Iran: Shifting ground

What surprised Bourdain about Iran
What surprised Bourdain about Iran

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What surprised Bourdain about Iran 02:31

Story highlights

  • Anthony Bourdain explores an Iran few Americans have visited since the 1980s
  • "What we saw, what we came back with, is a deeply confusing story," he says
  • There's a stark difference in impressions of the people versus the government

(CNN)Words matter. Especially in Iran, where what is permissible -- to say, to do, to be seen as saying or doing -- is an ever-changing thing.

It took us many years of trying to finally be allowed into Iran, the country with whom the United States has probably its most contentious relationship. At the time, we thought that perhaps our welcome was an indicator of a new attitude, an opening of a window.
Bourdain on Iran: Not what I expected
Bourdain on Iran: Not what I expected

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    Bourdain on Iran: Not what I expected

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Bourdain on Iran: Not what I expected 02:21
But as it turned out, that is probably not the case. The window appeared to slam shut in particularly ugly fashion shortly after our departure.
    What we saw, what we came back with, is a deeply confusing story. Because the Iran you see from the inside, once you walk the streets of Tehran, meet Iranians, is a very different place than the Iran we know from the news. Nowhere else I've been has the disconnect been so extreme between what one sees and feels from the people and what one sees and hears from the government.
    Iran's official attitude toward America, its policies, its actions in the region, are a matter of record. How it treats its own citizens, as far as their personal behaviors, also is a matter of record. You do not want to be perceived as behaving inappropriately in Iran -- as we have seen with the recent video of kids dancing along to the song, "Happy." And what is inappropriate is an ever-shifting thing.
    What the "government" or the president says is OK one day might be deemed dangerous or unacceptable by the clergy or the "basij", the roving, unofficial but official religious police, on another -- as we came to find out.