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Iran Standard Time | Hitting the Turn


25 May 2012 22:49Comments
girlpickup1.jpgNot quite what Khomeini had in mind...

[ society ] At a cursory glance, the Saadat Abad main road looks much like any other in north Tehran: policemen in starched white uniforms and reflective aviators marshal Iran Khodros, Porsches, and everything else around Kaj Square and up the steep road toward where the Alborz Mountains cut though the north of the city. Look a little closer and you'll notice children at the traffic lights clutching boxes of red roses, vying for the custom of the waiting drivers. Closer still, and you'll see pairs of cars regularly slowing down for their occupants to chat and exchange numbers.

Welcome to dore zadan (hitting the turn), the way many young Iranians find a date. Though its utility has diminished over the last decade with the loosening enforcement of Iran's morality laws that officially bar unrelated people of the opposite sex from holding hands in public, and everyone from playing Western pop music at parties, wearing clothes that are too tight, and so forth, the dore zadan is a mainstay of modern life for many young Tehranis. Predominantly practiced in the capital by the middle classes, it is an antidote to another boring weekend.

Having watched this automotive mating dance from the confines of my friend's shop in Saadat Abad, I am a bit apprehensive as I accept a friend's invitation to try it myself. I meet Arash at a northern patogh, a rest stop with an ice-cream van that serves as a pop-up meeting spot for young men and women. He sits perched against the grill of his dad's petrol-blue BMW, ostentatiously smoking a Bahman cigarette with his friend Reza, waiting for his brother Kiarash to arrive. "You circle around looking for cars of girls. If you like the look of them, you slow down and take their numbers. The most important thing is that you get lots of numbers," he explains sagaciously. "Most of the girls are not doing it for real like us and only one in five will see you after she gives her number. It's like nightclubs in the West; the boy's priority is to get laid but the girls' is to have fun or to get attention from the boys."

Kiarash arrives late and alights from a friend's car. He is sporting a T-shirt that reads "G Funk Star" and an oversized Golden State Warriors basketball cap, slanted at 90 degrees. "Let's go and find some bitchez!" he exclaims in English, pulling what would look like an ironic gangster sign if he were not dressed like Ice Cube, circa 1994.

The Iran Zamin is the most established and popular circuit in Tehran but the Saadat Abad has the "classiest girls," Arash explains. Saadat Abad is sometimes even closed by police during the dore zadan rush hours -- Wednesday and Thursday nights -- ostensibly due to maintenance, but it is widely seen as an effort to curb practices that have become the Iranian equivalent of the mating call. During summer months, when the Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrol -- the morality police) are out in force, the break in the road on Iran Zamin is closed to stop cars from turning around, taking the "dore" out of dore zadan.

It is time to head off and I am offered the front seat after about three rounds of ta'rof. As we head toward Iran Zamin, Arash expounds on the rules of dore zadan: if the girls pull their windows down at the same time, they are too keen and not to be pursued; if you can get away with it, you should invite them all to your place there and then; and lastly, always have a few fake numbers at hand, "so they don't become upset."

Reza, the youngest and quietest of the group, is not sharing in the excitement of his two friends. "We get bored. There's nowhere to go. You can't go to a bar, so you find girls with your car," he says. "I don't like it. It's all about money: you need a nice car and nice clothes to get any numbers, but my parents are very strict and won't let me go to house parties so I don't have a choice." Reza says his next-door neighbor attends his university, but he cannot give her lifts because it would arouse suspicion and impact her reputation when she's ready to get married.

Kiarash is exploding with excitement, banging his huge forearms against the front seats. He leans over to plug in his iPhone and a ubiquitous track by Iranian pop stars BaroBax and Gamno jolts on loudly. He grabs Reza's face and presents it to me. "This guy," he triumphantly announces, "this guy is a pimp!"

Joining the motorway, it does not take long to spot what we are looking for. Several groups are surveying one another in the thick traffic, checking their mirrors for any prying Gasht-e Ershad. Arash slows down alongside a car with four heavily made-up young women; designer sunglasses with dyed fringes protrude from their colorful hejabs. The front passenger pulls down her window and coquettishly smiles at Arash. "Azizam!" he purrs -- my dear -- handing her a pre-prepared handwritten number. Emboldened by the prospect of competition, Kiarash leans over Reza, opens the back window, and scattershots at the girls' car, "You're beautiful! I want to go around you!" Bemused, they speed off.

After two aborted attempts to make another contact, Arash and Reza lower their windows to start up a conversation with a group of girls. We slow down to a crawl, and the driver of a white SUV honks his horn, impatiently edging forward, trying to get by us. After some maneuvering, the apoplectic driver races past and, to the boys' relief, our cars rejoin for Arash and Reza to pick up where they left off. Numbers are exchanged. Reza looks particularly happy with the result. "She was really nice. I'll call her tonight and invite her to walk in the mountains." He beams.

Having picked up a number myself, I contact Sepideh to ask her about her experiences with dore zadan. "It can be dangerous," she explains. "One time I was shouting over the music and it cut out. I heard another motor -- a man on a motorbike between our cars heard everything. We drove off though the side streets and thought we'd lost him, but then there was a knock on the window and it was the guy! He said, 'Do you have no respect for yourselves, sisters? Stop playing this game and go to your homes.'"

Before the Revolution, Imam Khomeini once declared, "Sexual vice has now reached such proportions that it is destroying entire generations and corrupting our youth...they are all rushing to enjoy the various forms of vice that have become so freely available and so enthusiastically promoted." I wonder what he would say of the Islamic Republic of 2012.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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