Snow arrived covering my out-of-town neighbourhood. The development to the left are the ongoing, still unfinished Mayor's offices

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"What is it; house prices double every five or so years?", I put it, plucking a guestimate from nowhere in particular, "no, not at all", my friend's father – a property developer – corrected me. I expected him to maybe add another year, but it was quite the opposite; "no, house prices double every two and a half years". With my jaw still hanging some place below my neck I listened to him explain of how land prices increase at such a rate that development is given up on, leaving the major cities filled with concrete skeletons gridding the skyline.

My five year guestimate was certain to be off if only I'd remembered a family member purchasing a small spot of land in the north of Iran that long ago, at what would be $5000, and it currently being valued at nearly $400,000. This land, like the neglected patches around the major cities, has simply been left untouched; and why not; why have the headache and expense when you are earning while sitting still.

Not too recently I decided to look for a place to rent that would be closer to the office and the Tehran night-life. Initially I had problems with wanting to cohabit with a male friend; two young lads rang alarm bells with landlords. The next problem was having to front a refundable deposit of roughly ten months rent in advance, of which not I nor my friend had saving to hand. And it's this situation that baffles me daily: inflation is at such a rate that the money in my hands, or even the bank (if I was to use one here - which I don't) is currently depreciating at such a rate that it's frustrating if not futile saving for those big ticket items.

An odd, yet equally unfeasible alternative for us could have been to give a large sum of money to a landlord upfront. With this, our deposit of roughly $30,000 within a one year period would have adjusted (through inflation and bank interest) so much that upon getting this exact figure back from the landlord our rent would have materialised. If that same landlord were to invest it in land in the north of Iran then my five year residency could have gotten them a $2.5m asset to play with.

My friend and I gave up on the house hunt and continued living in the out-of-town apartment gifted by my family. The monthly rental amounts we were looking at never ventured below the national minimum wage (per month), meaning that to rent in what is wider-central Tehran, one must be of a healthy threshold. Although I met this threshold comfortably it didn't justify the exchange in commuting and would have paradoxically decreased the means to enjoy the Tehran night-life.

my savings may never keep up with the adjustment and I should claim the value while it correlates with my blood loss

With these big ticket items I am often castigated by my grandmother for not looking to invest in a house or being a, "real adult", and getting a car – apparently the money I drain away in coffee shops will bring this to reality. As she keeps pointing out, I do get a relatively healthy income putting me in the top 0.5% of earners here, yet when I thinking about saving money (which is made easier by my not currently paying rent), I can't help but wonder if I'd be wasting my time; that I'd be better off spending it fast. By that I mean that my savings may never keep up with the adjustment and I should claim the value while it correlates with my blood loss.

If I was to use a bank, I could accumulate the money there at what I think is around 18% APR, but this would probably still not keep up with the cost-of-being-alive and certainly not with the current climate in the property market. With this move I might then also be able to ask the bank for a loan, which I hear would be hard to arrange and not likely to be enough to get a footing. As for a full mortgage; they are pretty much unheard of here in Iran.

I was quoted in an Indian economics journal recently about this inability to keep up, yet was cut off without qualifiers such as joining the capitalist tramplings, using banks or using my family. The tramplings I think about a lot, by which I could buy and sell land - yet at the cost of any moral sensibility. The banks give me the same unease and the family is an altogether different unease. It's hard to avoid getting drawn in though; the longer I don't join in the tramplings the harder it will be for me - but I can't help but feel I would become part of the wider problem if I do.

everybody has two jobs - it's funny and it's true. That second job is the difference between being alive and living

For those slow or unable to indulge the tramplings there's always the blood loss. There is a funny comment I often hear in Iran; that everybody has two jobs, and that they work harder on the second - it's funny and it's true. That second job is the difference, the difference between being alive and living. It is increasingly more common to hear talk of all the above while sat in taxis around Tehran; the government bear the brunt of the frustration for which harsh words get shouted back at the car radios. Often I hear both inside and outside of the country that the president, Ahmadinejad is responsible for all the developing financial issues; I couldn't say either way, but I rather think he's an easy target and people maybe neglect external pressures and the country full-on embrace of neo-liberalism among other incidental matters.

