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  Chapter 9 THE MEANING OF HOSPITALITYIN IRAN Javaneh Mehran Onbe¸s Kasım Kıbrıs University, Turkey Abstract:  Hospitality has been an evident characteristic of Iraniansociety since ancient times. This chapter discusses the meaning of hos-pitality from the perspective of the cultural and traditional beliefspresent in Iranian literature, religious beliefs, and food customs anddeliveries. Reviewing the history of hospitality in Iran yields consider-able evidence that this tradition dates to ancient times. This chaptershows that Iranian hospitality has been overlooked in research andsuggests that exploring diverse aspects of it can aid tourism practi-tioners identify areas with potential and improve quality of service inits delivery.  Keywords : Iran; culture; tradition; hospitality; tourismINTRODUCTIONThe phenomenon of hospitality in its broadest sense has been chronicledsince the beginning of human antiquity and it embraces a wide range of activities beyond the commercial provision of food, drink, and accommo-dation (O’Gorman, 2008). Hospitality, a moral virtue for which Iraniansare known, refers to the efforts taken to provide convenience and relief forguests. “The idea (and ideal) of   mehman navazi   has deep roots in Iranian Experiencing Persian Heritage: Perspectives and ChallengesBridging Tourism Theory and Practice, Volume 10, 155  167Copyright r 2019 by Emerald Publishing LimitedAll rights of reproduction in any form reservedISSN: 2042-1443/doi:10.1108/S2042-144320190000010010  society and exists within a cultural complex of hospitality that extends sig-nificantly through time and space” (Yarbakhsh, 2018, p. 6). Whereverinbound tourists to Iran arrive    in large cities such as Tehran, Tabriz,Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Rasht, Kermanshah, and Yazd, or smallvillages, remote areas, and even the heart of desert    they receive a warmwelcome from local people. This welcoming attitude is not related to eco-nomic status. Across economic groups, Iranians try their utmost to provideguests with comfort and help them in their affairs. They tend to inviteguests for a cup of tea or coffee, a local meal, or even offer accommodationat their home instead of a hotel for several nights without asking for any-thing in return (O’Gorman, 2007). It is worth addressing that althoughnumerous ethnic groups have historically lived within Iran’s borders, itspopulation generally neither obsesses over ethnic minorities nor openly dis-criminates against them. In addition, the country has, to some extent, wel-comed different beliefs and diverse ethnic groups, which has strengthenedits culture of hospitality.The Iranian nation is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in theworld. The term  Persian  is often used to refer to the larger cultural sphereof Iranian civilization encompassing populations in Iraq, the Persian Gulf,the Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India.The formal name Iran has been used for more than 2500 years, as in theIslamic Republic of Iran today (Lukonin, 1992). The country has adoptedboth Islamic and the pre-Islamic national symbols; its culture is rich insymbolism, much of it derived from prehistoric times. Iranians are theinhabitants of the large plateau between the Caspian Sea and the PersianGulf, and Persian (or Farsi) is the principal language spoken in Iran.Iranians take great pride in their nation’s long history (Jalilvand, 2017).The existing empirical and theoretical literature about hospitality is verylimited (Williams & Shaw, 2011) and this is due to conceptual problemsassociated with the characteristics of service and hospitality, and the lackof available data. Accordingly, despite the considerable number of studieson Persian and Iranian history (Sykes, 2013), there is a lack of academicwork investigating the meaning of hospitality in this history. Iran is a coun-try that represents a benchmark in hospitality management and where themajority of local businesses are owned, managed, and staffed by Iraniansaccording to their traditions of hospitality (Jalilvand, 2017). In more recentdecades, due to the turbulent regional situation and negative portrayals of Iran, the (international) tourism industry in Iran has faced drawbacks.Accordingly, Iranians have enjoyed welcoming foreign tourists to theirhometowns to demonstrate to the world that they are not militants and 156   Experiencing Persian Heritage  resentful as the media shows. They wish to present a realistic picture of their country and its hospitality, especially to Western countries. This chap-ter seeks to juxtapose two aspects of this hospitality to uncover its mean-ing: its practice in everyday life and the practice of industrializedhospitality in Iran.HISTORY OF HOSPITALITY IN EVERYDAY LIFEIranian cultural beliefs about interactions between guests and hosts andthe characteristics of hospitality appear throughout literature, history,poetry, food, eating mores, and religious beliefs. Since ancient times, taarof   has been the most important concept in the Iranian culture of hospitality. This Persian word with Arabic roots refers to the country’scomplex art of etiquette, in which the true meaning of what is told liesnot in words but somewhere beyond them. Taarof is the offer made thatis refused with appreciation. It is a subtle dance of communication, inwhich the participants step back and forth repeatedly, never taking overthe stage. In every social interaction, from buying groceries to negotiat-ing a nuclear deal, this highly valued behavior dictates how peopleshould treat each other.A key concept in  taarof   is “getting the lower hand,” which means that“individuals will seek to raise the other person’s status and lower theirown” (Beeman, 1986, p. 58). When hosting guests, Iranians’ overly politebehavior reflects  taarof  . For example, when welcoming guests, they spendmuch time at the doorstep negotiating who will go inside first. Repeating“go ahead, after you” (the formulaic  befarma ), individuals try to refuse toenter first and let their companions go before them (Izadi, 2016).Iranian families can live and host many guests in much less spacethan Western families. This is a social necessity