Iran: A Stevie Wonder Breakfast

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Last Updated on April 22, 2024 by Audrey Scott

This is a very short story about music. In Iran.

I dont know that I've ever been so happy — or oddly surprised — to hear Stevie Wonder in my entire life.

I should explain.

There we were eating breakfast — a breakfast that resembled so many other uninspired hotel breakfasts in Iran — tea, flatbread, chunk of cheese, and a plastic foil wrapped flat of jam. All served up in a room, a vessel, a vast hotel restaurant banquet hall that had known better times. There were maybe ten of us eating in silence.

Then it happened.

Just listen and you can hear it, crackling.

I just called…to say…I love you.

Audrey picked her head up, “Do you hear that?”

I just called to say how much I care.

“That's Stevie Wonder,” I joined almost in tune.

Something was happening.

Stevie Wonder. Hearing his voice struck us both as odd, but neither of us could immediately register why.

I just called…to say…I lo-ove you.

Then it dawned on us. That we were hearing Stevie Wonder wasn't notable. But that it was music — Western music — and that we were hearing it in a public space in Iran. Now that was notable.

Playing music — and Western music for certain — in public is not allowed in Iran.

Imagine this for a moment. Let it sink in. If you are reading this in a place where playing and listening to music in public is allowed and you are wondering what to be thankful for today, I have some ideas.

And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Audrey and I sipped our last of the tea and turned around to exit the restaurant. We walked past the culprit — a wiry-haired disheveled man scooping his bread and butter. Next to him was an old mobile phone. It warbled. It cracked.

It played music.

It was loaded with Stevie Wonder and likely some “Best of the 80s” collection, for we'd moved onto the next track with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

Say, say, say…what you want, but don't play games with my affection.

For our time in Iran, for the people of Iran, it seemed a fitting track.


Hey wait, is that it for Iran?

Of course not. It's just that by the time this article appears on our blog, we should be over the Iran-Turkey border making our way slowly by train across the country to Istanbul. After which, when we catch our breath and have an internet connection that actually works and is not censored, we are going to shower you with all sorts of good things visual and storied from our time in Iran.

We are grateful for your patience.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

14 thoughts on “Iran: A Stevie Wonder Breakfast”

  1. Loved the story! How appropriate! 🙂 Can’t wait for more stories about Iran from you guys. Loved all your Iran updates!

  2. What a great post, I found it very interesting and would have never imagined hearing western pop music publicly in Iran. Things are changing, huh.

  3. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed it! It reminds me of the time I was in Indonesia and heard the song “Every Step You Take” by Puff Daddy … twice! In two separate small villages. 🙂

    Best wishes for happy and safe travels!

  4. I’d love te see the sceene of the “wiry-haired disheveled man scooping his bread” with the old mobile phone warbling and cracking next to him 😀
    I guess you didn’t take a picture of that sceene, did you?

  5. I’ll never forget my first night in Yangon, Myanmar. I was laying in bed in my hotel and all of a sudden I hear the strains of “Country Roads”…..karaoke style-sung by a group decidedly not from WV! Since I am from West Virginia and was extremely far from there that night, I just had to laugh. Never thought I would hear that in a country like Myanmar-one also not disposed to many Western influences.

  6. This is too funny!! What a great story. I completely GET what you mean about hearing something familiar in a totally unfamiliar and unexpected place. Nice commentary. Looking forward to some notes from Istanbul — one of my favorite cities. Cheers!

  7. @Sutapa: Glad you enjoyed it. More Iran stories coming. There’s certainly no shortage of them!

    @Bahare: So glad that you like these stories, particularly since they are about our experiences in your country!

    @Carrie: What was surprising was not so much hearing music in Iran, but the odd feeling of hearing it played publicly.

    @Shannon: Funny. Hearing Puff Daddy at breakfast in Iran, now that would be a story. Thanks for the well wishes. Safe travels to you!

    @Blaz: You’ll just have to imagine it 🙂

    No pictures. It was nice enough to see it and make a note. Sometimes a scene is best remembered in words alone.

    @Andrea: Glad you are enjoying them.

    @Erica: Glad you travel along with us. More Iran stories coming up.

    @Claire: Oh, karaoke…would have loved to have heard some of that in Iran, but alas that’s not the way it works. From our time in Myanmar, I don’t remember any music bans or anything like that, fortunately. In any case, western influences can be found just about everywhere these days, whether they are “allowed” or not.

    @Mark: It wasn’t so much hearing the music in a country in the Middle East. It was more about hearing music in a country that actually bans it. More coming up on Iran and also Istanbul!

  8. Ah, the memories. I lived in Tehran for many years and one day in the elevator at work I did a triple-take. There was—-I am not joking—elevator music playing and it was a Madonna tune. Imagine my surprise and confusion! Music is allowed in Iran, always has been, but not a lot of Western songs. Iran has a fascinating culture and it is wonderful reading about your experiences there.

  9. @Rebecca: I’m smiling as I read your comment. We completely understand your shock. And of all the music to choose!

    Thanks for your compliments. Glad you enjoyed reading what we’ve shared about Iran. There are in fact a couple more pieces coming, including food and a surprise. Stay tuned!

  10. Sorry if I might sound a little bit rude, but from where did you come up to conclude all this? So untrue about Iran!!
    “Playing music — and Western music for certain — in public is not allowed in Iran.” !!!!

    • Perhaps things have changed since our visit (late 2011), but when we were there this music restriction was told to us by Iranians we met during the three weeks we traveled through the country. From your comment I am guessing that things have changed. Thanks for sharing.


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