From high heels to burkas

Tehran_IKIA_at_NightMy plane to Tehran is set to depart from Vienna in the early evening. The gate is already packed and I’m talkative by nature so I start random conversations with my fellow travellers while waiting to depart. Families with an enormous amount of children, plus five heavy hand-bags, plus grandma on the wheelchair; stressed-out middle-aged woman who wants to get on the plane first because she’s afraid of not getting in; newly-wed couple on their first trip abroad; loud Iranian-American teenagers who are planning their parties in Karaj for the weekend and their endless tales of recent party hangovers; old, deaf man dragged to Austria by his family and hated the trip to guts.

We exchange chocolate, recipes, impressions about Vienna and tips on where to get the best ghormeh sabzi in Tehran. The Iranian-Americans are constantly shouting on the phone with their West coast accent and kids are running around jumping on every suitcase they can find.

I’m sure I’m the only Westerner at the gate but I don’t mind. “You look Iranian though” the woman applying nail polisher says to me “and you do sound like one”.

No, I’m just Italian, but Iranians and Italians look a lot alike. I exchange my views on the next Italian football season with a dozen men with shorts and sandals and I help a young, prosperous girl to zip her orange dress. Long story short, in half an hour the gate has turned into a huge family picnic and everybody is sharing something – food, drinks and complaints about the airline.

When the aircraft is ready, we get on board Iranian-style: lots of Berfarmaeed (please, after you) but everybody is just jumping on your head.

On my row there are five young girls, probably related, with high heels, skirts, tank tops and not a word of English. We start several small-talks in Farsi till I fall asleep. As excited as I can be to go back to Iran, the airplane has the same old narcoleptic effect on me.

I wake up in the middle of the night while everybody is getting off. The girls next to me are gone and the only people left on the aircraft are the pilots, the stewardesses, a couple of kids throwing newspapers at each other, and me.

By the time I arrive at the baggage claim, I’m not able to recognize anyone. Shorts are replaced by long trousers, high heels with sneakers. I identify the voluptuous girl in the orange dress just because she’s still taller that everyone and wears a shimmering veil that stands out from Imam Khomeini airport’s brownish decor. I spot the grandma on the wheelchair and I go there to pay my respects but I’m suddenly stopped by a bunch of young women in black chadors. “Goodbye” they say while giggling and bowing in front of me. I focused on them for a few seconds – “Do I know them?” I asked myself.

They were the girls seated next to me. No loud chats, no tank tops, no songs of Katie Perry anymore. Just chadors and study books.

And it always amazes me how Iranians can easily transition from Western culture to Persian customs in a blink of an eye.