I kept seeing various versions of the above sign (see photo above) at various inns I stayed at in Iran and wondered about its significance.

It says: “Dearest Guest, The employees of this inn do not use nicotine products.”

So what? Why would I care what the employees do?

Then one night staying in Bastam, my father came in sneezing and complaining about German tourists smoking in the lobby.

“There’s a no-smoking sign there but the darn thing is in Persian,” he said plaintively.

What no-smoking sign? I asked.

To my amazement, I realized he was talking about the odd employees-don’t-smoke sign.

You see, by expressing its employees’ dislike for smoking, the hotel management is indirectly asking the guests to not smoke! I am not kidding. My father tells me this is just as serious as any non-smoking sign in the West. They’re just doing it indirectly, trying to be polite and non-confrontational. They’re being gentle and considerate but they expect you to understand it as a request not to smoke.

It might seem weird to the Westerner. For chrissake, why don’t you just say it plain and simple in two darn words: No smoking?

This is a great example of Persians’ predilection to communicate indirectly – in order to be polite, considerate and politically savvy – something outsiders might misunderstand completely or find frustrating to comprehend.

No-smoking signs can be odd all over the world. Here’s one I found in my hotel room in China, sitting right next to an ashtray. The message seem to be, “no smoking allowed, have a good night and if you have to smoke, at least use the ashtray.”

No smoking sign in Chinese hotel, next to ashtray