If you meet any Iranians during your visit, they are very likely to invite you to their house for a meal. A typical invitation between Iranians usually goes like this:
A: I say, on Thursday evening, if you are not doing anything else, give us the honor of coming for dinner.
B: It’ll be trouble for you. (Meaning: “Yes, I’d like to.”)
A: It’s no trouble—we’ll just have whatever there is around. (Meaning “We will be prepared for you.”)
B: We didn’t want to give you this trouble. (This is the clincher/acceptance).
A: We will be pleased to have you.
This mode of communication, called taarof, or ritual courtesy, is an essential part of Iranian code of conduct. The rules of taarof require that an offer be declined at least once, usually twice, before acceptance, out of consideration for the person making the offer. The person continues to repeat the offer to ensure that the invitee is not refusing out of concern that this is an ostensible invitation. The clues that this invitation is a “real” one is the mention of the day and the activity. Dinner times are not set in advance. Generally dinner is not served before 8:00 in the evening, and in the summer much later than that, well after the evening call to prayer. Even if you ask what time you should be there, the answer you are likely to receive is “any time you like we will be expecting you,” indicating that the guest’s comfort is more important than practical considerations. Interestingly, the quality of Iranian dishes is not affected by any delay, possibly in keeping with this relaxed attitude toward timekeeping. A present of flowers or candies is always welcome, although the host will protest that you should not have taken the trouble. If you take any other present, it may or may not be opened in your presence, depending on the habits of different families or by the habits from the area of the country your host comes from. If the present isn’t opened, the intention is that irrespective of what the gift is, your gesture is appreciated; if it is opened, it provides the opportunity for the host to show her appreciation of your taste.