In The Duality of Life in Iran, Tehran Bureau’s Correspondent at Large writes the following:
Life in Iran is split in halves: the half lived in the open and the half lived behind closed doors. And this duality goes deep: every man and woman in Iran leads two lives, an external life that conforms to the pressures and norms of the society and an internal life governed by the wants and needs of the person.
This is a continuation of the ways of traditional Iranian society, which has evolved into a modern, complex form of duality present at every level of social activity. At the core of the old Iranian way of living were houses that were split into andarouni (literally, “internal,” and commonly confused with harem, a section of an aristocrat’s castle), in which people relaxed far from public scrutiny — women were not obliged to wear hejab, and singing and dancing was allowed. Outside this safe haven, life changed — women were expected to be chador-clad and demure; men, formal and rigid.
The ritual of a domestic visit was a layered one; you would start at the door, which was the farthest that street vendors, gypsies, and fortune tellers could come. The next step was the hashti, an octagonal room filled with seats, where most visitors were greeted and entertained. If a person was to be allowed in further, a call was made inside the house, usually something like “Ya Allah,” still common today when a stranger enters a residence. The call meant that the home’s inner sanctum was about to be breached and everyone assumed the roles assigned to them by social norms; again women were clad in hejab and men became formal. The lucky guests who were allowed further than the hashti were guided to the panjdari or talar, a large room specifically designed for entertaining guests. But that was the furthest any outsider could penetrate the layers of the house; still further, behind closed doors, was the living room, centerpiece of the andarouni.
The whole piece is worth reading for one person’s insight into a central fact of Iranian culture, the necessity of leading a dual life under the current regime. The comments section is also worth reading.