“Dad, how did you meet mum?”
“Well son, it was like this; I yelled at her through the windows of a moving car while doing 40 mph in heavy traffic until she relented, pulled over and we could talk in front of her girlfriends and three lads I was with.”
So the story must go for much of the youth here. Tonight, on the eve of my 36 birthday, I witnessed the dating game Iranian style.
With the hitch to India on a (hopefully) temporary hold due to time constraints and visa applications, I’ve decided to see the rest of the country via the comfort of long distance coaches. And they only cost about a fiver. This affords me the luxury of seeing more in the short time I have here, because I can travel overnight, arrive early in the morning and thus have a full day sightseeing without the necessity to pay for accommodation or pester people on couchsurfing. I’m backdated with photographs and stories from recent excursions, and will cover them in due course. Experiences have been coming thick and fast, and tonight was no exception.
I’m staying with Soroush, a 20-something student in the beautiful city of Shiraz. Again pictures and tales to come, but I decided to make this entry about a unique phenomenon that I have never seen the like of. How to pick up girls in Persia.
Dating in Iran is, to some extent, a risky game. I’ve been reliably informed it’s borderline illegal. Women of course must wear the traditional Chador or Hajib, covering themselves at all times – unless in the home – and even then more religious types will continue to do so. Holding hands, kissing, or any contact in public is pretty much prohibited unless you’re married. Unrelated men and women cannot be in a room alone together, and you’re not allowed book a hotel or private room without a marriage certificate.
Amorous advances are therefore somewhat limited, but of course it still goes on. Iranians just have to be resourceful and find a way around it – and this they do with aplomb. Then of course there is the drinking culture. There isn’t one. Well there is, but it’s strictly hush-hush and carries a lot of risks. If I dare so much as whisper my usual exploits at the bottom of bottles and I’m risking a lashing. Anything is possible though, booze is available on a black market, but I’ve actually been enjoying my dry spell. I pity the poor bootleggers who, if caught and depending on the severity of the infringement, potentially face a public hanging by a crane in a city square. It’s a sobering thought, and I’ve been sober a month. This has brought with it new challenges, but more of that anon.
I digress with my slight tangent. My usual approach to”picking up” has been to enter a local bar, talk to everyone in the place, get pissed up, and hope that somewhere along the line boozy charm has worked its magic. Either that or accost them in the bathroom of a hostel until they relent. Anyway the point is – I’ve never really hooked up with a girl when I’ve not been drunk. Without the Dutch courage, I’ve got about as much chance of scoring with a girl as I do at growing a full beard. And on the cusp of 36, this is degradingly emasculating.
So this was an eye-opener, and indeed I have no qualms in admitting I was extremely nervous. I’ve never had “day game”, and here you must have “day game” at night. How can I talk to a girl if I’m not fearlessly out of my gourd? Don’t they need to be drunk as well? Would that pissed-up charm shine through when I was stone cold sober? What the fuck do I talk about? Where do you go to pass first base? Do you nip off at break time to neck with Sarah-Jane behind the bike sheds? And unless you’re in for the long haul and meeting the parents, what is the actually point?! It reminds me of a conversation overheard circa 1990:
“Dude! I touched her nipple!”
Over halfway in my thirties, and I’m feeling like a teenager.
Without my tried and trusted 24 bloody mary’s, I’m outside my comfort zone as we occupy a shopping mall. As I’ve already found out, this is the bread and butter of scoping for chicks in Iran. Teams of boys dressed to the nines skulk past jewelry concessions, shoe stores and toy shops. There’s unspoken acknowledgment for every bro, more aftershave than a thirteen-year-old boys bedroom, and enough hair gel to grease a whales vagina. But in the end it matters naught due to a high percentage of mums. Which is a relief for me as I scuffed around the polished tile floors contemplating just what line to use to a girl who is clearly in a mall to go shopping and not find herself getting surprisingly laid.
“Do you come for shoes here often?”
“Can I buy you a digital satellite receiver?”
“I’ve got the same toaster back at my apartment.”
Thankfully the boys cut their loses and it’s time for plan B. Hitting the road.
The car is filled with experts, bar myself, and once again I’m out of my depth. I feel like square peg in a round hole. Only one of my companions speaks decent English, but it doesn’t stop them all from enthusiastically using me as bait. “YOU’RE PUSSY GRAVITY MAN! YOU’RE PUSSY GRAVITY!” We lurch into a dual-carriageway merry-go-round without the candy floss.
