My flight out of Iran was scheduled for 3 a.m. For whatever reason, planes leaving for the West depart in the wee hours. The TV crew had caught an earlier flight, Seyed had gone home, and I was groggy and alone in the terminal.
Finally walking down the jetway toward my Air France plane, I saw busty French flight attendants — hair flowing freely — greeting passengers at the door. It was as if the plane was a lifeboat, and they were pulling us back to the safety of the West. People entered with a sigh of relief, women pulled off their scarves...and suddenly we were free to be what we considered “normal.” The jet lifted off, flying in the exact opposite route the Ayatollah had traveled to succeed the Shah.
For 12 days, I'd been out of my comfort zone, in a land where people live under a theocracy. I tasted not a drop of alcohol, and I never encountered a urinal. Women were not to show the shape of their body or their hair (and were beautiful nevertheless). It was a land where people took photos of me, as if I were the cultural spectacle.
Landing in Paris was reverse culture shock. I sipped wine like it was heaven-sent. I noticed hair, necklines, and the curves revealed by tight pants like never before. University students sat at outdoor cafés, men and women mingling together as they discussed whatever hot-button issue interested them. After the Valium-paced lifestyle of Iran, I felt an energy and efficiency cranked up on high. People were free to be “evil” and able to express their joy anyway they wanted. And, standing before that first urinal, I was thankful to be a Westerner. I was grateful for the learning experience that gave simple things — from visiting the men's room to dealing with traffic jams, from valuing nonconformity to respecting women — a broader cultural context.
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You are reading "Back To Europe: Tight Pants, Necklines, Booze...and Freedom", an entry posted on 16 April 2010 by Rick Steves.