A German-based journalist chronicles his travels to Iran.
Throughout this book, Orth, the former online travel editor for Der Spiegel, dispels myths about Iranians, whom he shows to be friendly, flirty (especially in text messages), warm, great dancers, and uncommonly hospitable. When he asked why Iranians hate America, one of his couchsurfing hosts responded, “not the Iranians—the government.” As the author demonstrates, when people are connecting with people on a personal level, the enmity that exists on the official level dissipates. One Iranian told Orth something that he loved so much he adopted the adage as his own, and he closes two consecutive chapters with it: “There are no bad places if the reason you are traveling is to meet people.” He met a wide variety of people at vacation oases, parties (featuring dancing and alcohol among other forbidden fruits), battlefields that serve as memorials, and especially in homes, where strangers open their doors as hosts. This book is as much about the titular method of vacationing as it is about the destination, as “couchsurfing,” though officially forbidden and theoretically in violation of the law, proved to be a particularly effective way of getting to know these people. And the trend is worldwide; the author documents how “fourteen million couchsurfers, hundreds of thousands of members of Hospitality Club, BeWelcome, Global Freeloaders, and Warm Showers, open their doors to strangers.” A phenomenon facilitated by the internet and smartphones, couchsurfing allows for cultural exchange outside the conventional channels of tourism, in a realm where money rarely changes hands. It is here that Orth revels in the paradoxes and contradictions he encountered—how Adele can be so popular in a country where women are forbidden to sing in public, how a public stance of religious fundamentalism becomes far more relaxed, even defied, in private, and how Iranians struggle with concepts of courtship and marriage that seem alien to Western visitors.
A breezy narrative that offers a couch-level view of Iran that you won’t find in travel guides.