Season 1
Episode 14: Iran: MisInfoNation – Down with America, Garlic Shampoo, and the Incredible Hulk

Seeking to understand the world’s most misunderstood country.

Neil and Andrés know enough to know they know very little about the real Iran. This week, Passport aims to change that. Get ready to have your misconceptions blown away when political scientist Sohail Jannessari stops by for the latest MisInfoNation.

This week on MisInfoNation we talk to Sohail Jannessari about what could be the most misunderstood country on the planet. Iran. A political scientist with a cutting sense of humour, Sohail takes on some of the most divisive questions about Iran and Iranians. 

Today we turn the view of Iran that’s been shaped by Western media upside-down.  From the food, to the etiquette, the oppression of women, to how to guarantee you’ll get into a fight, who pays the bill and the weight of being from a nation with an incredibly negative media slant – which sometimes turns Sohail into the Incredible Hulk.  Plus, should you travel to Iran if you’re American?   

We can’t think of a more important place to understand a little better.

SAVED PINS

5 gems that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about Iran.

  1. MOUNT SOFEH
    An easy hike up to one of Sohail’s favorite spots in all of Isfahan. A spectacular place to view a city known as the cultural capitol of the Islamic world.
  2. ABADAN
    A historic city whose oil refinery has played a key role in the country’s history – and in Sohail’s family history too. His grandfather worked in the refinery and took part in labor strikes and political acts throughout the 1940s.
  3. AZADI STADIUM
    Built to host the 1974 Asian games, watching a football (that’s soccer for the Americans) match there is an “…experience unlike any other” according to Sohail. 90 minutes of pure goosebumps with 99,000 other fans.
  4. SHOMAL
    Where the Caspian Sea meets the absolutely fantastic Alborz mountain range, you’ll finde a magical region of towns steeped in history and surrounded by forests, mountains and the sea.
  5. JONOOB
    Portuguese forts, spicy Indian influenced food, amazing fish captured in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, rhythmic Afro-beat like music. If you want to see the mix of people in Iran, this almost 2000km route from southeast to southwest is the route to take.

CONNECT WITH US!

On Instagram: @passportpodcast

On Facebook: @passportpod

On Twitter: @passportpod

On The Web: frequencymachine.com/passport

Get The Ticket – the Passport newsletter with amazing new stories. 


CONNECT WITH OUR GUESTS!

Sohail Jannessari on Twitter: @SoJannessari

This week’s episode of Passport was written, produced and edited by Neil Innes and Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Sohail Jannessari for helping us make the show. 

Our theme music is by the incredible Nick Turner with additional stuff by Off the Menu, Albinopines, Auracle and Alexandra Hampton.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski. Our Production Assistant is Eliza Engel.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are partial to a little bit of the old “head toe” they also executive produce the show… 

Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who has everything in the correct folder on his pinterest, Andrés Bartos.

See you in the next place! 

 

Banner images:
Imam Khomeini Mosque, Isfehan, Photo by Mohsen khorrampour on Unsplash
Teheran, Photo by Majid Hajiloo on Unsplash

EPISODE 14 – TRANSCRIPT

NEIL: Don’t feel you need to answer any of these. It’s all in good faith and good fun.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: I accept your white guilt.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Oh my god.

[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]

ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.

NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.

I’m Neil Innes

ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.

NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.

ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.

[END MAIN TITLE]

[Song playing]

NEIL: There are things we think we know about places. But history, prejudice, stereotypes, and the viral nature of 24-hour news and social media has made common knowledge about faraway places even more twisted than ever.

ANDRÉS: Today on Passport, we try and clear up some of the outright lies of an entire nation by doing what we do best.

Having a chat with someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. And today on MisInfoNation, we’re going to one of the most misunderstood countries on earth. Iran.

[Song playing]

NEIL: The world’s perception of Iran is incredibly narrow. It’s blunt, it’s black and white. Thoughts of it are constantly clouded with news of Saudi nuclear deals, recent conflict with the West, anti-American speeches, crowds chanting death to America, drone strikes, assassinations.

ANDRÉS: Iran seems to have been tainted in Western media for as long as the West can remember.

We here at Passport have many Iranian friends and have always found them to be total demolition experts when it comes to destroying the outside views of their home country. But no one more so than Sohail Jannessari.

NEIL: A political scientist, comic book fan, Twitter addict, friend, and all-around genius when it comes to matters in Iran or pretty much anywhere in the world.

ANDRÉS: We sat down with him in Barcelona to throw every myth, stereotype and allegation he’s already heard at him to see if we can get to the bottom of the world’s skewed view of Iran. But what does he think we’re going to ask him?

NEIL: Tell us what you think we’re going to talk to you about.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, what are we gonna…

SOHAIL: Oh the subjects that I have to, that I have to…

ANDRÉS: Tell us what’s on that piece of paper.

NEIL: Tell us what’s on the magic list.

SOHAIL: Okay. The Jews

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: I ranked this.

ANDRÉS: Oh, wow. Number one, the Jews.

NEIL: Straight in there.

Uh, number two, the Jews.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Um, weirdly I did not put it on the list.

SOHAIL: I have Jewish friends. I’m not racist.

ANDRÉS: He’s in the room with one of them right now.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: I Just got like un-Jewed by this Iranian fella.

SOHAIL: Then it’s about the U.S. embassy or relationship with the U.S.

NEIL: Yup.

ANDRÉS: Sure.

SOHAIL: Arab ethnicity and Arabic language.

ANDRÉS: It’s a much more elegant way of putting it.

SOHAIL: Um, let’s say the queer experience in Iran or homosexuality or LGBTQIA. I just like queer. The political system, democracy, Islamic Republic, theocracy, whatever.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Nukes.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Is that the name of the episode, Nukes and Jews.

