When trying to do business in Iran
you should have lots of patience. Make appointments well in advance and call to confirm before catching a plane. Business hours are generally 9 to 5 from Saturday to Thursday with lunches around 1 p.m. On Fridays almost all businesses are closed. During No-Rooz, a major holiday in March, businesses close for two to three weeks.
Although most appointments are not kept on time you should still plan to be punctual. Traffic in certain areas can be heavy, especially in Tehran, so allow plenty of extra time for appointments. Upon first introductions don’t go straight into the business pitch but instead, make small talk and wait for your counterpart to initiate the subject of business.
Business dress should be conservative suits of dark colors. Ties are not necessary and in fact, are almost unheard of in the region. Women’s clothing should be especially unrevealing, covering the arms completely as well as the legs. In public it’s a must to wear a veil or scarf over the hair. Shorts are taboo unless you’re a man and you’re at the beach.
It’s okay to ask about your counterpart’s family and health as long as you don’t ask questions that are too personal. Getting to know your associates on a personal level will help you achieve your business goals. Sports, history, current happenings, and area culture are good topics of conversation. Avoid topics concerning the relations between Iran and the U.S. Negative comments concerning anything to do with Iran, its government or its people will not earn you any favors from the Iranians.
Upon being introduced to an Iranian take note of his name and the proper pronunciation. Stay on formal terms until they address you more casually. At that point you are usually welcome to address them by first name as well.
Business gifts are often seen as a form of bribery so limit gifts to associates that have become friends and state the reason for the gift. Make sure the gift is not overly expensive. When invited to an Iranian’s home take a gift of flowers or chocolates. Do not show up with no gift at all. All gifts should be wrapped before given. Since Iranians are Muslims don’t give gifts containing alcohol or anything made from pig.
Don’t expect business matters to be hurried. The first meeting is strictly a get-to-know-each-other session. Negotiations can go on for long periods of time with Iranians haggling over everything. It’s likely that they will send a member who’s a little lower on the totem pole for initial presentations. As trust builds you can expect to meet with senior members if the group continues to be interested in what you are offering.
While dining you’ll be asked to start eating before the others. Toasts are unheard of in this culture. It’s slightly rude to leave a portion of food on your plate. When asked if you want more of anything you should always decline even if you want more. This way, the host or hostess has a chance to insist that you have more. This back and forth debate is done at other times, not just meals. After having declined at least twice you are then expected to accept. Since this is a two way street anything you wish to give someone should be offered several times.
Public behavior is very important in Iran. Never talk loud or gesture wildly with arms. Never hold hands with the opposite sex in public unless they are family. Some Iranian customs may seem strange to you but each country has its own ways and you should follow along while in their country. For best business results have lots of patience and attempt to know your counterparts on a personal level.