One of the most common misconceptions about Iranians in the West is that they're ethnically Arab. Maybe this is because Iran and Iraq have similar sounding names and because the Iraqis are Arab.
This confusion is so pervasive that many Amerians who do know the difference, if the subject presents itself, usually make a point of letting me know that they realize that Persians are not Arabs. When this subject arises I am usually able to surprise my interlocutor with a couple more facts. For example, most people in the west don't realize that not all Iranians are ethnically Persian(51%). Or that Iran literally means, "Land of the Aryans". This one usually stumps people because, even if they knew that Persians are not Arabs, they wouldn't have thought that the Persian race is ethnically close to western europeans. People are surprised probably because they associate Aryan with Nazi propoganda about blonde-haired and blue-eyed peoples. Another good factoid is that even though the Persian language uses the arabic script, it is an indo-european language. From here, the conversation can jump into a plethora of other discussions: Iran's multi-cultural society, the reasons for the changing of Persia's name to Iran, why Turkish is written with Latin characters while Persian is not, and so on.
Update: I forgot to mention why I wrote about this. Buzz Machine has had some great quotes from Iranian bloggers but made the mistake of confusing Iranians with Arabs.Posted by payam at April 27, 2003 06:07 PM | TrackBack