NEIL: Do both of those words have question marks after them?

ANDRÉS: Nukes, question mark.

SOHAIL: The next one has…

ANDRÉS: …one exclamation mark.

SOHAIL: and camels and flying carpets.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Oh man. Well, it’s been nice having you on Passport.

NEIL: Everything’s covered. So, uh, everyone fly to Iran. It’s a beautiful place.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: Yeah. That was a ton.

ANDRÉS: Wow. Oh, great.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Tell us where you were born.

SOHAIL: I was born in Ahvaz. Ahvaz is the biggest city in the Southwestern part of Iran.

NEIL: I looked up the city. It’s, it’s fucking amazing looking. 

SOHAIL: Is it? Oh, do you want me to give you the other city I lived in? Isfahan, because…

NEIL: I am

We’re setting a precedent early on here. The first piece of research we did to find out about the Sohail’s Iran, I got wrong. This is going to happen a lot.

SOHAIL: When I was 12 years old, we moved to Isfahan, Esfahan in Persian.  

NEIL: Which is incredibly beautiful.

SOHAIL: Nice, nice.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Yeah, what’s a, Isfahan known for, apart from yourself?

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Famous on Twitter

SOHAIL: Um, Isfahan is a historical and cultural city, the cultural capital of the Islamic world. A few years ago… yeah it’s lame.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Sounds good though.

SOHAIL: It used to be the capitol when Iran was from India to Syria,

ANDRÉS: What?

NEIL: Okay.

SOHAIL: 500 years ago. I mean, Iran has been great before, make Iran great again, I’m going to just throw that in.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Wow. We’re straight in.

SOHAIL: Yup.

NEIL: Sohail 2020 for president.

ANDRÉS: Iran was great.

NEIL: You see, Iran was once great. It was massive. Around 500 BC at its peak, the Persian Empire was 5.5 million square kilometers.

That’s bigger than India. In fact, it once stretched almost from China, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. And at the time it was the biggest empire the world had ever known.

ANDRÉS: This great period was followed by a takeover by Alexander the Great, and after that came the Parthian dynasty, then the Sassanian dynasty until 661 AD.

In the seventh century, the Arabs conquered Iran and so did Islam. The Turks and Mongols had a go with the Persian Empire too. But soon local dynasties took power and continued to rule right up until the end of the 1970s when the Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown.

The King fled and Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini became leader of the theocratic republic between 1979 and 1989.

Ayatollah Khamenei still rules today with more power than even the president.

NEIL: And that’s pretty intimidating. So armed with our incredibly offensive, stereotypical questions, we walked right into one of the most ridiculous misconceptions about Iran.

Iranians are Arabs.

SOHAIL: We aren’t, um, Iran has maybe like 2 million or 3 million Arabs. I’m not sure again.

ANDRÉS: Of a population of

SOHAIL: 80 something million.

ANDRÉS: 80…

SOHAIL: 80 million inside the country. And there are like two to 4 million Iranians outside.

NEIL: So Persians take offense?

SOHAIL: Um, I don’t care. Like I don’t see color. Um, so the modern Iranian nationalism, which is a Persian nationalism started like maybe a hundred, 150 years ago.

And that Iranian nationalism, which is like that Persian nationalism is built against most of the ethnicities of Iran, like Arabs, Turks, Balochis, others. But, um, the one against Arabs is more forceful. It’s basically, there’s a great book was published last year and it talks about how this weird nationalism, Iranian nationalism imagined Iranians as this lost tribe of Europeans, that you are like, we should be Europeans.

We belong there, but we are here surrounded by barbarians.

ANDRÉS: So you’re like the Argentinians of the Middle East.

SOHAIL: Yes. But like that weird thing it’s just,

NEIL: We’re so fucked already.

ANDRÉS: I know. I knew when we walked through in here this was going to be bad.

SOHAIL: This is going to be so bad. I’m going to lose my job.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: For those of you who haven’t realized yet, this is really complicated. I mean, in a country which speaks more than 10 languages, including Persian, Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Gilaki and Mazandarani, Luri, Arabic, Balochi, Tati, Talysh, Armenian, Georgian, and many, many more dialects.

There’s just one question. For people who have no idea, how do you describe being Persian?

SOHAIL: I don’t like that description of Persian because…

NEIL: What are you Sohail, instead of, you can’t just be a star.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: On Twitter you can.

SOHAIL: Like diamonds in the sky.

It’s like describing Spanish people who are not Catalans or Galician or Basques as Castilian.

ANDRÉS: Ooh, nice. Gotcha.

NEIL: All right.

ANDRÉS: Very nice way of putting

SOHAIL: Saying Persian is just like that. There’s no unifying theme besides maybe the language and some of them don’t even have that. They basically tried to create this identity as Persian because they were against, they were racist against all the ethnicities.

So just like, oh yeah, those are Turks. Those are Arabs. We are Persians. No, there’s nothing. There’s nothing in common, we’re just Iranians. I’m just there.

ANDRÉS: Amazing.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Most people’s view of Iran comes from 24-hour news channels.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world.

NEIL: Googling Iran is quite a rabbit hole of negativity, especially when it comes to the phrase most associated with the country. And it’s, it’s not a nice one.

Death to America, question mark?

SOHAIL: Marg bar Āmrikā, a hundred percent.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: But it is, that is like the phrase that people think of. Isn’t it?

NEIL: It is. It’s the phrase that of lot of people Googling around think of.

SOHAIL: Yeah. So I’ve taught that to most of my American and British friends here. How to say that in Persian.

ANDRÉS: Let’s do it.

