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Among the Iranians: A Guide to Iran's Culture and Customs Paperback – April 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Koutlaki...has learned not only the language but the nuances of Iranian culture, and clearly loves her adopted country. She offers many details of Iranian traditional life and how it is organized, including the practices of ta'arof, the 'Ritual of Politeness'; and de rigeur explanations for Iranian forms of Islamic dress—the chador, the hijab, the manteau. (The Middle East in London Magazine, July-August)

Packed with fascinating insights into an ancient and widely misunderstood culture, it is part-travel guide, part-sociological analysis, part-autobiography-and a must-read for anyone who wants to know the real story about life in Iran. (Sarah Arnott, correspondent, The Independent)

Sofia Koutlaki has opened a window onto ordinary Iranians and their everyday lives. She takes us inside the home, but also out into public spaces, and shows us, with love, an Iran rarely seen by outsiders and a culture whose subtleties she has penetrated with skill and understanding. Her book is essential reading for outsiders who want to understand Iran. Iranians abroad too will find much here to please-and perhaps surprise-them. (Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Author of Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran, and co-director of the award-winning film Divorce Iranian Style)

An excellent, useful introduction to Iranian culture and customs for people who have never been to Iran, or potential visitors. . . . The fact that the author has lived in Iran herself as a member of an Iranian family, enables her to go into greater detail on Iranian customs and habits of life than has been done in most other previous books. (Michael Axworthy, author of A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind)

This book provides a fascinating insight into the realities of daily life in Iran. Looking beyond the grim news headlines, the author paints a sympathetic and evocative portrait of the Iranian people, their habits, customs, and histories. It will become essential reading for anyone planning a trip to Iran, or who simply wishes to get to know the Iranian people better. (Dr. Stephanie Cronin, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford)

About the Author

Sofia A. Koutlaki was born in Athens in 1964 and has called Greece, Britain and Iran home. She is an independent researcher and writer whose work often explores cultures and how they function. She also works as a freelance translator and English teacher, is currently at work on a novel set in Greece and maintains a blog at


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Intercultural Press; 1st edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931930902
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931930901
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #834,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sofia A. Koutlaki is an independent researcher and writer, equally at home in Iran, Britain and Greece. Sofia has made extensive study of how cultures function on a personal and practical level, and all her writing stems from this fascination.

Sofia was born in Athens, Greece in 1964 and read English there, before leaving for England in 1987, where she read Classical Greek. She then worked for Iran Air at Heathrow Airport, taught English in a secondary school in West London and completed her PhD (Cardiff 1997). After ten years in London, she moved to Tehran, Iran, with her family and lectured at Allameh Tabataba'ei, Al Zahra and Imam Sadeq Universities.

Sofia returned to London in 2000 and worked as a specialist language researcher on a three-volume photographic study of Iran's art and culture through history (The Splendour of Iran, London: Booth-Clibborn Editions, in collaboration with Iran University Press 2001). Sofia began work on her first book, Among the Iranians, while teaching English in the private school sector.

Among the Iranians is an essential guide for every visitor to Iran. The book is the product of two extended periods of residency, and the writing has the freshness and immediacy of direct observation; however it is underpinned by a deep academic rigor. Sofia's PhD explored how Persian politeness and perceptions of 'face' affect communication in this spectacular and often misunderstood culture.

In July 2007 Sofia moved back to Iran in order to complete her book. She currently lectures at Shahid Beheshti and Ulum Hadith universities, translates on a freelance basis, and is currently working on a novel set in her native island of Kassos, Greece. She keeps a weekly blog at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Aslan on June 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I ordered this book before I came to Iran for the summer to study Persian and travel around the country and it has proved to be invaluable. I stayed with an Iranian family and many aspects of the culture were new for me despite the fact that I have spent many years living in other Middle Eastern countries. Iranian culture and society is very sophisticated and for those who wish to go beyond the surface of Iran and to really experience life here, a good knowledge of culture and society is necessary to show respect. I read through the whole book and then kept on going back to it as a reference book whenever I encountered something that I didn't understand or didn't know how to respond to. The author covers every minor and major custom and tradition in Iranian society and is very comprehensive, discussing everything from how to navigate the famous Persian custom of ta'roof, how to dress for a wedding, to what gifts to bring for different occasions and which shoes or sandals you should or shouldn't wear inside and outside the house. As a foreign woman married to an Iranian and living in Iran for a number of years, the author's personal narratives about her experiences in Iran are also insightful and a good read.

If you plan on traveling through Iran or staying for a longer period of time, this book should be the first book on your list!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By BritBak on May 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book upon having to write a 25 page paper on Iran for a college class. Honestly, I could have used this book for the entire paper! Koutlaki goes beyond the generic travel books and really adds insight to Iran and it's culture. This is done through connecting a historical perspective to present day cultural values and other elements. For research or reading for pleasure, this book is great!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Graf on June 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
The title of the book caught me. I have dear friends from Iran. I just had to read this book. I'm very glad I did dive into Sofia Koutlaki's Among the Iranians.

This book gives an overview of the culture of the Persians. Ms. Koutlaki explores everyday living within a Persian household as well as how they interact out on the street while shopping. From how to tip to how to act at a wedding, the author gives the Westerner so much more to go on than what is seen on television or read in the papers.

This is not a fiction book or an academic analysis of a country. This is much more. This is the observation of a Westerner being immersed into a new culture and sharing with the worlds her mistakes and successes.

Ms. Koutlaki balances a style of writing that is both intimate with the reader while being intimate with the culture and relating statistics and information with a slightly academic flair. It seems that the author is talking directly to the reader giving them advice and helping them through the strange and seemingly treacherous waters of a new culture. As the author has been in those very shoes, she shows an intense empathy to anyone who finds themselves stepping into a new world and attempting to learn the ins and the outs.

This is a book I took to heart as I have some dear from Iran. I learned so much from them. As I was reading Ms. Koutlaki's book, I found many of the things I had experienced with my new sisters. I had to laugh at the section about the sugar cube because I messed that up in the first Persian household I visited. I gave them all a good laugh. To this day, tea is important to me as we spent meaning an evening over cup after cup of tea going over the English language and American customs. I learned so much over a cup of tea.
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