By Jeff Baron, Staff Writer, America.gov
In many cities, young professionals have adapted an Iranian tradition
Roya Soleimani (left), Azadeh Khastoo and Nazaneen Hayat are organizers of
the Shabeh Jomeh events in Washington.
Washington - Sepideh Farshadi stands out in a crowd of Iranian Americans at a Washington restaurant, if only for the thigh-high leather dress, the boots and the motorcycle on which she has arrived.
But she is here for the same assortment of reasons that bring out the other mostly young professionals: the chance to meet people in an informal, low-pressure setting, spend a pleasant evening and expand her social and professional network in the Iranian community.
It's Shabeh Jomeh, American style: a once-a-month gathering that has spread to several U.S. cities, as well as to Vancouver, Canada, and to London. Shabeh Jomeh in Iran is the end of the workweek, literally the evening before Friday, a time for socializing. The workweek for most Americans is Monday through Friday, but some Iranian Americans have reclaimed Thursday nights as their own.
Farshadi, who left Iran for Canada at age 21, said little of her social life involves others from Iran - for one thing, "I haven't found any other Iranian woman who rides," she said - but "once in a while you just want to get together with other Iranians. I'm new here, and I'd like to get to know more people."
And if one of her new friends needs to hire a graphic designer, which is Farshadi's profession, so much the better.
Neda Nabavi, Shabeh Jomeh's volunteer executive director, said those are the goals of the group: to help people have a pleasant time and develop networks.
Shabeh Jomeh started 10 years ago in New York and has spread to 11 other cities. Nabavi said each group is a bit different but the basics are the same: no RSVPs, no name tags, no politics, no religion, just a pleasant time. "We always say, 'Anyone who's Iranian-friendly is welcome,'" she said.
As a result, she said, people who travel on business say they enjoy knowing that, if it's the third Thursday of the month, they can find a compatible crowd - and quite possibly friends of friends, if not people they already know - in the city they're visiting.
Nabavi said the gatherings give Iranian Americans a comfortable spot to get to know strangers as well as meet old friends. "There's a formality to our culture, where you wait to be introduced to someone before you go up and talk to them," she said, adding that this is especially true of women.
Sepideh Farshadi says she enjoys Shabeh Jomeh because "once in a while
you just want to get together with other Iranians."
Shabeh Jomeh "creates the right environment to break out of that old mentality," she said.
Nabavi lives in Chicago. The group there tries to feature one person at each monthly meeting to talk about a professional or personal interest, especially outside of the professions - medicine, law and engineering - for which Iranian Americans are best known. The idea, she said, is to show younger people some professional options.
About 40 to 60 people attend the typical Chicago event. The group arranges for discounts on food and drinks at the restaurant chosen for that month. More than 350 attended the group's anniversary party, Nabavi said.
"I look at Shabeh Jomeh as a catalyst to Iranian-American success - I should say, Iranians outside of Iran," now that the event has expanded outside the United States, she said.
Not that Shabeh Jomeh is all business. In a gathering of mostly young professionals, many of them single, it is possible that some are looking for romance as well as professional referrals. "It's a mix-and-mingle, and people make of it what they want," Nabavi said. But she added: "I just don't like to paint it as a singles scene, because it's not."
The first time Makon Fardis walked into a Shabeh Jomeh event, in Washington, his goal "was to see who was in this community," he said. He liked the people and got involved in an effort to make the group's events a bit more structured.
"I got to know a lot of interesting people: some who were just off the boat, some who were born here of Iranian parents, some from mixed backgrounds," said Fardis, a clinical psychologist who emigrated from Iran as an adult.
Fardis said the Washington crowd often includes non-Iranians: friends of Iranians who tag along for the evening, plus non-Iranians who are studying Persian and want to try using it in a social setting. But the conversations bounce between Persian and English according to the inclinations and language skills of those in the room.
Shabeh Jomeh is a comfortable affair: Shy people aren't pressured to socialize, but there are people to meet and old friends to chat with. "I recognize that some people might have used this platform to form relationships, but this is not the primary intent," Fardis said.
"This is a venue for someone who is new in town to engage in networking and maybe know somebody in their line of work," he said.
Shabeh Jomeh brings together people with different interests. Fardis said he is involved in other Iranian-American groups, but at Shabeh Jomeh he sees friends who aren't. For them, Shabeh Jomeh is a continuing connection to the Iranian-American community.
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