Published in The Best from Yank: The Army Weekly, (Armed Services Edition), 1945. Click the pages to enlarge.
SOMEWHERE IN IRAN—It there’s any truth to the old proverb, “Early to bed, early to rise,” Gls in Iran (Persia to you) are going to be mighty healthy, wealthy, and wise. Reason: there’s an 8 o’clock curfew that sends the sidewalks scurrying out of sight, closes the bistros and cabarets, and drives the doglaces to bed.
One catch in the formula is that one about getting wealthy. Prices here are high, and wealthy is one thing you’re not likely to be after even a short spell in this self-styled “Little Paris of the East.” Food is high, board is high, cigarettes are high, feminine companionship is high; an drinks are so high that the average U.S soldier below the rank of a brigadier general has a hell of a job getting high himself.
A pack of any one of the leading U. S brands of cigarettes costs 80 cents on tin black market. And the black market is about the only place where American cigarettes may be bought.
Customs and living conditions, trying to approximate the European or American, are strange. The curfew is only one example. Language is another. Iranian is the local lingo. French and, in some instances, Polish and Russian are spoken.
English is rarely used except by GIs and graduates of the Presbyterian American University.
Currency is in Iranian rials and is complicated by a division into technically nonexistent units known as toumains. A rial is roughly 3 cents and a toumain is 10 rials. Most Yanks master the system after a few days of costly experimentation. The trouble with the rial as a unit is that the GI is used to thinking in terms of 1 cent. .Suddenly faced with a 3-cent basis for his folding money, extravagance becomes rife. By the time he wises up nothing is rife.
Folding money is the proper term here, for all values except the half rial are issued in banknotes scaling from 5 to 10 to 20 to 50 to 100 and so on up. The half rials are coins and are used mostly for change-making or tipping. It a GI produces a 1000-rial note in public he is in danger of being swamped by solicitous citizens anxious to advise him how best to get rid of it.
There is no girl shortage, and the girls like the GIs. The language difficulty is a slight barrier but love laughs at linguists as well as locksmiths.
Transportation is by droshky and the droshky driver is far and away the least cooperative citizen. He seldom attempts to understand the GI. To “how much?” he responds with an agonizingly sad roll of his eyes. And whatever note is given him in payment, he reacts in the same sad way. A guy susceptible to this dramatic acting would part with the greater portion of his base pay.
Streets are wide and traffic menaces include American cars as well as droshkies and goats and camels. Parking is in the center of the street, leaving plenty of room on either side for the Iranian Army which is strong on marching.
The Iranian soldier wears a very classy yellow uniform; the higher the rank the classier the duds. Officers carry swords. Iranians are good horsemen and a body of Iranian cavalry passing by is quite a sight. They’ve got swords and rifles. The infantry marches to the tune of a flute.
Billets for Americans range from Army barracks to hotels. Most of them have taught the GIs that the old familiar straddle-trench was a luxury, A simple hole punched in the floor is considered ample here. The latrine rumor is dying out as a result. No one wants to hang around long enough to start one.
There is skiing available less than an hour away from the city—but there’s a catch to it. They don’t rent skis and what skis there are for sale are prohibitive.
Entertainment isn’t too bad in spite of the early curfew. The cabarets simply run their dancing and floor shows earlier to conform. There are five-year-old American movies, and softball and basketball. There are occasional soccer matches between British and Iranian teams. These are well attended by Iranian, British and U. S. soldiers ranging in rank from buck private to the Iranian King of Kings. Feeling runs high and all that is needed to create a reasonable facsimile of an American football game is a sextette of co-ed cheerleaders.
Iran is cold and expensive and strange. But at that it’s far from being the worst place in the world to soldier.