SOHAIL: Marg bar Āmrikā

ANDRÉS: Wow. Too fast.

SOHAIL: Marg

ANDRÉS: Marg

SOHAIL: Bar

ANDRÉS: Bar

SOHAIL: Āmrikā

ANDRÉS: Āmrikā

SOHAIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: So the phrase which is one of the most returned phrases in search results about Iran, turns out it’s a mistranslation.

SOHAIL: The technical translation is that actually death, it’s down with.

ANDRÉS: Oh, well that’s a big difference.

SOHAIL: So lame, it just loses all its like, power.

ANDRÉS: It does lose a lot of power, but it’s a very different thing.

SOHAIL: It’s very different, yeah.

NEIL: So, where did the phrase come from?

SOHAIL: The previous regime, the monarchy before revolution was very close to the U.S. government, especially to the Republican ones. This image was created that Iran is a client state of the U.S.

ANDRÉS: Huh.

SOHAIL: They basically equated Iranian monarchy and all its flaws with the U.S. government as well, like the popular feeling was that, that these two go together.

So it became a rallying cry after the revolution to be against the U.S. and be against the King as well.

ANDRÉS: It’s something that came down from you from your parents’ generation.

SOHAIL: That’s when the hatred towards the U.S. became a mainstream part of opposing monarchy and just political thought.

ANDRÉS: So our thought in the West is that Iran is fraught with war, but with Sohail, we know he loves his food and we discovered that the biggest fight in Iran is actually over one particular dish.

NEIL: It’s crispy rice.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: I would kill people over there.

NEIL: It’s true. Yes, I got one.

SOHAIL: Yes, it’s true.

ANDRÉS: We win!

SOHAIL: Yeah so imagine like, we are very close with our cousins and uncles and aunts.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: So a party of like 20 people, all of them, uncles, aunts, and cousins is very normal.

ANDRÉS: Right.

SOHAIL: That thing, crispy rice is called tahdig, which means bottom of the pot.

ANDRÉS: Oh, oh I know what you’re talking about.

SOHAIL: It’s very similar, not very similar, but it’s kind of close to socarrat in Catalonia.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Yeah. It’s just like a burnt bottom, you have to burn it and it’s just so fucking good.

ANDRÉS: Oh, so it’s long grain rice.

SOHAIL: There’s no other kind of rice.

ANDRÉS: All right.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: And then when you reach the bottom and then what, like a fight breaks out?

SOHAIL: A dish comes that has all the tahdig, all the bottom of the pot, and then it depends where you are sitting on the table or on the ground.

ANDRÉS: Right.

SOHAIL: And if you are at the end, at the other end.

NEIL: No, no chance.

SOHAIL: You’re not going to get anything.

ANDRÉS: Oh no.

SOHAIL: You’re going to get maybe like a small like, two-centimeter thing.

ANDRÉS: You’re just going to get tears.

SOHAIL: Yeah. You can just like, I don’t know, cry yourself to sleep.

NEIL: So the fights come before the pot is even placed.

SOHAIL: I mean, when you are…

NEIL: Table positioning…

SOHAIL: When you’re a kid, you fight, you go and take your thing, what belongs to you.

ANDRÉS: Just climb over and rip the rice out of people’s hands.

[Song playing]

NEIL: The country of Iran is beautiful. Just look at pictures of Isfahan, Sohail’s hometown.

Maybe check out the Karim Khan castle, Badeb-e Surt Springs, the Eram Botanical Gardens, hundreds of natural pools, the largest lake in the Middle East, 14 volcanoes and a 900-kilometer-long forest to the north.

The place is varied and stunning.

ANDRÉS: It also has Persepolis, the palace of the King of Kings, the world’s biggest salt cave and the Tashkooh Burning Hill, which is constantly on fire because of leaking natural gas.

Online there’s a mountain of incredible reviews of Iran from thousands and thousands of travelers who have had their expectations destroyed.

Not only that, they’re unanimously surprised by the kind, generous and caring Iranians.

NEIL: How does all of this stuff in the news, like the kind of the banner headlines of what people think about Iran, how does it translate for Americans visiting in Iran?

ANDRÉS: Are there Americans visiting Iran?

SOHAIL: Yeah. Like the sentiment, the general sentiment is not against the American people.

ANDRÉS: Right.

SOHAIL: A lot of people actually love and admire and adore white tourists. So if you are from the U.S. and they were like, oh yeah, Trump strong. Like, no, don’t say that. But they do those kinds of stuff, but maybe they don’t like the government, but the people I doubt there will be a lot of like negative sentiment among the people seeing Americans in Iran.

NEIL: There’s also this strange view we found about Iranians living in their own little bubble. Disinterested with the West, uncaring about the ways of the world outside their country. So we asked Sohail if there was any truth in this at all.

SOHAIL: Do you know Daily Show when it was with John Stewart, they sent Jason Jones to Iran and he asked some like, shop owner about U.S. politics.

And that dude started naming all the U.S. presidents from Obama, Bush, Clinton. And like, you see that this dude knows all of them. He said, yeah, it’s, it was Carter and before Carter, it was not Nixon, the other one, Ford, and then it was Nixon.

Come on.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: But yeah, that’s the sentiment. Like they know a lot of that, they care about the U.S., also globalization means that everyone follows U.S. politics as well.

NEIL: It’s actually funny that’s one thing I found online was like, it was basically about how Iranian people are so involved in what’s going on with the, with the rest of the world because of their very, very, very recent history and, well, the last hundred years of history. They know everything about what’s going on.

SOHAIL: I’m on Twitter every day. I’m addicted to Twitter. I’m, I have another account for my Persian sphere.

