Last night I attended Rick Steves‘ “A Perspective on Iran” presentation at the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley. The event was a sell out – no surprise given the popularity of Rick’s European travel guides and tours.
This presentation wasn’t a travelogue but, rather, a sharing of Rick’s learnings from his 11-day visit to Iran last May told as a story with some great photos as a loose accompaniment. Checkout that first photo – on the building behind on the left is a huge banner saying “Bring Down the US” – where the red stripes are bombs falling!
Among the things I especially enjoyed from hearing Rick’s story:
People – Rick, certainly a most accomplished traveler, said he found the Iranian people the most friendly towards him of any country he’s visited – a remarkable statement! He enjoys making eye contact with folks on the streets – often leading to a conversation that almost always begins with “Where are you from?” Instead of answering, he’d ask them where they thought he was from. They’d guess five or six countries – all wrong of course – before he’d tell them he was from the United States. “What are you doing here?”, was the reaction!
Traffic – lots of it. RIck told a funny story about driving in heavy traffic one day when his driver blurted out “Death to Traffic!”. Turns out “death to…[fill in the blank]” is a manner of speaking that is roughly equivalent to us saying “damn those politicians [or whatever].” Fill in that blank with what you’ve perhaps heard most commonly and you get the idea.
Fear and Love – In his view, fear and love are the key concerns of Iranians. Fear of the encroachment of the West on their society and the love of family and children. Religious fundamentalism is a tradeoff of freedom in exchange for protecting fundamental values. I was struck by his comparison of the family values focus of the religious fundamentalists in both Iran and the United States. While the religions may be different, the common characteristics are striking – trading off freedoms to protect “family values”. (Sometimes serendipity is amazing – as I’m writing this, Jackson Browne’s “I Am A Patriot” comes on iTunes – how striking! Read the lyrics and you’ll see!)
Museums – Rick was psyched about going to the national museum in Tehran but ended up being very disappointed when he got there – “a few dusty vases” was what he found. Probing, he asked where the grand treasures of Persia could be found – and was told by a museum curator that they could be found in the museums of Western Europe, not in Tehran.
Cash – As a payments geek, I found it interesting that Iran remains a cash economy. Because of various economic embargoes, etc., credit/debit cards don’t work – you need to bring cash instead.
There was so much more – it was a most educational and enjoyable evening. I’ve not yet had a chance to watch the 1-hour public television special on Iran that Rick produced – that’s now high on my list of to-do’s! He’s also got additional resources about Iran on his web site – including Rick’s Iran Travel Journal blog.