or just ‘Salam’ which means “peace be upon you” or “peace”. One can also reply with ‘Salam’ and when leaving, Iranians will also use, ‘khoda-hafez’ which almost means “Goodbye”. Its exact meaning is that “God preserve you”.
There are a few things to note about Iranian communication styles that can help commuication and understanding flow freely between you and your business partners.
It is important that most Iranian’s separate their public and private identities. In the family, which is very close with several generations often living in one house, Iranians are free to be themselves. In public (zaher), however, it is understood one must conform to certain conventions. One of these conventions is called “Taarof”, simply a social code (involving both verbal and non-verbal communication) which emphasised humbleness and modesty. Gifts and compliments are always initially refused in adherence to this and this is expected as standard courtesy. This type of politeness also extends into business matters. Iranians are indirect in speech and unlikely to say no, or state what they really think in order to conform to these standards of politeness. As they get to know you however, Iranians will be more frank.
Iranians will make time to get to know you personally before doing business as they feel more comfortable when they are familiar with their business partners. This means your first meeting will probably involve little business and more getting-to-know-one-another chit-chat over tea and sweets.
Initially, Iranians may seem formal and reserved at first but their famous warmth and hospitality will come with time and trust.
The following points are important to remember when doing business in Iran:
Greetings and Dress Code
- Use formal titles to address your business partners. “Agha-yeh” + surname is used for men. “khanom-eh” + surname, for women. First names are usually only used by family and close friends.
- Remember to see how members of the opposite sex greet you before offering your own hand or greeting.
- Dress conservatively in dark business suits. Business dress code in Iran is formal. Ties are not common but accepted as foreign attire. Dress well to make a good impression.
- Women should always dress modestly and cover their hair.
- Business is attached to personal relationships in Iran.
- When Iranians greet each other they take their time and converse about general things.
- It is not appropriate to ask questions about an Iranian’s wife or other female relatives.
- Iranians are more comfortable to do business with people they know, so normally they spend time getting to know you as a person before business is conducted.
- Nepotism, or the favouring of one’s own family in business situations, is positive in Iran as relatives are considered trustworthy and familiar.
- They normally serve tea when they meet someone.
- Appointments are very important for Iranians and should be made 4 to 6 weeks in advance. Try to confirm the meeting one week in advance.
- Punctuality is really important and you should arrive at meetings on time, although Iranians themselves are not known for their punctuality.
- Meetings in Iran are frequently interrupted; you should try and be patient with this.
- Time is not really an issue in Iran and people do not like to be rushed. Decisions are made slowly and through long negotiations.
- Try not to rush the meeting by looking at your watch. If you appear fixated on the amount of time the meeting, this will be used against you and considered rude.
- Iranians are very emotional and business negotiations can be highly-charged. You business partner may be angry or flustered, or walk out of the meeting in attempt to change your mind.
- Heavy negotiation is common in almost all contexts – even buying a car.
- Decisions are made at the top of the company, either by one person or a small council.
- Gifts in a business context as bribery. If invited to an Iranian home, take flowers or pastries – avoid alcohol which is illegal.
- Alcohol is illegal and only available on the black market. Being caught with it results in severe punishment or jail-time.
- Remeber “Taarof” and politely refuse gifts and second helpings until they are insisted upon. If you actually do not want more food – you should make this clear as your refusal will be interpreted as courtesy and ignored.
Religion in Business
- Times for prayer are listed in the newspaper: prayer takes place five times a day.
- Friday is the holy day and everything is closed. Many businesses are also closed on Thursday, which means the weekend is Thursday and Friday.
- Remember and respect Ramadan, a month of fasting in which people work for only 6 hours a day and refreshments will not be offered.
Iranian cuisine is some of the most delicious in the world, usually taking a few hours to prepare. Main dishes are based on rice in the forms of Rice Plates such as Adass Polo (Lentil Rice), Baghali Polo (Lima Bean Rice), Chelo Sefeed (White Rice), Haveeg Polo (Carrot Rice), Sabzi Polo (Vegetable Rice), Tah-Cheen (Pot-Bottom Crust with Chicken, and in the form of stew such as Khoresht Fesenjan, Khoresht Bamieh (Okra Stew), Khoresht Ghormeh_Sabzi (Green Vegetable Stew), Abgousht (Beef Stew), and also in the forms of Souffle, Sea Food (Vegetable-White fish), Kebabs (Grilled meat, barbequed meat etc.) and some special desserts in Iran are Halva and Ranginak, etc.
When dining, guests are usually lavished with too much food. It is polite to try everything and compliment the food often.
The climate is variable in different parts of Iran. In the north of Iran by the Khazar sea, the weather is humid and also rainy most of the time in a year. But many people travel from all over the country to the north to enjoy the beauty of the nature and spectacular scenery. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, where the average daily temperatures in July exceed 38°C and heat is accompanied by high humidity. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subfreezing temperatures during December and January. Spring and autumn are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. The Northeast and centre of Iran are dry with a moderate-high temperatures. There are two huge deserts in Iran, namely Dasht-E-Kavir and Kavir-e-Loot, and also the mountain ranges Alborz and Zagros.
What forms of conference interpreters worldwide can TJC Global provide for business?
Video/videoconference interpreting: (also Video Remote Interpreting is available) TJC provides language interpreting services to support events such as business discussions, conferences, legal/court/arbitration/litigation, and other online business interactions in the industry during these challenging times.
Participants can communicate via video or voice calls using laptops, smartphones, tablets etc. These can be recorded should you wish to take minutes. O r professionally qualified interpreters can join your online virtual meeting, event, or proceeding, for example, and interpret remotely in the language pairing you require to facilitate smooth communication between all parties.
Telephone/teleconference interpreting is a practical way to bridge any language barriers. T e interpreter is either located remotely (away from either party) or is with one of the parties. In both cases, they deliver interpreting services through telephone conferencing.
Telephone interpretation is helpful for clients who cannot travel to their counterparts’ countries but still wish, for example, to hold business discussions or communicate progress updates. At TJC Global, we are pleased to provide professionally qualified interpreters worldwide in almost any selected language combination.
Simultaneous interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI))
is used for international conferences, critical business discussions, seminars & symposiums. In this case, two to three interpreters are usually situated in a booth, away from the audience, and take turns to interpret at high speed, changing over every 15-20 minutes to avoid fatigue.
The interpreters use headsets to listen to the speaker’s message and repeat it immediately (practically “simultaneously”) in the target language to benefit relevant audience members.
Consecutive interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI)) is the most common type. It is used for business discussions, negotiations, contract exchanges, commercial, legal, and technical meetings, medical or court hearings or onsite inspections. T e interpreter listens to the speaker, often making notes, and delivers the meaning in the target language afterwards.
The interpreter may wait until a pause or the end, at which point they deliver a translation relatively quickly. Consecutive interpreting may also be used at conferences for panel discussions, Q&A sessions or private discussions between parties – at a stand or elsewhere.
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