Bourdain’s Field Notes

Words matter. Especially in Iran, where what is permissible — to say, to do, to be seen to say or do — is an ever changing thing.

It took us many years of trying before we were finally allowed into Iran, the country with which we probably have the most contentious relationship on Earth. At the time, we thought that perhaps our welcome was an indicator of a new attitude, an opening of a window. But as it turned out, that is probably not the case. The window appeared to slam shut in particularly ugly fashion shortly after our departure.

What we saw, what we came back with, is a deeply confusing story. Because the Iran you see from the inside, once you walk the streets of Tehran, once you meet Iranians, is a very different place than the Iran you know from the news. Nowhere else I’ve been has the disconnect been so extreme between what one sees and feels from the people and what one sees and hears from the government.

Iran’s official attitude toward America, its policies, its actions in the region, is a matter of record. How it treats its own citizens with respect to their personal behaviors is also a matter of record. You do not want to be perceived as behaving inappropriately in Iran , as we saw in the video of kids dancing along to the song “Happy.” And what is inappropriate is an ever shifting thing. What the “government” or the president says is OK one day might be deemed dangerous or unacceptable by the clergy or the Basij (the roving unofficial but official religious police) on another — as we came to find out.

I’m going to be careful about what I say here. Even here.

Like I said. Words have consequences.

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“So far Iran does not look and does not feel the way I had expected. Neither East nor West, but always somewhere in the middle.”

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