The month of Ramazan is upon us - good luck to all those observing it.

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"Don't worry about it; buy something for your mother", I suggested as I slipped the money back over to her side of the table. I cannot recall a having experienced a silence quite like the one that followed, not for a while at least. In curiosity as to why everybody had stopped talking, I looked up; two of the horrified faces staring at me opted to snigger into their hands, everybody else's gapping mug waited until after they'd given me a look of disgust before they looked at one another in disbelief. "Daveed!", exclaimed another, under her breath, as I started to grasp how what I'd said might have sounded. The very small English one-penny-piece had then dropped as I read the face of another colleague, "you idiot!", it said, almost reveling in my slip up.

Having survived the episode, I later consulted my informant colleague for clarity, "you are suggesting that her mum is in need of charity!", she laughed, displaying a face not unlike those at the lunch table. "But I followed this by clarifying; saying that I meant she should buy something like flowers", I fruitlessly protested, "I was trying to be complimentary while deflecting the subject - you know, 'if you won't take, and I won't take it, then let somebody else have it', for example – In this case her mother". I had indicated as much during lunch, but I fear it looked like too much backtracking; certainly too little, too late.

I should have paid more attention to my father's advice, "never mention or ask after wives or sisters – or generally any female relative"

I should have presented the deflection in English – the usual language I talk with this particular colleague – at least I would have limited the damage. Yet, simply, I should have said nothing and paid more attention to my father's advice, "never mention or ask after wives or sisters – or generally any female relative", he's warned me after having escape previous such moments.

"So, how's the wife?", I've occasionally asked, having exhausted most other pleasantries. My expectation is to hear, "she's fine; switched jobs; better hours you know; she's happy, yeah", but I rather feel that this question is like asking about a man's locked-away possession or asking, "have you still got that lawnmower?", a questions that implies a follow up, "can I borrow it this weekend, I've a lawn that needs a good seeing to".

My father had helpfully explained; that this comes across like I'm asking with intention: what exactly do I want to do with her? Maybe the mention of flowers then, didn't make things any better. Like with similar such 'protection' over women in this country, I find it projects an inadequacy. The whole awkward episode certainly presented an inadequacy on my part.

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More posters regarding the Islamic dress code.

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"David is ur english friend who wanted 2marry an iranian still available? Are u watching channel 3? Mother fucker bastards [other words edited out] is sayin any girl dressin against our 'islamic stndrds' deserves 2b raped. I am nt stayin here 1more day. Whatever d price...". I wrote something back to this, philosophical it was – I kinda believed it too – it seemed to help calm things, at least until two days later when we were discussing this again over coffee.

It felt wrong that two men sat plucking from history the development of nations to justify those broadcasted words. We aired our supposed views, one girl was steaming and the other not even listening, "I'm not staying another minute!", shrilled one as the other tapped messages on their mobile. I joined my male friend in forgiving the bad mouthed child, "they are adjusting, in a difficult position, it takes time", and I kinda believed it too.

Our development must be aboriginal, my counterpart pointed out, for we are not insignificant and this is our problem.

"Iran is fresh to the industrial world, fresh to these concepts that have matured over a slow period among 'western' nations", I respond, "the Shah's time was a blip, a facade of the west, I'm not sure it suited the Iranian people and culture, not en-mass, such unequal development can crack the society and did". "Foisting these ways upon a nation without the background, the infrastructure or the understanding might cause more problems than solve", I suggested, ignoring counter arguments arriving with my every word. I went with it, consistently seeing this perspective out, "without these things we might be leaping into subservience (again?), facing west, behaving western yet never being western – by that I mean being in control of our destiny". Our development must be aboriginal, my counterpart pointed out, for we are not insignificant and this is our problem.

"Western seduction is easily succumbed to, frequently so and why not?", I pointed out, referring to chronic brain drain of which our female friend wanted to contribute, "thus development is distressingly slowed". My counterpart reminded us that relative to the region things are not all that bad, I agreed, I champion Iran, would choose it over many other neighboring places – the other oligarchs – subservient or not – don't appear half as indigenous. But I threw it out there, "Iran is stalling", I suggested, "waiting for the inevitable new world order, where it will comfortably face east and allow itself (and be allowed!) a suitable renaissance", and I kinda believe it too.

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A metaphor if you wish.

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"Salaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam!", "Seh-laaaaaaaaaaam!". "How aw wooooooo?", "What's the noooooooows!". "Gnawawaaaaaaw, doooodoooboo...". These are grown professional women, married too – this is what I remind myself as I cringe at my desk and push the earphones in further. A hand arrives to my shoulder surprising me, "Day-veeeeeed?", "Yes, morning... nothing, fine, thanks, you? yeah... so...". It wasn't going to go down well but I've finally brought myself to ask, "are all Iranian women like this, I mean, is it cultural?". Mostly it is I am told, two or more women are prone to trigger in close proximity, ascend in pitch before shooting compliments at any possible difference. "Ooooo, is this new? I like your hair! Nice colour!".

"Do men like this, I mean, why are they like this?", I asked, worried to sound critical when really I am fascinated by what it might imply and how this might be. I thought about it, considered my current living situation and saw a link, I have regressed – returned to my early teens.

On a nightly bases I am subjugated to relentless interrogation by my family, all manner of personal questions arrive resulting in unwanted advice or criticism. I've been here before – "it's how they show their love". But my loaded stories of how I've lived alone or with friends, cooked for myself and others, cleaned up after myself, paid bills etc. are met with a curious silence, one of disbelief. From my friends, it's the same, walking anywhere near an oven is met with applause.

"No, when we go to university we leave home, I mean, we want to"

"No, I went to a university about 5-hours away from my hometown", I explained to a friend as I slipped into another comparison of then and here, "you travelled 10-hours a day for university!?", came a subsequent gasp. It was a serious response to a serious response but I laughed upon realising what brought it about. "No, when we go to university we leave home, I mean, we want to". We thought about it, drew silent comparisons and then retreated in the comfort of our familiar ways. Why would I choose to leave my family they must have thought? Naturally I thought much the opposite.

There is no gap, no discovery, no room for mistakes. The people of Iran have a seamless transition from one home to another, from their family to their new family. One is mothered, then a motherer - being mothered till a worrying age or mothering at a worrying age. But there is no means for something in-between, a lesser quality apartment, more time on chores, a greater expense. Women cannot so easily live alone or in groups, nor can they live with any one outside of the family. But then why would they? I mean, what would bring them to think about it?

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