Eating together and sharing food are socially significant activities and cement group ties. Most Iranians tend to socialize as families and eat dinner together in each other’s houses. This commensality, as anthropologists call it, is extremely important among Iranians, who generally believe visits do not reach “consummation” unless accompanied by a shared meal. This attitude underscores the central position of food in Iranian culture.
If they live close enough, married couples usually visit both sets of parents at least once a week, and almost always have a meal with them too. On feast days, like New Year’s Day (Noruz) and Eid Fitr (the feast at the end of Ramadan), apart from visiting parents, Iranians have to pay their respects to other family elders, or, failing that, telephone them. Younger people now exchange text message greetings on mobile phones. Greetings cards have never been popular, probably because they lack the allimportant, oral contact that a visit or a telephone call provides.
In Iran, the telephone is firmly established as a tool for socializing. A visit in person is obviously the best way of maintaining family and friendly relationships, but a telephone call is the next best thing. My two sisters-in-law speak on the phone at a certain time every day, and they used to do the same with my mother-in-law, much as my sister does with my parents back in Athens.7 A telephone conversation follows similar conventions as face-to-face interactions—openings and health inquiries—and plays a phatic role in exchanging everyday news. One difference from American and English conventions is that callers don’t usually identify themselves until asked to do so, unless, being a foreigner, the caller volunteers this information.
If you make new friends during your stay in Iran, you should expect them to call you from time to time to ask how you are, and they will probably expect you to do the same. Such telephone calls do not need to be very long: they serve as a reaffirmation of friendship ties. The following phrases introduce the closing-off sequence that you need to recognize and can use: “Well, I just called to ask how you are.” “Sorry I’ve taken up your time.” (Means: “Gotta go now.”) “Do come to our house.” (A ta’ârof invitation that means: “Let’s meet some time.)