Recent political events in the United States and decisions made by new president have turned public attention to Muslim countries. While it is clear that American and Muslim cultures operate from different standpoints in terms of values, rationality, and priorities, a closer look reveals substantial similarities in key domains of analysis. This essay examines differences and similarities between Iranian and American cultures in realms of family life, nationalism, and status. Although rooted in distinct world view models, Iranian and American cultures nevertheless have certain similar practices, attitudes, and values in common.
In regards to family, for both Iranian and American cultures it constitutes the environment for primary socialization of the child. However, the term “family” itself is understood differently in Iran and United States. While Americans interpret it as immediate family ties and commonly equate it to nuclear family, Iranians tend to extrapolate its meaning to the extended kinsfolk including distant cousins, uncles, and others.
In contrast with American families that increasingly practice various models of responsibility sharing, Iranian families remain mostly patriarchal. Father and husband is the head of household and is, thus, entitled to obedience and respect from other family members. In turn, he is responsible for providing financial and social support to each family member. This model is somewhat familiar to Americans, especially those of older generations. Yet, modern-day families in America do not have predetermined roles within the union. These are partnerships with voluntary division of responsibility according to agreement between partners.
Both Iranians and Americans habitually sign a marriage contract, however, they are guided by different reasons for doing so. Americans treat marriage contract as a way to safeguard oneself and one’s possessions in case the union does not work out. Yet, Iranians sign marriage contracts as part of religious and traditional requirement. While American contracts discuss mainly procedures for dividing property, Iranian marriage mostly focus on the amount of mahriyeh, a sum that groom offers to his bride.
Societal status proves to be important for both Iranians and Americans, however, it is interpreted differently within the two cultures. For Iranians, high social status amounts to having members of one’s kinsfolk involved in higher level decision making processes within various spheres on social, political, economic, and religious life. Such connections constitute possible influence one might have and are commonly associated with wealth and political power. Yet, social status itself is derived from the number of worthy connections, not the money or political influence. In contrast, Americans associate social status directly with economic success and wealth. Political and social influence follows the prosperity one has earned.
Both Iranians and Americans dearly value their nationalities and may regard their nations from the exceptionalism perspective maintaining that they have unique global missions to fulfill. Yet, sharing this sentiment, Iranians and Americans differ in temporal orientations this belief is derived from. For Iranians, viewing Iranian people as nation with exceptional mission is rooted in historical greatness of Persian Empire. Americans, in turn, view their nation as exceptional based in the mission of global watchdog for democracy and freedom they see for it in the future. Yet, both Americans and Iranians highly value their nationalities.
All in all, Iranian and American cultures differ substantially in ways they structure society, politics, family life, and nationalistic discourse. Namely, Americans tend to be utilitarian and individualistic in how they understand and set up their families, as well as in assessing social status, while Iranians look up to and prefer to keep close to the group both in family and social matters. American nationalism is supported by active optimism towards the future, while Iranian nationalism is rooted in nostalgic memories of the golden age. Yet, founded on distinct values and principles, Iranian and American cultures have both developed similar practices like marriage contracts, allowed for political power to accompany social status, and developed national pride. Thus, it can be concluded that while culture does have a major impact, human part remains the same in everyone all over the world.