ANDRÉS: Right.

SOHAIL: And you see deep conversation. Not, not deep deep, but like, so Alabama is having a Senate race.

ANDRÉS: Oh, amazing.

SOHAIL: So what’s the relation between Jeff Sessions and I don’t know, whatever.

ANDRÉS: That’s incredible.

SOHAIL: It’s so weird. So strange. Like I just want to wake up one day and not see any of that.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Iran follows politics like, you know, some Americans follow like the Premier League.

ANDRÉS: Just imagine, imagine, imagine a Twitter, like channel where they’re like going into local Iranian politics, trying to figure out like which council member is going to be representing, you know, the nationalistic view versus the Arabic view.

[Song playing]

NEIL: In MisInfoNation, asking the tough questions really means asking the stupid ones. So given Iran’s oppressive MO in the tabloids, surely social media is a no, no there. Right?

Instagram is the only social network in Iran.

SOHAIL: Lie. Instagram is very big. Twitter is also big. Pinterest is very big.

ANDRÉS: Really?

NEIL: Pinterest is a dark horse.

ANDRÉS: I mean, I had one and then I got a little crazy and then I gave it up because I was like, this is not good.

NEIL: I still don’t understand.

SOHAIL: Why? I don’t understand what’s the point of it.

ANDRÉS: Okay. So this is a section in MisInfoNation Iran where I defend Pinterest. Which is a thing I never thought I would have to do.

Pinterest allows you…

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up and listen to me.

NEIL: You went into like full board meeting…

ANDRÉS: Absolutely, this is very serious. If you’re an image fetishist, it allows you to collect all these things into folders. So I can, all of my weird animal pictures, I can, shut up, I can organize…

NEIL: That’s a big folder.

ANDRÉS: It is. It is a very large folder.

My folder of like moody motel images. Clearly, most people are not using Pinterest in this way, but it’s, it’s um, it’s very useful. Yeah.

NEIL: This is MisInfoNation, Andrés.

ANDRÉS: I know.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Another thing that’s high on the Google list. That’s Iran’s oppression of women.

NEIL: Women in Iran are oppressed.

SOHAIL: Yes.

ANDRÉS: Oh, wow.

SOHAIL: Is there anyone who could say no, people would say that, but it’s just stupid. Yeah.

NEIL: I was reading, you know, um, numbers of women in universities, numbers of women in STEM fields it’s like crazy, crazy, crazy high.

SOHAIL: Yeah. I know. Majority of people in universities are women and,

ANDRÉS: That’s interesting because men are doing just other jobs or what do you, what are you saying?

SOHAIL: I assume so. I don’t know. I remember in our welcome to my bachelor degree, like god, how many years ago?

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Notice he didn’t say the years.

SOHAIL: I know. The dean of the, the director of the university came and said that this year they had accepted 72% women and 27% men degrees that if you go to it’s like three men and maybe like 45 women in one class.

ANDRÉS: Gut then the teacher is a man?

SOHAIL: A lot of them are, but it’s changing as well because more women are getting the degrees and coming through universities.

ANDRÉS: From having such a huge population of a university educated women, is the country changing because of that?

SOHAIL: I mean, the country is changing along with that, but it’s in different levels, like everything, every field, every aspect of it. I think a woman’s um, share of workforce,

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Hasn’t grown that much in the last, like 20 years. It’s less than 20%.

ANDRÉS: Wow. 70% of students, 20% of workers.

SOHAIL: Something like that. Female unemployment is too damn high.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: That’s a headline.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Sohail’s right. On average, Iranian women make up more than 60% of the country’s universities, but as little as 16 of the country’s workforce. The opportunity to learn is there and is encouraged, but the discrimination is still there when hiring. For women, working in Iran remains a desert.

ANDRÉS: It is slowly getting financially better for women in some public sectors of the workforce. But Iran is one of the only few countries that have not signed the CEDAW. That is the UN law on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

NEIL: The other countries who haven’t signed: Nauru Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States of America.

Something to think about.

ANDRÉS: So we’ll be back after this short break with, get this, Iranian food, fighting over the bill, weird shampoo flavors, and much, much more.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Iran’s food is not often discussed. Well, we discovered some pretty damn incredible plates of food and we asked Sohail, what is it? Have you tried it? Is it good? Destroying the Persian language in the process.

What is it? Have you tried it? Is it good?

ANDRÉS: Okay,

SOHAIL: Go ahead.

NEIL: Kaleh pacheh.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: Of course.

NEIL: Am I close?

SOHAIL: Kaleh pacheh. Kaleh is head, pacheh is toe. Kaleh pacheh is basically…

ANDRÉS: Head toe.

SOHAIL: Yeah. We cook the whole body of a sheep.

ANDRÉS: Whoa.

SOHAIL: From the head and the skeleton,

ANDRÉS: But like boiled?

SOHAIL: Yeah, but like overnight, like 12 hours or something.

ANDRÉS: 12 hours of boiling an entire sheep.

SOHAIL: It’s crazy. We first chop it down and then put every part together.

NEIL: It looks staggering, like in a good way and a bad way.

SOHAIL: Yeah, in a bad way. Um, it includes various parts from the tongue, which is super good, to the eyes, which imagine chewing on that, to the brain, which is very crispy in a way. It’s a big party. Like it needs a lot of people to like, cook that.

ANDRÉS: Right.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Sirabi.

SOHAIL: Sirabi is part of Kaleh pacheh. Sirabi is, um…

NEIL: Tripe.

SOHAIL: Yeah, the tripe, yeah. It looks like a towel. I’ve never had it because…

[Laughter]

NEIL: It really does.

ANDRÉS: You’ve seen it? It looks like a towel.

