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People and Society, Way of Life

religious rhetoric, Islamic conquest, modest dress, consumer society, Western classical music

Codes of personal conduct and group behavior that far predate the Islamic conquest of the 7th century continue to influence Iranian culture. Enduring cultural values include obligations to extended family, hospitality toward guests, and striving to act morally. However, social changes during the 20th century have affected these values. For example, the new professional middle class began living in nuclear family (consisting only of father, mother, and children), rather than extended family, residences. Busy lifestyles in large cities and eight-hour workdays proved incompatible with the custom of spontaneously inviting friends home for a meal. The increase in educational opportunities for girls since 1979 raised expectations among women for work opportunities outside the home. The rapid expansion of the middle class since the revolution has stimulated the growth of a consumer society in which various material goods are perceived as status symbols.

The 1979 revolution was heavily imbued with religious rhetoric. Its leaders subsequently banned many forms of entertainment that they considered sinful, including casinos, nightclubs and dance halls, movies that featured nudity or sexual themes, and musical genres such as pop and rock. For more wholesome entertainment, the government encouraged Iranian traditional and Western classical music, new films emphasizing family values, and recreational and sports facilities segregated by gender. Both men and women were required to dress modestly in public. For women, modest dress, or hejab, meant covering their hair with a scarf and having no exposed flesh other than their hands and faces; for men it meant wearing long trousers and long-sleeve shirts.

The population gradually adapted to the various restrictions and continued to enjoy pre-revolutionary leisure activities such as attending sports events, especially soccer, the national pastime. The general decline in public entertainment venues contributed to an increase in home entertaining. Popular foods at such gatherings include fresh seasonal fruit, greens, and nuts. Also popular are traditional Iranian dishes of steamed rice served with minced lamb and chicken kebabs cooked over charcoal or with traditional stews made with simmered meat, fruits, legumes, and spices. Tea is always served to guests in the home and the workplace; fruit juices and carbonated beverages also are popular. The sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited since 1979, although there is a black market for bootleg vodka and wine. Other general recreational and leisure activities include hiking, picnicking, watching television and videos, and making seasonal visits to Caspian Sea beaches and various historical sites and religious shrines. In large cities, shopping and attending movies, concerts, theaters, museums, and poetry readings also are popular.



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