There are a few negative stereotypes that have made the rounds over the years in our community of Iranian-Americans. "Iranians are always late," that's a famous one, usually followed by "adjust your watched to the IST, the Iranian Standard Time." "Iranians are vein," "Iranians are disloyal," etc. "Don't ever do business with another Iranian" is certainly popular.
Out of all these stereotypes I've always had the hardest time accepting the last one. The one about not working or doing business with any other Iranian. It's always been a source of confusion for me. This stereotype, of course, has no place back home. Who else is there to do business with if not Iranians in Iran? It's only when you move, and when you start mingling with countrymen in foreign countries that this stereotype applies itself.
To me this stereotype, like many, if not all stereotypes, was nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is until I started working with an Iranian myself.
I have this music instructor, who's teaching me a few Persian instruments and in return I am building and developing this website, his web presence. There is no cash involved. The only transaction is the transaction of time. I am supposed to put in an hour on his website for every hour that he puts in to teach me the Tanbour. This is how we agreed to proceed when we first met about a year ago, and this is how we operate today. But along the way there have been some serious issues, the sort of issues that stereotypes like to address, which could have ended the relationship.
For one thing the nature of the relationship was astonishingly vague. Americans and Iranians have different ways of asserting themselves in a business relationship. And it's always a confusion which model you and your Iranian client are going to choose. With my and my client, it started out as a professional relationship, or at least I think it did. But soon, as the acquaintance grew, the relationship became more of a friendship. I was really excited about his website. It was something that I created and it was something that I put in a lot of hours for. More hours than I got back. The other thing was my respect for him as an elder and my respect for him as a musician, which lowered the time transactions to a chaotic mess. The sand-clocks thrown against the wall.
It was all good though, at the time. As I said I was excited. For every hour that he put in, I put in 3. After a while he started asking me for all sorts of favors, like to put his chairs on ebay, or scan some book for him, or take some pictures at his concerts, and it was hard for me to say no. I considered him a friend and in Iran you don't say no to your friends. You don't ever say no to your family. You don't stand up to your parents or anyone older than you. It's all very non-confrontational and defensive. All disagreements are made very discreetly using subtle hints and sometimes even white lies.
So I pretty much did most of the things he asked me to and lied myself out of the rest. This, of course, was accompanied by me feeling used and unappreciated which led to me not honoring his time as much and being late for our sessions. The whole thing blew over after a while and we had an argument over the phone. He saw the relationship as a professional relationship and thought I liked doing favors for him and that I didn't mind. "How convenient!" I though and gave him a piece of my mind. For once I was straight and upfront with him about the hours outside of our original contract. And we worked it out somehow, and continue to work together.
Fortunately this little transaction worked itself out, in the end. But I can well understand why Iranians want to stay away from each other. There are different marriage models, father-son, sibling, neighbor models that are different in Iran from the ones that are often experienced here in America, or in any other foreign country for that matter. Whether it is a love relationship, a friendship, two neighbors, business partners, etc. it's critical to understand and to address the problem at the beginning of the relationship, if you too want to make it last.