Flirting in Cars and Selfie Culture in Iran
Project info

Just across the Persian Gulf from Dubai and Abu Dhabi lies the Iranian industrial port of Bandar Abbas. It’s a world away from its glitzy neighbours, and most tourists know it as the ferry point for Qeshm and Hormuz. With an evening to kill before my ferry left, I decided to hit the beach. I soon found myself dodging cars, motorbikes and stray dogs – the air filling with noise and fumes, as men and women in the latest Western clothing drove endlessly around. I was watching what could only be described as Car Tinder. Known locally as ‘Door Door’, it involves driving past each other, flirting from behind car windows, stopping and exchanging numbers whenever there’s a match.

There’s a special place for beaches in every culture but Iran takes it to up 11. In a country where the Islamic Regime keeps a close watch on everyday life, and both public flirting and much social media* are banned, the beach is truly special. It’s a place for young Iranians to dodge the Morality Police, to flirt, to show off their cars, to express themselves. Girls would even remove their hijabs to feel the wind in their hair.

The action really gets going at sunset. That’s when the selfies begin. Selfie culture is big in Iran. Everyone uses VPNs to access Facebook, Google and Western news. (And looking right matters. Nose jobs are a popular status symbol. Everywhere I went I saw fresh nose bandages, not all of them real.)

Here amongst the noise, fumes and dust of the beach, you realise just how expert young Iranians are at finding ways to express themselves and, mainly, to flirt. No matter what restrictions the authorities impose, the youth will always find creative ways around them.

The day I left Iran, protests raged across the country against fuel price hikes. Driving cars on the beach (or anywhere else) had just got a whole lot more expensive. The Regime shut down the entire internet for days. Selfie Culture was put on hold. But something told me, it wouldn’t be for long.