Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why the difference between Japan and Sweden?

Why is it that so many Americans go to Japan and declare that removing shoes in homes is wonderful, while so many other Americans go to Sweden (and Norway) and complain about having to remove their shoes in every home they visit.

It may be because of the different sorts of ex-pat that settle in Japan and Sweden respectively, but I have no idea what difference that would be.

It is nothing to do with the weather; winters in northern Japan are very cold and Japanese homes are much less likely than Swedish homes to have central heating. You are far more likely to get cold feet in a Japanese home.

It may be that Japanese come across as more polite or likeable than Swedish people. Better not go to far that way, or I might offend any Swedish visitors.

I think it has a lot to do with expectations. Everyone who goes to Japan knows that shoes need to be removed in Japanese homes. Not so many people know about removing shoes in Sweden, so people going there may not be psychologically prepared for the change of custom.

I suspect racial attitudes may come into it.

Japanese people look different to most westerners. We expect them to have strange and exotic customs. The exoticism of removing shoes in Japanese homes may come across as a quaint and aesthetically pleasing custom.

Not so the Swedish custom. The Swedes look like westerners, except in being demographically more fair-haired. we expect them to behave in a western manner and not have the sort of strange, exotic customs that we expect in Japan or Thailand.

The Swedes just come across as an whole nation of those awful westerners who expect you to remove their shoes to protect their wretched carpets.

The sort of westerner I am. And the sort of westerner that is becoming increasingly more common. The future is bright under a midnight sun, the future is Nordic.

2 comments:

Tiger Mouse said...

I wonder if reception of Japan's shoes-off custom vs. Sweden's has anything to do with what I call, for lack of a better term, the "floor vs. furniture" factor. I know you've said that the Japanese use some of the furniture commonly associated with the western world, but from what I've seen and heard of the Japanese (as well as Thai) custom, one of the things commonly associated with it is sitting on the floor. I know if I was kneeling on the floor, I wouldn't want for instance, high heels (which I rarely wear) up against my behind and at least if one is ashamed of what their feet look like or something, kneeling on the floor more or less hides it.

That brings me to Sweden. I don't know what their furniture is like. I've heard of people who, when they visited a shoes-off home didn't really want their bare feet showing and would thus sit with their feet curled up beneath them. If the Swedish generally use western type furniture, I wonder if they are guests sitting with their feet curled up beneath them (which I'd probably be tempted to do if requested to go shoeless and didn't even have any slippers handy) or otherwise on furniture or if they generally adhere to the "feet strictly on the floor no matter what" school of thought. (I once saw a movie where a girl was sitting down to dinner. At first, she had one foot tucked beneath her, but, even though she was barefoot at the time, her dad said, "Feet on the floor." And for the record, no, this movie did not take place in Sweden.) If the latter is the case and one did not wish to be sitting (or standing for that matter) with their bare or stocking feet on display all the time, or if they like to have something between their feet and the floor beyond socks/stockings (if they are wearing any) then that could be a problem if asked to forfeit one's shoes upon arrival and thus spending the rest of the time feeling embarrassed about their feet or at the very least feeling exposed.

This is just a guess. I could be totally off the mark on this. I also apologize to any Swedish visitors who might see this.

Celestial Fundy said...

Interesting thoughts.