SOHAIL: I’ve never had it.

NEIL: It looks like someone dropped the towel on the bathroom floor.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: Yes, exactly, like it’s disgusting, but a cousin of mine who once tried it,

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Explained that it also tastes like a towel.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Delo gholve

ANDRÉS: Gholve?

NEIL: I guess it would be gholve.

ANDRÉS: Gholve?

NEIL: Hold on I’m going English.

SOHAIL: One of you was correcterthan the other one. Delo is heart, gholve is kidneys.

ANDRÉS: Heart, kidneys, you got, the names are very straight to the point. You know what you’re gonna get.

NEIL: Can I have some, can I have a heart kidney?

ANDRÉS: I want some head toe.

SOHAIL: There is a jigar as well, like it’s delo gholve jigar.

NEIL: And these are, these are flame cooked?

SOHAIL: Grilled, yeah. It’s so fucking good.

ANDRÉS: Kahoo sekanjabin.

SOHAIL: It’s kahoo sekanjabin.

ANDRÉS: Ah, right, right, right, sorry.

SOHAIL: So kahoo is lettuce.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: Sekanjabin is this, um, sweet, sweet, very sweet liquid. I don’t know what it comes from and you just use the lettuce as like a dip into that.

ANDRÉS: Oh, that sounds really good.

SOHAIL: So good.

ANDRÉS: That sounds really good.

Gharegurut.

SOHAIL: Oh god, gharegurut. God, how can I describe that? It’s just like a sour thing, sour delicacy?

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: That apparently if you eat too much of you faint.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: Yeah. I mean, oh god.

NEIL: Is it a drug?

SOHAIL: No, but we have it as a delicacy, like sometimes like randomly, instead of like having a candy, like a bit of gharegurut.

NEIL: And then a little sleep and faint.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: I remember like I took a big bite of it in the street and one friend just shouted, don’t do that you’re going to like die or faint or whatever. I didn’t, but apparently you do.

ANDRÉS: Okay. And then we hit on a dish from Sohail’s home city of Isfahan.

NEIL: Doogh and gooshfil.

[Laughter]

 NEIL: Doogh and gooshfil.

ANDRÉS: Doogh and gooshfil.

NEIL: Doogh and gooshfil.

SOHAIL: God, fuck, um, doogh and gooshfil.

ANDRÉS: Doogh and gooshfil.

SOHAIL: So I’ve imagined, I’ve been imagining all the things you might ask me

ANDRÉS: You didn’t think we were going here?

SOHAIL: Never in my dreams, no, never in my nightmares would I thought of doogh and gooshfil. It’s from one city and one city alone.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: It’s a stain on that that city. It’s Isfahan.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Wow. You’ve done it very well.

SOHAIL: It’s from Isfahan, so…

ANDRÉS: You’ve gone straight to the heart.

SOHAIL: So doogh is yogurt, water and salt, so it’s sour. And gooshfil is sweet thing. Sweet, sweet. So you mix these two for no fucking reason.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: So ask anyone who is not from Isfahan what they think about doogh gooshfil. They might punch you. It’s just like, no, just don’t mix these.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: Havij bastani.

SOHAIL: Bastani.

ANDRÉS: Bastani.

SOHAIL: Bastani is ice cream. Havij is carrot.

ANDRÉS: Carrot ice cream.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Sounds all right.

SOHAIL: You just liquify some carrot and put it into ice cream. Mix it with ice cream.

ANDRÉS: Okay. So, it’s not carrot ice cream. It’s carrot blended into ice cream.

SOHAIL: Yeah, one of my uncles is like every day in the summer has that basically. It’s just like. You wake up 8:30 AM, and he’s blending carrots.

NEIL: Wake up, tubs of ice cream, bags of carrots.

ANDRÉS: Barre toodeli.

SOHAIL: I don’t have a good faintest idea what that is.

NEIL: I’ll give you a hint. It’s not yet in this world.

ANDRÉS: It’s an unborn sheep fetus.

SOHAIL: Oh, that’s toodeli.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Another thing we found while trolling the internet is that many pieces of news and even official government documents confuse Iran with Iraq or weirder still, dub Iran a tiny country, cause they are tiny, right?

SOHAIL: Fuck no. Iran is, I think, bigger than Spain and France and Germany combined.

ANDRÉS: That’s nearly three times the size of Texas.

SOHAIL: It’s 1,648,195 kilometers squares, square kilometers.

ANDRÉS: That sounds like a lot.

SOHAIL: We have to memorize that in school, that’s why I know it. It doesn’t show it. It’s a grower.

ANDRÉS: It’s a grower not a shower.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Oh my God.

[Song playing]

NEIL: So, number 10, Iran hates tables and chairs.

SOHAIL: Uh…

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: So, god, how do I explain that. We didn’t have a lot of that until very recently. It was not common to sit on a chair or a table to eat.

NEIL: Obvious question, but where does it come from?

SOHAIL: I’m going to just generalize here. I think it came from the West to be on a chair basically because of satellite TV, propagation of TV series, American TV series.

ANDRÉS: Like Friends?

SOHAIL: Friends, fuck Friends, but exactly Friends.

ANDRÉS: I went straight to the source.

SOHAIL: Yeah. You see a lot of tweets about Friends in Persia. I’m like, maybe don’t guys, that’s just not cool.

NEIL: Watching Friends for the 19th time.

SOHAIL: I’ve done that.

ANDRÉS: Yeah. This kind of flies in the face of death to America.

SOHAIL: Yeah. A lot of thinking that we should be like Americans because they are the top, they are the best country in the world.

ANDRÉS: Hmm.

