Morteza and Goli Charkhesht
Morteza and Goli Charkhesht immigrated to the United States from Iran and now own two Subway sandwich shops. Their first, purchased in 2010, is located inside Walmart on U.S. 70 Business in Clayton. Their second opened in November in the Flowers Plantation shopping center on N.C. 42. The couple has a unique perspective on life in the Clayton area.
Q: Morteza, you and Goli were both born in Tehran, Iran, and both immigrated to the United States as teenagers. Did you know one another in Tehran?
Morteza: No, we met at a party at a friend’s house. The friend is now married to my brother. Goli ignored me when we first met.
Goli: I didn’t ignore you, I just wasn’t interested in meeting anyone then. I had just gotten out of a relationship.
Q: But eventually he swayed you, right?
Goli: Yes. We dated for three years and married in 2010.
Q: What made you both decide to immigrate to the United States?
Morteza: My two older brothers had come here after the Iranian Revolution (in 1979) and during the Iraq-Iran war that lasted for eight years in the 1980s. When my oldest brother graduated from high school, he decided that he wanted to come to the United States for college. I had an aunt living in Rocky Mount, so he came here. My next oldest brother came two years later in 1984. I’m the baby of the family, but I came next in 1999, and my third brother came in 2004. My parents still live in Tehran. My father is in his 80s, and it’s a 24-hour flight with layovers, so we try to go back once a year to visit them. We all support my parents in Iran.
Goli: My mother brought me and my younger sister here when I was starting my freshman year of high school. I also had family in the Raleigh area. That was hard. I didn’t want to come because all of my family and friends were in Iran. Even though the United States offered us so many opportunities, I still didn’t want to leave behind what I had always known. It’s hard being different when you’re in high school.
Q: Did either of you speak English when you came to the States?
Morteza: Neither of us spoke English. Farsi is our native language. We were required to take Arabic and English in school, but it’s kind of like kids who are required to take Spanish here. You learn a lot of grammar for the tests, but you don’t really have the ability to speak the language. For example, when I got here, people would ask, “How are you doing?” I didn’t know what “doing” was for in the sentence. In school we were taught, “How are you?”
Also, one of my first mistakes was with the word “welcome.” I knew that it had two meanings, as in “you’re welcome” after someone says “thank you” and also “welcome” when you come in somewhere. I made the mistake at my brother’s Subway where I was working of grabbing a door for someone and saying, “Welcome,” but they were leaving. They gave me a look that told me I had done something wrong. My brother had to explain that the person thought I was (criticizing) them for not thanking me for holding the door open. I may have lost him a customer that day.
Q: Do you all speak English or Farsi at home?
Goli: We speak both. We may start a sentence in one language and switch to the other halfway through. Neither of us realize we are doing it. I always tell people that I will never know English like a native speaker, nor will I ever know Farsi like a native speaker either. We’re somewhere in between. We really help each other out with English.
Q: What are some of the cultural differences that have surprised you since coming to the United States? Morteza: In Iran, if you see a little child, you just automatically hug and love on the child. Here, people would think you were a child molester if you went up to their kid and hugged them. In Iran, we are much more demonstrative. When we see people we know, even of the same sex, we kiss them on the cheeks two or three times.
Goli: He knows not to do that here or they will think something else of you. Another big difference I see is in the amount of respect children give older people. In Iran, I would never wake up and not say good morning to my parents. I would never let an older person open the door for themselves. It’s taught that respect is the most important thing to have in Iran.
Morteza: I think that the independence older kids have in the United States is a good thing. In Iran, you really don’t have much say in your own life until you’re married. So kids live at home until they’re 25 or 26 and can afford to get married and buy their own home.