The Iranian new year is coming and with it the usual price adjusting period where within a single week one can observe a national inflation hike. My healthy wage should increase also during this period but I figure it will only keep up with the post new year adjusted inflation, meaning that as the year creeps forward I'll lose more blood for my Rial and I'll still not consider buying a house or even a car. You'll more likely find me regularly draining it away in coffee shops, attempting to at least appreciate its value while discussing how bad this could all turn out.

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Sometimes the views can be good from inside the taxi.

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"...And then we pulled away, only to stop a few metres ahead whereby another person had gotten in with us!", I often retell, as if a great punch line is about to be dropped, "in horror I turn to my Dad who's nonchalantly looking at nothing in particular – 'Dad, what's going on, why did they get in our taxi?', I whisper...", and so goes another anecdote of my first Iranian experiences. My sister came to Iran for some of the same, and in my efforts to prepare her for the Iranian oddities I'd deliberately left off the shared taxi part. I'd looked forward to seeing her face with this moment, like a child in wait of some lame prank – I'd set my bucket above the door and now I just needed to wait for her to open it. She did open the door and without a flinch she sat beside another person and just like my father she glanced straight ahead – why didn't the bucket fall!? She later informed me that she'd traveled to Bolivia where share taxis are also usual practice – damn my ignorance.

Shared taxis are now too much of a feature in my daily life yet I still amuse myself when thinking of the tacit rules, the variables and the knack one needs to utilise this national nightmare of a transport system. I thought I'd take it upon myself to add another entry for a possible guide thingy, I've done money and now here is one on taxis.

Being anywhere near a road invites the sound of a car horn as taxi drivers anticipate customers, the more lost you look and the less you move the more the horn will sound. This will continue with car after car until you get in or get away. A single toot will announce the taxis' presence followed by a toot-toot - "where you going?". Then there's the 'approach' as the driver aims for your legs to pull to the side. This can take a few forms – eye contact is made as both parties lean in, the driver won't commit to a stop unless you are going on his route yet the distance and noise leaves a small period where one's lips pucker for a location name. "Straight ahead", I yelp, shuffling my feet back, yet I'll often get the Iranian 'tut' – a slow lift of the head – "where the fuck else is he going", is normally what I mumble to myself as the I gear up for another approach. Occasionally hand gestures can aid the approach but one must know the layout and assume the driver does too. A circular stirring index finger gets you to the next roundabout, four fingers gets you the next cross roads and three gets you the next intersection and I imagine two or one get you run over. Mostly I give the point and wag - 'straight ahead' – but this more often than not needs a stated location.

basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it

Once the driver gives you a lowered head – "yes" – you must then prepare for a little seating rearrangement, this can take two forms. Firstly there is the location rearrangement whereby by passengers will get out, thus putting you deeper to the left – assuming you get the back three seats – this of course means they will alight sooner. This is a 50/50 may-or-may-not happen scenario whereby other variables will effect the decision: mostly ease-of-arrival-shuffle or predicted ease-of-departure-shuffle, mostly to traffic. The front seat is also subject to seating rearrangement whereby passengers will naturally free the space in the rear when possible – yet not always. The second rearrangement come with the positioning of females – a minority passenger but respected one. If possible women sit beside women and if not, by a door or in front, basically they don't sit in the middle-back, unless there is another female beside or the knight is defending a bishop and the king might slip into check. Ok, basically, if the piece is black do what you can to not touch it.

At this point if you don't know your route then you've made a mistake – know your route and it's corresponding price, or, ask in advance! You will be safe in numbers or on short runs but if you are alone and not certain then don't be surprised if you get into an argument as you pay upon arrival. It should be noted that you are hugely advantaged in an argument if you have smaller denominations of money and also profess to only have on you the money that you think is fair for the journey. As a rule, keep smaller denominations, it does everyone a favor - I once had amounted four unopened packets of chewing gum in my pocket (bought quicker than I can chew) to get change in anticipation of taxi troubles. Now I think about it there was a series of experiments regarding this Iran taxi payment dilemma. OK, ultimately you can walk off without paying but if you've given a large denominator and are sitting waiting for change then your loosing and if you've exited the car to wait for it – you've lost.