SOHAIL: It’s like a dream to be like them. So like, if you, so nuclear deal, Iran signed it a few years ago with the U.S., UK and like all the permanent, uh, members of, uh, UNSC.

ANDRÉS: This is the Obama era.

SOHAIL: 2014 or 2015. People in Tehran, some people in Tehran, again, they went into the streets to, um, celebrate that.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: And there is a famous photo in New York Times I think. There’s a guy with like that brand from New York, I love New York and it’s I love U.S. And some people chanted bye, bye falafel, welcome McDonalds.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: That sounds like Dave Chappelle skit.

[Song playing]

NEIL: You see, capitalism and the West are welcome in Iran.

ANDRÉS: Iran’s coffee shop boom, and shopping in general are growing and as we love to do here at Passport, we found some very odd products. But we found something which we quickly became obsessed… with shampoo flavors.

Garlic flavored shampoo and/or carrot and egg flavored shampoo.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: Always go with garlic.

[Laughter]

SOHAIL: I started my master’s studies in Tehran. And so I went to the first pharmacy close to my dorm. It was a garlic flavor shampoo that he offered me, I bought it and I still remember the shape of the bottle.

NEIL: Did you smell nice?

SOHAIL: It doesn’t smell.

NEIL: Did you walk around constantly smelling like you were about to cook something?

SOHAIL: I would love that.

NEIL: There’s an old joke, which is like, you know, the perfect smelling person smells like a bacon sandwich.

[Song playing]

NEIL: So from things that should be banned and are not, to things that are banned and should not be.

ANDRÉS: Musical instruments are banned on television.

SOHAIL: They are not banned on TV. They just never show them. Legally ,it’s not banned.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: Technically it’s banned.

ANDRÉS: But what’s the, what’s the problem?

SOHAIL: It’s just so stupid.

ANDRÉS: Yeah, what’s going on?

SOHAIL: So, about maybe 20 years ago or something, they were just showing like normal, like whatever,

ANDRÉS: Some people playing a guitar and…

SOHAIL: But then somehow someone like decided, oops, not anymore. The whole culture war thing in Iran is just super weird. Like things become like issues and like people start like digging trenches over them that no one gives a shit about.

NEIL: They love pineapple. Fucking no pineapples now.

SOHAIL: Banned pineapple from today. And if anyone wants pineapples, he’s a spy from the U.S.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Oh my God.

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: So once again, nuance people, nuance. We did have some basic do’s and don’ts questions when going to Iran.

Here is a little speed round for you, which should clear a few things up about the cultural etiquette of the place.

I’m going to Iran. I shouldn’t talk about politics.

SOHAIL: Always talk about politics.

NEIL: Don’t show public displays of affection.

SOHAIL: It’s against morality laws and stuff. If you kiss from someone from the other gender, anywhere.

ANDRÉS: Anywhere, on the knee?

SOHAIL: Don’t do that anywhere, even here. They could jail you for that.

ANDRÉS: Wow. I’m going to Iran. I shouldn’t bring or drink alcohol.

SOHAIL: You will drink alcohol. Okay.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: You should, apparently, it’s safer not to bring it.

ANDRÉS: Okay.

SOHAIL: I know people who have brought it, like took it there inside their like luggage, normal luggage. Yeah. But alcohol is super banned, but a lot of people now consume it and produce wine by themselves. A recent trend, apparently. When I came to Spain, it was not that normal. Now apparently, it’s very normal to do that.

NEIL: Don’t ever say Arabian Gulf or the Gulf.

SOHAIL: Never say Arabian Gulf, it’s wrong basically. The gulf is just weird. It’s like which gulf, but the official name is Persian Gulf in all the international treaties and whatever. It became a very heated issue a few years ago when National Geographic printed a map and put it in English, Arabian Gulf, and it hurt Persian nationalism and Iranian nationalism in general.

And it just became a stupid issue again. Like it’s stupid culture war and like nationalistic issue at the same time. But it’s just…

ANDRÉS: I shouldn’t shake hands with members of the opposite sex in public.

SOHAIL: It used to be like that, not anymore. For religious woman, it’s of course a no go. They wouldn’t shake your hand.

ANDRÉS: They wouldn’t shake my hand.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

NEIL: They would let you kiss them on the knee though.

ANDRÉS: To be fair, most women won’t let me shake their hand.

NEIL: Don’t give the thumbs up.

SOHAIL: Yeah, never do that. It’s the same as middle finger.

ANDRÉS: Oh really?

SOHAIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: So if I want to insult someone I’m like this, how do I do it?

SOHAIL: Show thumbs up, yeah.

ANDRÉS: Oh, wow.

SOHAIL: But again, because of the U.S. it’s being changed into something. Oh yeah, it’s cool, whatever. It means, like good luck or something, but like, yeah, I’ve been beaten because I showed that to him.

ANDRÉS: Like seriously?

SOHAIL: I meant it as an insult, yeah.

ANDRÉS: And then you, you got your ass beat.

SOHAIL: I didn’t get my ass beat, I just said I got beaten. I didn’t die, but yeah.

ANDRÉS: I shouldn’t blow my nose if I’m in Iran.

SOHAIL: Shouldn’t do that anywhere. I like, so I came to Spain, I went to the flat that I had rented. I went out to call my parents. And like less than a minute after, someone from the other side of the street blew their nose.

And I was like, I want to go back to your room.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Just depressed.

SOHAIL: So depressing.

NEIL: Oh my god, I’m going to be so careful around you for the rest of our…

ANDRÉS: I had no idea.

SOHAIL: God, yeah.

NEIL: With all of these rules in mind, Iran feels like a place on edge. So our 11th question of the day, Iran is incredibly dangerous.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Just go to Iran.

