Sunday, July 5, 2015

19th C. Persian Etiquette

The manners of the courtly occupant of a Teheran mansion  are guided by etiquette that is indeed 'a law of the Medes and Persians, which changes not.' ~ Depiction of ancient Persians and Medes

An Oriental Country That Is Nothing If Not Ceremonious

The manners of the courtly occupant of a Teheran mansion are guided by an etiquette that is indeed 'a law of the Medes and Persians, which changeth not.' The visitor sends notice an hour or two, previous to calling. If the visit is one of importance, notice is sent the previous day. You will go in a fashion suited to your social position and the rank of the host. Whether on horseback or in a carriage you will be accompanied by a number of mounted attendants.

As you approach the house, servants, mounted or on foot, come forth to meet you, and one returns with speed to announce your coming. A dozen attendants escort you to the reception-room. According to your relative rank, the host meets you at the foot of the staircase, at the door, or at the upper part of the room. The question of seats is one also requiring the utmost circumspection in observing the various shades of rank.
An 1880's collector card depicting the Shah's birthday holiday in Persia
If your rank is superior to that of your host you are invited to occupy a sofa alone, at the upper corner, while the host sits on a chair, or on the floor at your right. The left is more honorable than the right in Persia. If of equal rank, he occupies the sofa with you ; but if you are inferior, then the positions are reversed. The upper corner of the room is in any case the most honorable position. If a number are present of various ranks, each one knows his place at a glance. The passing of refreshments is also a matter of undeviating strictness, the number and quality depending on the time of day and the character of the gneet.

The kalian, or waterpipe, offers a fine opportunity for a display of Persian manners. According to precept and custom, a Mohammedan cannot smoke the same pipe with a Christian, and, except on rare occasions when the host is a man of progressive views, a separate pipe is furnished for a European visitor. But among Persians, it is the custom for the highest in rank to receive the pipe first, offering it to each in turn before smoking himself. For an inferior to accept the offer is an incredible offense against good manners. But, each in turn after this ceremony, takes a few whiffs at the pipe, all taking care to eject the smoke from the bowl before offering it to the next. The attendants on such an occasion leave their shoes at the door and retire backwards. —Ex-Minister Benjamin, in Daily Alta, December, 1885

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