A series of computations will be needed for alighting. One must simultaneously judge the speed of the moving taxi, foresee the traffic and times one things by another, divide something else, do a square route thing and then calmly say, "may your hands not be tired", to which you will get, "are you getting out?", from the driver. If you get the computations correct you will stop just where you wanted, which would normally involve cutting up a few cars before a possible reverse seat rearrangement. Excuse mes and thank yous are said and then as you walk away, wait for it – toot, toot toot.

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Traditional sweet shop from the town my mother lives in.

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"Hello... yes...", my periphery hearing locked in, I knew this tone, I knew that yes, "HANG UP!", I shouted. Another yes came, "MOTHER, HANG UP!". "No, I don't have gas...", she answered confirming my suspicion. "YOU DON"T NEED IT!", I persisted as the door shut on me. Twenty minutes later the door opened, "you don't know what that was", she almost smugly stated aware of what was coming from me, "I know you don't need it", I replied...

My mother might consider herself lucky: prize draws inform her that she has been shortlisted for a possible £10 - £15,000; traveling traders that come to town, hire function rooms to exchange hundreds of pounds of my mother's limited cash for a black bin liner of unknown and already owned electronic goods. "I can't believe my luck", she'll probably one day write after adding her bank details in response to the email informing her that she's won a lottery she never played.

"well if you're dead how on Earth will you be able to press the button!"

"So you've just provisionally agreed on... what would it be? ...over £340 something over a two year period!", I shrieked. "Well what if I'm lying dead!", came the first of her justifications, "well if you're dead how on Earth will you be able to press the button!". "They call people!", "who?", "you know, people nearby", "and what if you're not carrying this alarm thing?", I hated doing this but I hated seeing my mum being taken for a mug once again. The burglary scenario didn't stand the logic test either as I pained to hear the poor repetition of the sales staff's pitch.

"Ok, ok, I can cancel it tomorrow", came the voice of defeat. "Mum, it isn't about me being wrong or right... you know...", I calmed myself, "if you haven't already got it, you may not need it". I then followed by asking her to join me in writing a list of everything she might need, this may have appeared a little condescending but I wanted to illustrate my point, and politely let her know that she just isn't that lucky.

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"I cannot get away, firmly entrenched in group activities", came an email, "I completely misjudged the situation that we would find at our arrival here. We have been completely swallowed up in a wave of hospitality", I read as my vague plans as tour guide to a group of Canadians went out the window.

There have been a few such requests of late by random folk from around the world fancying a more alternative, alternative holiday or arriving on some business. They find me through my photo journal or they find me through friends. Advice is occasionally sought or mostly provided. "Rule number one, do not let anyone touch your money", I wrote to our Canadian tourists, "rule number two, DO NOT LET ANYONE TOUCH YOUR MONEY!". And so began a list of things to note when traveling Iran.

With this wave of interest I've pondered writing a series of introductions to aspects of Iranian life, both helpful to a tourist and informative to person curious about Iran. In various forms I've been writing these to those faceless people who email yet I wanted to avoid the repetition. Having been stung a few times regarding money I felt that such a prospect would be best undertook with this subject.

And so begins what may or may not turn out to be a series I might call, Doing Iran.


The Iranian currency is known as Tomans and Rials whereby one gets 10 Rials for each Toman. Mostly the currency is dealt in notes although coins are used as well as Bankers' (Travelers') Cheques. Cards facilities are generally not available.

Notes come in the new 5000 form, recently new 2000 form and mostly 1000 form. There are also 500, 200, 100 and 50 Toman notes with coins decreasing down to 1 Toman. Bankers (Travelers') Cheques can come in 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 500,000 Tomans


Exchange rate
Last year I got 1600 Tomans for my pound this year I get just over 1800 Tomans. People often say that 1000 Tomans gets you a US dollar, which currently is about right, yet I feel this is a temporary matter as the the US dollar is not (yet!) devaluing like the Toman. Regardless, due to the nature of money one should expect in Iran that prices (all these stated here) will increase, as is often the case, following the new year (March 21st). Don't be surprised if this increase nears 10% per year.


No doubt due to inflation the currency is in relatively small denominators, thus one needs to carry measurable amounts of notes even for day-to-day items. The breadth of price in day-to-day purchases also doesn't help so one must be prepared for many eventualities.

Card facilities
Cards are coming into effect for taking money from the wall, but this is not a facility for international travelers. I never seen a swipe-card machine and can only guess that large hotels have such. What with the near non-existence of bank card facilities one must plan a trip expecting to carry hundreds of notes.

