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Shopping

Shopping hours are generally 09.00 to 13.00, and from 16.00 to 20.00 (later in the summer), closed Friday. During No Ruz, Ramadan and Moharram, expect shorter opening hours, especially in the bazaars. Almost all traders have electronic calculators, which facilitate bargaining for foreigners. Check whether rials or tumans are being quoted.

Iranian arts and crafts are extremely varied and, in most cases, have a very long tradition behind them. They include carpets, kilims (gelim), printed cloth, brocade, inlaid wood, miniatures, and copper and brassware, to name just a few. Unfortunately, these crafts have been declining in quality for a many years and the hotel and airport shops - when they exist - offer only a limited choice, which is soon repetitive. The bazaars have a much wider choice, but do not forget to bargain for anything you buy there, particularly in Esfahan. The bazaar is the best place to buy gold jewellery (in small quantities if you want to avoid trouble when you leave the country), textiles or a chador.

The gold (18 carat unless specified otherwise) and silver prices are published in newspapers everyday, so the jeweller will weigh the piece and add something for the workmanship. The gold is of a high quality but often set with paste and semi-precious stones. It is unlikely that one can find a bargain without active participation by an Iranian friend, as gold is the established hedge against inflation and Iran has no gold mines of its own.

For daily supplies, small corner shops sell everything, but check the expiry date. In the large cities, there are a few supermarkets, such as Rifah in Tehran, which stock household items and furniture. Prices, especially of luxury and electrical goods, can range widely depending on whether the supplier is a small- scale importer or a franchise-operator for a government-registered charity; certain cheaper items (eg: motor-car spares) may be counterfeit.

Carpets, miniature paintings, printed cottons, marquetry work (eg: picture and mirror frames, pen and cigarette boxes) and leather goods are popular purchases, but consider too a pair of Cotton giveh slippers, pistachio nuts and dried apricots or limes, spices like saffron or sumak. Some towns are famous for certain products, for instance the rose-water of Shiraz and the sweetmeats of Yazd. Esfahan is known for its block-printed cottons, the price range reflecting the fabric quality, the number of blocks and dye/mordant baths involved; salted cool water is recommended for the first washing. Good quality Kerman embroideries (on scarlet wool fabric) and Resht patchwork are now difficult to find. Miniature paintings are produced by college-trained artists in traditional styles; the finer the detail, the higher the price. Painting on 'bone' is always more expensive as tourists seem to prefer such work. Forget about acquiring an antique example of classical Persian painting. Firstly, export authorisation will be needed, and secondly there is a lively market in buying antique paper, washing it and painting on top.

If you loathe haggling then the Iranian Handicrafts Organisation shops are strongly recommended. There, prices are fixed in rials/tumans, but do check what exchange rate is being used, as it can be extremely disadvantageous if the local manager is ignorant of current rates. A visit to an IHO at least gives an idea of local prices, and Iranians often frequent these centres too.

Persian carpets are still of very high quality; as well as the traditional motifs there are now a variety of modern ones, including the portrait of Imam Khomeini, some of which are of foreign inspiration. Because of the strict rules governing the export of carpets, it is best to buy them at a shop which has an exporting licence and which will take care of sending them to you, in your home country (probably routed through Italy or Germany), against a down payment. Avoid going into a carpet shop with a group to buy and don't be hassled into deciding within 30 minutes. if you pay by credit card the billing will probably travel the same route (the US embargo again), and you will have the cover of the card guarantee. If a carpet seller assures you that the laws on exporting carpets have just changed, check with your guide or at the hotel before buying. The same precautions are valid for antiques. Be careful with recent antiques, cloisonne fresh out of Chinese workshops and miniatures painted on ivory, bone or even plastic.

Caviar can be bought in Iran at extremely low prices, particularly along the Caspian, although the industry has been greatly affected by pollution. Theoretically, its export is forbidden unless it has been bought at the airport shop located after customs, where, although more expensive, it is still considerably cheaper than the prices on the European market.

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