Wear shoes at home
Take off your shoes - or not?
Cultures that crash into each other
A visit from a friend from Spain recently was very interesting, and she was surprised that people usually go into our apartments without shoes. The lady then vehemently resisted and was of course allowed to leave the shoes on. Shortly afterwards, Baris's wife came, originally from Turkey, and couldn't believe that someone was walking around in the apartment with shoes on. We asked around a little and wanted to know:
How do you behave properly when international contacts are being visited at home? Take off your shoes before entering the apartment and go barefoot or should you leave your shoes on? A simple answer? It depends on which country or culture you are in. The rules of conduct for taking off shoes vary greatly in international comparison.
Europe is not one unit when it comes to taking off shoes. The customs differ from country to country. The southern countries in particular differ greatly from the Scandinavian countries in terms of shoe practices. A French host would never ask to take off your shoes. That would be extremely disrespectful to the guest. The same applies to Italy and Spain: Here you don't have to take off your shoes at home. Even guests in these countries can easily enter the apartment with shoes on. As I said, our dear Barbara from Spain found the request extremely rude. The reason for keeping the shoes on could be that in Mediterranean countries the floor coverings in houses are often made of stone (e.g. terracotta or Venetian stone flooring). In relation to carpets, these are easier to clean.
In Eastern European Poland, however, no shoes are worn in the apartment, the guest is politely offered slippers. There is no uniform shoe rule in Germany. There are even several camps: some have nothing against wearing street shoes inside, others belong to the barefoot group and still others wear slippers in the house and keep them ready for their guests. Either for reasons of hygiene or to protect the wooden floorboards in old buildings.
In contrast to the southern European countries, in Sweden it is outrageous to unabashedly walk into a private home in street shoes. When you enter the house or apartment of the host, you take off your shoes for outside and walk on with stockings on your feet. Or just barefoot in summer. If the invitation is a little more refined, for example a business lunch, you switch from street shoes to shoes for indoors. These are often even carried in a handbag.
The Swedish custom of entering another person's home without shoes or barefoot can be perceived as something strange - or even unthinkable - in other countries, almost like a barbaric habit. Swedes who take off their shoes abroad sometimes hear: “You are not in Sweden now!”.
Taking off your shoes as an unwritten law of courtesy? Not in Sweden: this custom may have a political origin. At the beginning of the 20th century, the standard of living in Sweden was one of the lowest in Europe and was seen as the cause of almost all social problems. The authorities have therefore decided on a comprehensive set of rules that regulate private living space. Among other things, it stipulated that wardrobes should be built specifically for shoes in the hallway and that no shoes should be worn in the house. As a result, the floors would be cleaner, hygiene and health better, and social problems fewer. In addition to the political decision to take off shoes across Sweden, there is an obvious reason to consider: Sweden's climatic conditions. Anyone who has visited Sweden in autumn knows that a walk in the open air means wet, muddy, snow-covered or dirty shoes. But Swedes are not alone with the rules of conduct for shoes in the house. In other countries, too, it is normal to take off your street shoes in the house, wear slippers or walk around the house in socks. Nations that generally take off their shoes in the entrance area have more than just hygienic reasons for doing so. Respect for the host also plays an important role in the practice of staying in the apartment without street shoes.
In the Arab world, the shoe is considered the “lowest” item of clothing. That is why in Arab countries shoes are always taken off before entering a house or apartment and left in front of the door. Particular attention is paid to taking off one's shoes in mosques. In Islam, cleanliness is an important requirement when praying. Therefore, Muslims take off their shoes and ritually wash their feet before entering the prayer room. In Arabic the ablution is called wudu, in Turkish it is called Abdest.
In Asia, culture and religious rules of conduct determine places of faith. Last but not least, the shoes are also taken off due to floor hygiene. There are clear rules for Japan. Here, shoes are taken off before taking a seat, not only for private visits, but also when visiting a traditional restaurant. Shoes are generally forbidden, especially in apartments, and must be left in the entrance area of the house (Genkan). The reason for this is that many activities take place on the floor, so hygiene has the same priority. Slippers are an important piece of footwear in Japan. It is not uncommon that the toilet can only be entered with slippers that are exclusively intended for this purpose.
Same goes for Thailand. Here, especially when entering temples, make sure to take off your shoes or flip-flops beforehand.
In China, when you enter the host's apartment, there is usually a slippery culture that is comparable to Germany. Here you go according to the preferences of the host. While wearing slippers is traditionally welcome, depending on the host, this is not absolutely necessary. Because especially when meeting the big Chinese family, the apartment is filled quickly and the personal supply of slippers for guests is quickly used up. Guests are not expected to bring their own slippers.
Whether shoes are not worn in the home for cultural, religious or hygienic reasons varies from country to country. In Europe, the main reason for taking your shoes off will be hygiene. It's not that easy to always behave correctly when it comes to shoes. If in doubt, ask the host politely what is preferred and make sure to enter someone else's house with fresh and clean socks as possible. A question of courtesy, because in very few cases the host will ask you to take off your shoes.
Cover picture: Marcos Cecilia | 123RF.com
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