as extended family andeven acquaintances and friends have a strict claim to unlimited hospi-tality to the extent that one must be prepared to host many overnightguests at a moment’s notice. Even after children marry and leave theirparents’ homes, members of extended families have extensive rights tohospitality in the homes of even their most distant relatives. Iraniansbelieve that guests should be eagerly sought and bring honor to thehousehold. Presents from guests are appreciated but often receivedwith expressions of embarrassment. It is expected that those returningfrom trips will bring presents and souvenirs for family and friends(Minaei, 2018). The Meaning of Hospitality in Iran  157   There are traditional Iranian festivals which indicate particular instancesof hospitality such as  Nowruz  and  Shab-e Yalda , thus the essence of thesefestivals is described here. For over 3,000 years, people from diverse ethno-linguistic communities in Iran have celebrated Nowruz, the Persian NewYear. To prepare to host guests and carry out special traditions of hospital-ity, Iranians undertake major housecleaning and purchase new clothes towear for the New Year. They also buy spring blooms    mostly hyacinths, jasmine, and tulips    to decorate gardens, doors, and windows (Shabani,Tahir, Shabankareh, Arjmandi, & Mazaheri, 2011). Before Nowruz, they settheir tables with  haft sin , a table setting with seven different items of whichthe essential items start with the letter S (Sin, “   “). Families and close rela-tives gather together around their tables to wait for the exact moment of theMarch equinox to celebrate the New Year. During the Nowruz holidays,families, friends, and neighbors are expected to make short house visits,which are reciprocated. Typically, elders first host young people in theirhomes, and the young then make return visits. Nowruz visits are relativelyshort for Iranians in order to meet as many people as possible on their holi-day lists. Hosts provide guests with traditional desserts and snacks, such as ajil   (nuts), homemade sweets, and fruits.Shab-e Yalda, or Shab-e Chelleh, is a Persian festival celebrated on the“longest and darkest night of the year” (Rastegar, 2010). Ancient Persiansbelieved that evil forces dominated the longest night of the year, but thenext day belonged to the Lord of Wisdom, Ahura Mazda. In theZoroastrian era, Iranians believed that gathering as families ensured safety,and these groups shared the last remaining summer fruits and found otherways to pass the long night together in good company. This cultural tradi-tion has survived, and every year on Yalda night, Iranians visit their grand-parents, who share watermelon, pomegranate, nut cakes, cupcakes, andother homemade food with their children and grandchildren. This hospital-ity on Yalda night is not limited to food and drink; older adults also readHafez poetry (Mayahi & Alirezaee, 2015). In the tradition called  fal  , ayoung person makes a wish, and an older adult opens a book of Hafezpoetry and turns the first poem seen into an interpretation of the wish andwhether and how it will come true. Eating, drinking, and reading poetrythroughout the evening passes the darkest night of the year with laughterand joy. By staying awake and gathering together for most of the night,Iranians believe they can prevent bad luck.This Iranian culture of hospitality and visiting family and relatives is notlimited to Nowroz and Yalda. Young people commonly visit older adultson Islamic festivals, such as the Feast of Ghadir Khum (for Twelver Shia 158  Experiencing Persian Heritage  Muslims), Fitr Feast, and Feast of Sacrifice. Iranians are  Shia Muslims ,which refers to the sect of Islam that believes the succession of Muhammad’s leadership should have remained in his family for specificmembers designated by divine appointment (Brunner & Ende, 2001). Thus,holding parties, hosting relatives and friends at weddings, the birth of chil-dren, circumcision rituals for boys, and returns from the Hajj or travels areother ritual and traditional events that demonstrate the meaning of hospi-tality in Iranian culture and beliefs. Iranian Literature From the two and a half millennia of Persian literature, many of the tangi-ble pre-Islamic assets have been lost. Interestingly, not all Iranian literatureis written in Persian as some ethnic Persians wrote in other languages, suchas Greek and Arabic. Historical Persia includes present-day Iran andregions of Central Asia where Persian was the national language (Spooner,1994). For instance, Rumi (also known as Mawlana), one of Persia’s best-loved poets, was born in Balkh, wrote in Persian, and lived in Konya, thethen capital of the Seljuk (Spooner, 1994). Consequently, Persian literaturecomes from areas which are outside of Iran today.According to the Persian language, a guest is a person who comes toanother, and a host is a person who respectfully welcomes the guest andprovides food and other necessities. In the hospitality game, children imi-tate adults and play the roles of host and guest while visiting others’ homes.Playing out this practice in Persian culture requires ceremonial formality( taarof  , respect, and welcoming attitudes) on the part of the host, whileguests respond by telling the host not to play the game as they are notstrangers nor is it their first visit. A famous old Persian poet praises guestsand hospitality: “from the brightness of the face of guests, my housebecomes enlightened/My home is a lantern, the guest is the candle, andI am a butterfly/Aliments come with the steps of guests from occultsources/Who becomes our guest is our host” (Samavati, 2016).For Iranians, kindness and warm-hearted hospitality for guests havealways been important, perhaps due to the strong presence of poetry in thePersian spirit and culture. Most important Iranian thinkers are poets (espe-cially from very ancient times), and the language expresses abundanthuman kindness and praise still present in today’s literature. Examples of famous stories, idioms, and poems on Iranian hospitality and guest litera-ture are many. Persians have penned some of the most delightful, moving The Meaning of Hospitality in Iran  159 
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