The lobby of the Homa Hotel in Tehran is a busy thoroughfare and meeting place. In Iran you often have time on your hands, and this is a good place to sit, take tea with friends, do business, and watch the world go by.
One morning an American businessman appeared from a lift in running gear – sweatshirt, shorts and trainers. You don’t see bare arms and legs in Iran, so this was as unusual as a man walking into a London hotel naked.
Clearly this was his first visit to Iran, but if he was nervous he did not show it. He was carrying a street map, and strode confidently past the main entrance over to reception. I assume he intended to ask for advice on his route, and whether there were areas of the city he should avoid.
The receptionists began to shout at him, and one of the lobby staff began to tap and then strike his legs with a stick. He got angry and raised a clenched fist at his assailant. This was a mistake.
More staff arrived, all with sticks, and soon six or more of them were raining blows on his bare arms and legs.
His composure broke and he literally ran back to the lifts. Fortunately, one was waiting with the door open, and he disappeared into it.
It was the same lift he had stepped out of, with such self-assurance, thirty seconds earlier.