And so begins the lethal ballet. Bumper to bumper, it’s a school disco on wheels. Vehicles aggressively vie for position next to cars filled with attractive girls with their windows down. Those blessed with more flashy motors clearly hold all the cards, burning rubber to battle into pole position much to the dismay of my “teammates”. But I am apparently the ace up their sleeves.
And so they dangle me like a blond, white carrot. We swerve dangerously close to a Peugeot, and Oman, a large, surprisingly red-haired Iranian leans out his window and belts Farsi in a fog-horn voice in the direction of the speeding car alongside. The only words I can make out are “INGLISI! INGLISI!” A grinning Oman forces me to the window.
Surprisingly, and much to my astonishment, it begins to work.
A car of four boys begins a dating dance with a car full of three girls down the highway. We’re flirting at dangerous speeds with Oman laughing hysterically at my broken Farsi, thumping the roof of the car and jumping up and down like an excited ginger baboon. Since I cannot write (or speak) this beautiful language, I will attempt my conversation in phonetics:
“Salam! Bebaksheed, Farsi nemi do nam, Inglisi baladi?!” (Hello, excuse me/I’m sorry I don’t understand Farsi, do you speak English?!)
I can’t believe I’m leaning out of a car window shouting into another car window at 40 mph trying to pick up an Iranian girl. But this is the way it’s done. You’ve gotta adapt to survive. Maybe it’s time I got an iPhone.
A couple of kilometres fly by as this caper continues. You might wonder what’s happening around us. Alphas in other cars are trying the same thing, tyres screeching, horns blaring, guys shouting. A sure sign girls are not interested is the devastating gesture of the slow roll up of the window. You’re either going to meet the love of your life or you’re getting scraped off the road. And you’ve got to feel sympathy for the folk just trying to get home from work. It’s utter madness, it’s incredibly dangerous, and it’s insanely good fun. Who needs booze?
Again to my utter astonishment, my companions have negotiated a roadside rendezvous. A few yards on and both cars have swung to the curbside, and I’m reluctantly being dragged out of the vehicle to talk to the girls behind, paraded like a show-and-tell. Give me five pints and a tequila and I’d be polishing a silver tongue, but one non-alcoholic piss-in-a-can down and I can’t barely muster so much as a hello. I retreat into my mortified shell.
It’s the girls and my companions that are driving the conversation, predominately about me and at my expense. I’m something of an attraction. Oman and friends are inquiring which one I want to marry. They’re all very attractive, and in broken English the driver is asking if I like her. The girl in the back is asking me to guess her age (25). But the girl in the front passenger seat, well, she was something else entirely.
I’ve learned the Farsi for “you are very beautiful” but somehow my stuttering attempts wouldn’t do her justice, so I keep my mouth shut and just look sheepish. As much as my friends and their driver are engaging in animated conversation trying to marry me off, passenger girl and I are doing some kind of dance of our own. She’s taken my friends number, and promises to call me tomorrow night for my birthday. The guys usher me back to our ride. As reluctantly as I was to get out, so I am to get back in. This shit works.
And so it begins again in earnest. Apparently not content with that recent success, they’re buzzing for new quarry, demanding which cars occupants I want to go for next. And it’s not just women in cars. Any hapless girl on the street with a modicum of attractiveness is fair game – but for the most part, they’re loving it as much as we are.
“EEMA! EEMA! EEMA!” (HERE! HERE! HERE!) becomes the battle cry as any lady in eye line takes the full frontal flak of horny Iranians, and our insane driver swings over in an attempt to grab attention. It’s a wash/rinse/repeat game theory, with the plan being to get many girls numbers before the night is done. It’s not good enough with just one, and the boys are clearly sensing blood with me as the unwilling (willing) bait.
But for all my bullshit and bravado, a fine line of arrogance and confidence that I cross regularly, in any given moment, I tend to lean towards monogamy. I’m content with my highway hook up, because you can’t improve upon perfection. Incredulous, they wonder how I can sit back and rest on my laurels when the intercourse Indy-500 is only on its second lap.
One final attempt with two girls on the sidewalk comes to nothing and we turn for home. Tomorrow I move gingerly into my late thirties, facing my first sober and celibate birthday since 1999. But as recent exploits, health scares and a bleeding of funds have shown; perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
Maybe I’m slowing down. Maybe my racing days are finally over. Maybe I’m getting old.