It’s just like, god, come on. I know so many people who went there by themselves without not even one word of Persian or any other language from inside the country. And they were okay. They managed, they didn’t have, they didn’t find any troubles. Just go there.

ANDRÉS: And people are friendly?

SOHAIL: People are very friendly, too much I’d say. I don’t like it. You have to be nice to everyone.

NEIL: Lastly, we wanted to know something that a friend had told us about the country, and it’s something that I’m familiar with with certain nations. The absolute and often very sneaky need to pay for every meal, taxi, drink, everything. Apparently, this is the second biggest fight you can have in Iran… who pays.

SOHAIL: I hate it, like the main tenant of being Iranian that I hate is this.

ANDRÉS: How does it go? So people want to split it to the…

SOHAIL: Oh no, no

ANDRÉS: People want to pay?

SOHAIL: Everyone wants to pay all the time. Oh no, no, no, no. Let me pay, let me pay. Let me pay. Let me pay. Oh, no, this honors my father grave if you pay. And then the other side is like, I don’t know. this honors my ancestors or something.

Yeah. It’s like, even when you’re in a cab,

ANDRÉS: Oh, wow.

SOHAIL: Like the taxi driver usually says, like, when you say how much it is, the answer is usually, ah, no worries.

NEIL: Seriously?

SOHAIL: That’s a custom, like you have, they have to say no worries or something like it’s whatever.

ANDRÉS: And then you have to insist?

SOHAIL: You say, oh no, please.

NEIL: It’s inviting who’s the better man.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

NEIL: My god.

SOHAIL: And it’s like, I say, how much? The cab driver, oh, no worries. I say, oh no, please. And they say, seriously, no worries. I say, okay, please, pretty please.

SOHAIL: And they say, okay, 10 euros. And you say, okay, here it is. Sorry, I just have 9.9 euros. And they say, this is unacceptable.

[Laughter]

[Song playing]

ANDRÉS: So when it comes to the end of MisInfoNation, we always like to ask our guests about the pride they feel for their country.

NEIL: Are you proud to be Iranian?

SOHAIL: Yeah.

ANDRÉS: Why?

SOHAIL: It’s one of the few countries that was not colonized. It’s got a lot of diversity inside from different cultures, from different ethnicities, different languages, different everything.

And I’m kind of proud that I’m like actually from there and I could experience most of them because I’m from there. And because I speak that language, I have access to a lot of treasures of like poetry, literature, and stuff and if you’re bright.

NEIL: It’s always interesting to know how they deal with these stereotypes.

We asked Sohail and his answer was nothing short of incredible.

ANDRÉS: The way we kind of define countries now based on headlines and things like that, you know, Iran gets a lot of, just a lot of bad rep. And there’s none, none, no nuance. What’s that experience like, seeing that?

SOHAIL: So there’s a scene in the Avengers movie.

ANDRÉS: Amazing. This is not where I thought we were going.

SOHAIL: They are fighting with, I think Chitauri, and Captain America tells Hulk or Bruce Banner says bring out the angry side or something like that. And Bruce Banner turns to him while walking towards this massive thing, he just turns to Captain America and says, that’s my secret Capitan, I’m always angry and that turns to Hulk and smashes.

And I’m always angry.

ANDRÉS: So far, Scotland and Iceland, our previous MisInfoNation episodes showed that the ignorance about these places is usually light, fun, you know, name calling. Well, that’s not the case with Iran.

SOHAIL: I’m also a journalist from time to time. I write pieces and I have to deal with Western editors of Western media.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Sometimes it’s not a good experience.

ANDRÉS: Sure.

SOHAIL: Iran is somehow the only country that is bad in the world. Somehow Iran is the only country that is ruled by a religion. Which is not true, like a lot of other countries are like that.

Iran  is the only country that is not democratic in the Middle East, which is like, come on.

But it’s just easily dismissed, not just in the media, but even in political science books, because the political scientists do not read Persian or any other language from that area. And yeah, it’s just constant barrage of fuck that country.

[Song playing]

NEIL: Sohail is an outgoing, talkative forward-thinking kind and incredibly smart man, but he has a very different relationship to the MisInfoNation on his country. It’s constant, intense, sometimes unfriendly and it’s 24/7, but that doesn’t mean he has no sense of humor about it.

ANDRÉS: So you find yourself in a position where you’re defending, arguing, you’re an advocate. Like how do you?

SOHAIL: In a lot of cases I just ignore it because it’s just tiring. It’s…

NEIL: You don’t want to tear your pants.

SOHAIL: Yeah, I don’t have those pants that are built for Hulk. Yeah. But it’s just like, if you want to do that, you have to do it every day for 24 hours.

NEIL: I’m like,

ANDRÉS: No, I love it because if there’s one thing that MisInfoNation should be.

NEIL: Yeah, it’s this. No, it really is. After Scotland and after Iceland, the conversation suddenly feels much more, real, much more Hulkish.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Um, because it is, you know, the, the opinions of a place like Scotland or like Iceland is,

ANDRÉS: Generally benign.

NEIL: Yeah. Benign, happy, fluffy

SOHAIL: Drinking.

NEIL: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Kilty

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

NEIL: Yeah. I mean, it’s, is it part of it, the misrepresentation of Iran, is it because it’s just too fucking complicated to be nuanced about it?

SOHAIL: No one wants to colonize Iceland now. The last time that Scotland was threatened with war was probably like 200 years ago, 300 years ago before the act of union.

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: The last time that Iran was threatened to war was probably like two hours ago.

ANDRÉS: I was going to say like 4:00 PM.

