Iranian families picknicking in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the city of Isfahan
Iranian families picknicking in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, in the city of Isfahan

The art of picnicking in Iran

Iran has a lot more in common with Britain than you might think.

Lois Pryce
Monday 08 February 2016 09:23
Comments

My first trip to Iran was during a low ebb in Anglo-Iranian relations, after the 2011 attack on the British embassy in Tehran. The situation had descended into a tit-for-tat spat, resulting in the closure of both embassies and a diplomatic freeze that is only now beginning to thaw.

As I planned my trip to the Islamic Republic, I tried to ignore the hysterical headlines and solemn warnings from the Foreign Office. But it was hard to stay chipper when well-meaning friends kept emailing me with their own apocalyptic predictions for my fate at the hands of the furious ayatollahs.

So, I focused on more alluring images of the region – architecture, art, cuisine, carpets – anything that can be prefixed with the word “Persian”, rather than “Iranian”. But I was still nervous as I approached the border alone and on a motorcycle. I feared I would be singled out for my un-Islamic form of transport (Iranian women are forbidden from riding motorcycles in public). I need not have worried. I was hit not by a tidal wave of hostility, but of warmth, fun and hospitality. International relations between the UK and Iran may have a stormy history but the Iranians understand more than most that governments do not necessarily represent a people.

It soon became apparent that Brits have far more in common with Iranians than I had realised, most notably a subversive sense of humour and the inability to do anything without vast amounts of tea. But something else links our cultures, something at which Iranians excel and at which they beat us hands down. Iranians are serious, hardcore picnickers.

Every day, everywhere, I’d see people lounging on the ground, enjoying seriously lavish spreads – and I mean, everywhere. Not just in parks and beauty spots but on motorway verges, in car parks, behind petrol stations, even on traffic islands in central Tehran, surrounded by eight lanes of the world’s worst pollution. I thought we Merrie Englanders had it down with our tartan travel rugs and wicker hampers, but you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen an Iranian picnic. The tea-making paraphernalia, the tower blocks of Tupperware, the pyramids of pomegranates, the cakes, the sweets, the shisha pipes, all laid out on a wipe-clean laminated Persian rug, and always accompanied by an invitation to join the feast.

I am not the first to note this. British explorer Freya Stark, who travelled in the region in the 1930s, wrote in The Valleys of the Assassins : “It is a charming trait in Persia that anyone you meet understands the pleasures of a picnic.” Stark’s travels pre-date the Islamic Republic, even pre-date plain old Iran, but no amount of tyrannical shahs and ayatollahs can dent the Iranians’ love of the great outdoors. As I accepted the invitation to join yet another group of strangers at the roadside for tea and hard-boiled eggs, it occurred to me that I felt quite at home.

Lois Pryce is founder of the Adventure Travel Film Festival. ‘Revolutionary Ride’, about her motorcycle journey through Iran, will be published in January 2017

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in