Maybe important
Although I hear of less incidents than in London it is wise to distribute your money around your pockets and bags. I've heard of many moments where motorbike riders travel in twos and bag-snatch. Also, try not to let unknown people handle your money, I've had times where people tried varying techniques to pocket what is mine.


You can fill a 2.0 litre car (75 litres capacity - does around 700 kilometers town driving) for 3000 Tomans. Although petrol prices and means to consumption are changing so expect this prices to both rise are rise sharply in large quantity purchases.

3rd party Insurance is compulsory starting from 200,000 a year and applies to the car and not the driver. There is no road tax (although toll roads connect some cities starting from around 100 Tomans). MOT is compulsory costing around 7000 Tomans per year. All these extras are rarely adhered to and not enforced.

Taxis generally are shared and can connect you to most places while jumping between. In Tehran it may cost you 100 Tomans for a short one hundred metre journey and taking you as far as half a mile depending on the route. Relatively long routes can cost around 500 Tomans. Journeys outside of Tehran may be as much as half the price. Tipping is not appropriate for these drivers but no doubt welcomed.

Private Taxis
Journeys in Tehran can start from 1000 Tomans and getting from the north to central at night can be as much as 6000 Tomans. This price will get you the car thus the price can be split between fellow travelers. There has been the recent introduction of yellow metered taxis which are more competitive yet not as easy to come by.

Inner city buses cost 20 Tomans for any journey around Tehran city. Intercity buses can be equally as reasonable where you can travel from Tehran to Mashad, around a ten hour journey at around 4000 Tomans.

On the relatively few metro lines one can expect to do the full distance of north-central Tehran to the end of the Karaj (Tehran's neighboring city to the west) in around an hour and a half for 150 Tomans. A general price can be paid for a single journey on either of the two main city lines for 75 Tomans.

Trains connect most cities and are also very reasonably priced. I took an over night train to Yazd, which took around 8 hours and had sleeping facilities as well as a buffet with hot food, this costed around 8000 Tomans.


Flat regular bread (lavash) can be bought from the bakers for around 25 Tomans a piece, a pint of milk costs from around 100 Tomans, rice is starts from 1000 Tomans a kilo, eggs start from 70 Tomans each, apples start from around 500 Tomans a kilo.

Iran is fast becoming consumed with corner stores selling basics as well as many types of plastic wrapped junk. A packet of crisps for two is around 300 Tomans, chocolates start from around 50 Tomans, a plastic bottle of Coke is generally 250 Tomans. Freshly made sandwiches (usually filled with processed meat and salad) start from around 700 Tomans

One of the more traditional dishes, Chelo Kebab, consisting of rice, a barbecued tomato and minced muton (sometimes bread and yoghurt) can start from around 2000 Tomans. Fast food joints are fast becoming popular where a pizza starts from around 2000 Tomans, burgers 2000 Tomans, Chips 500 Tomans. Fancy restaurants can have main courses starting from around 7,000 Tomans.


Electronic goods
Electronic goods are pretty much exactly the same price you'd expect to pay in any other country thus the nationals expect to have to work more for these goods as their wages do not reflecting those other (industrialised) countries.

Genuine labeled clothing is hard to come by but a few stores are available in the country. A large number of stores sell fake clothing swearing on their families lives that they are the real deal. Diesel and Levi's jeans are popular and prices can start around 30,000 Tomans, yet these are often rather convincing copies made in Turkey. Women's fashionable manteaus (required Islamic dress) can start around 15,000 Tomans and often get to around 60,000 Tomans.


Galleries are often free, Tehran's Contemporary Arts museum is 300 Tomans and historic sites can cost around 200 - 500 Tomans.

Sports facilities
Swimming sessions can cost from around 3000 Tomans and including saunas can get up to 6000 Tomans or more.


Skilled laborers get paid around 400,000 per month, taxi drivers can make around 400,000 Tomans a month, general teachers start from around 350,000, Doctors start from around 500,000 for junior positions. I think I heard once that the national average is around 200,000 Tomans per month - I'll confirm later.

I welcome any corrections, additions or helpful links, yet would like to stress that inflation may make most of these values redundant shortly. Thus note the date of posting.

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