SOHAIL: And it’s not like that in Europe. It’s very different when you want to criticize the government in Iceland than when you’re talking about a government in I don’t know, Lebanon. Or Kuwait or Qatar or Iran or whatever. The contemporary history, the very recent history in these countries is just so hard to read and not get mad and not be Hulk.

ANDRÉS: So after all of the questions and all of Sohail’s wonderful, exasperated answers, according to the judges here at Passport, it’s no surprise really that the Google worldwide view of Iran is about 25% correct.

Being Iranian must sometimes be a heavy one when traveling and meeting people because the world knows your country for really, really shortsighted reasons.

NEIL: Sohail told us he’s been asked many times by many people he has just met if all Iranians are terrorists. Sohail Janasari is not a terrorist. He is Hulk and Hulk smash good.

[Song playing]

NEIL: How do you think we did?

ANDRÉS: Yeah.

SOHAIL: Um, yeah, you were not bad. I mean…

NEIL: You’re very kind.

SOHAIL: You are white. I understand that. Like you are by definition, going to fail.

ANDRÉS: We’re coming in a very low…

SOHAIL: But, I didn’t get mad at any time…

ANDRÉS: That’s good.

SOHAIL: …in this this conversation, so I’m going to pass.

ANDRÉS: All right, we got a C, I think.

SOHAIL: Yeah.

[Laughter]

NEIL: Can you give us a really good phrase?

SOHAIL: Khak bar saram.  

ANDRÉS: Khak

SOHAIL: Khak

NEIL: Khak

SOHAIL: Bar

NEIL: Bar

ANDRÉS: Bar

SOHAIL: Saram

ANDRÉS: Saram.

SOHAIL: Which means soil be on your head.

ANDRÉS: Ooh.

NEIL: Wow.

SOHAIL: And it’s like a very low-level insult.

ANDRÉS: Well, that’s, that’s an ending, soil be on your head.

NEIL: Soil be on your head. Right, right in your head.

ANDRÉS: Thank you so much.

SOHAIL: Thank you guys.

ANDRÉS: Oh man, what a trip. Alright.

SOHAIL: Marg bar Āmrikā.

[Laughter]

ANDRÉS: Just in case you didn’t catch it the first few times.

[Song playing]

NEIL: This week saved pins are some of Sohail’s favorite experiences from all over Iran. Let’s do it.

ANDRÉS: Number one, Mount Soffeh. This easy to hike mountain overlooking Isfahan is one of, Sohail’s favorite spots overlooking the city. He used to hike there every Friday morning and think about the city that comes alive below, with Isfahan’s ambience as the background music.

NEIL: Number two, the Abadan Refinery. Sohail’s grandfather migrated there looking for work at the city’s refinery.

On the Western border with Iraq, there he took part in labor strikes and political acts in the 1940s. The workers played a vital role in Iran’s oil nationalization movement a few years later and in the 1979 revolution. Abadan was under heavy attacks by Iraq during the Iran Iraq war of the 1980s, but it endured and is there today.

ANDRÉS: Number three is Azadi Stadium. Inaugurated half a century ago to host the 1974 Asian games, the Azadi in the name means freedom. When the Iranian national team is playing against one of the traditional rivals or Tehran’s popular clubs play important matches in the Asian Champions League, you can expect almost 100,000 fans cheering in the stadium.

Sohail told us the experience is unlike any other I’ve had. If your team has not a failure, it’s 90 straight minutes of goosebumps.

NEIL: Number four, Shomal. This is where the southern rim of the Caspian Sea meets the absolutely fantastic Alborz mountain range. The towns formed there are basically surrounded by forests and mountains and the sea.

And that’s why Sohail loves it. The fish markets, the gruff men sitting in tea houses. It’s the difference between the close-knit lifestyle of a fertile agricultural land and the arid deserts and cold mountains. Beautiful.

ANDRÉS: Lastly, Jonoob. Jonoob means south. And any Iranians use Janoob to describe and equate everything from Chabahar, a port on the Indian Ocean, bordering Pakistan to Abadan, a port on the northwestern side of the Persian Gulf bordering Iraq.

This is an almost 2000-kilometer route from Southeast to the Southwest or the West, which hosts various ethnicities, languages, subcultures, et cetera. If you want to see the mix of people in Iran, this is the route to take. There’s Portuguese forts, spicy Indian influenced food, amazing fish captured in the Persian Gulf and the sea of Oman and rhythmic Afrobeat like music and hot, really hot, humid weather.

If you liked this episode or you’re just a huge fan of the show in general, remember to head to podcastawards.com to nominate us as your faves.

NEIL: You can visit us@avig3.sg-host.com/passport. And you can find us on social media at PassportPodcast

ANDRÉS: Next week on Passport, the first part of a two part odyssey. Me and Neil travel to Jerusalem to meet Shaanan Street, Israel’s biggest hip hop star to talk about a bar that changed an entire neighborhood. We end up trying to unravel the mystery of one of the oldest, most complicated cities on earth. How do you have fun in Jerusalem?

We’ll see you next week.

[Song playing]

NEIL: This week’s episode of Passport was written, produced and edited by me Andrés Bartos.

Huge thanks to Sohail Jannessari for helping us make the show. Go and follow him on twitter @SoJannessari

We’ll have all of Sohail’s details in the show notes if you want to check out some of his writing and more.

Our theme music is by the incredible Nick Turner with additional stuff by Off the Menu, Albinopines, Auracle and Alexandra Hampton.

The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.

Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy are partial to a little bit of the old “head toe” they also executive produce the show.

Which is hosted by myself and a man who has everything in the correct folder on his pinterest profile, Andrés Bartos.

We’ll see you in the next place!

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© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.