Should Iranian diplomats pursue their duties in neatly creased trousers, as their Western counterparts tend to do?
It's hearsay, but author Hooman Majd, son of a former Iranian ambassador, says high-level advice comes from a pamphlet published at the Iranian Foreign Ministry. He attributes it to Mojtaba Hashemi-Samareh, senior adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but says no one seems to have the pamphlet but every diplomat "swears" it existed.
"Hashemi-Samareh believed," Majd writes, "that Iranian diplomats' trousers could not sport sharp creases, for if they did, it was surely a sign that the diplomats were neglecting their thrice-daily obligatory prayers, which comprise repetitive standing, kneeling and bowing gestures."
Majd is the grandson of an ayatollah, born in Teheran, educated at American and British schools, a citizen of both Iran and the United States. Now in his early 50s, he likes to explain in popular and witty English the peculiarities of Iranians' temperament and their Farsi tongue.
He emphasizes the centrality of Muslim piety to Iranian public and private life, but also tries hard to find resemblances between Iran and the United States in "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ - The Paradox of Modern Iran" (Doubleday, $24.95).
He quotes a young man he met a Teheran "burger joint" as insisting that Iranian youth fought for and won rights that cannot be taken away. He was not talking about political rights.
"... (W)hat he was talking about," Majd writes, "was being able to chat with a girl, exchange a phone number, and maybe dress as he pleases (all of which he was doing). Being able to watch satellite TV and bootleg DVDs. Or being able to drink and party at home, or hang out with girls at coffee shops like the Doors, an inviting place downtown with a large photo of Jim Morrison on what would be the bar if there were any booze, and typical of the many coffee shops that Iranian youths hang out in."