Thursday, January 21, 2010

Greece and the Balkans

Many years ago, I read in a book that removing shoes in homes was common in Greece. That seemed unsurprising at the time, because I knew, being a Classics student, that the ancient Greeks removed their sandals when going indoors. However, if this book was not mistaken, it would seem that removing shoes must only be customary in parts of Greece (perhaps in the north?). All the evidence I have read indicates that Greeks generally do not care to remove their shoes in homes.

That Greeks keep their shoes on shows similarity to other southern European countries such as Italy and Spain. It does contrast very strongly with other countries in the Balkans, where shoes are always removed and often replaced with slippers or sandals. From Slovenia to Bulgaria and from Albania to Romania, shoes are removed at the door.

That Greece differs from other Balkan countries reflects the historic contrast in the Balkans between the Slavs and Hellenes. The Balkans has been divided (Illyrian Albanians excepted) between the earthly Slavs and their close connection to the land, and the more cosmopolitan Greeks, with their preference for commerce as a way of life. Where the difference in shoe etiquette came from, I do not know.

It is puzzling why Greece and Bulgaria, both Balkan, both Orthodox Christian, both at the southeast of Europe and both experiencing long years of Ottoman rule would differ over the customn of removing shoes. Is it a Slav/ Hellene difference (if so when did this difference come in)? Or is it because Bulgaria (and other Slavic countries) was under Communism and Greece was not?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

About Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Greece as shoes-on cultures: I saw few video and written evidences in web it's not so total there

Anonymous said...

Is communism a shoes-off ideology:)? The fact is all post-socialist countries but Armenia and maybe Cuba represent shoes-off etiquette.

Celestial Fundy said...

Sorry, are you the same person or two different anonymous?

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Have you visited before? It would be helpful if you could use a name or nickname.

Interesting about southern European cultures. I know there are individuals who have seen the light in those countries and want to keep their floors clean.

Removing shoes may be common in the Alpine part of France.

Communism- It may be just coincidental, but removing shoes in Sweden went mainstream at the time the country embraced social democracy.

With regards to Eastern European former Communist countries I believe it may have something to do with the destruction of the middle classes as a result of the Second World War and post-war Communism. The bulk of the population in many East European countries are of peasent origin and so freed from the silliness of western bourgeois convention.

Anonymous said...

I am the same anonymous )
I did visit before and like your blog appreciating your effort to promote shoes-off policy.
About France: I remember an article about Bernard Hinault, a famous French biker, who originates from Brittany: he said he had shoes-off in his home and called it a village tradition. Is it typical for Brittany? I don't know. I also saw shoes removed in rainy weather in a couple of French films about a village in the South of France.
Swedes - I know it for sure - have been practising shoes-off for minimum 100 years.
People in post-communist countries deshoe at homes partly due to their traditions (in Muslim countries), partly due to weather, often wet, flats, too small to have a separate shoe-on room for guests, and salaries, too low to change carpets and floor often.

Celestial Fundy said...

Thanks.

It is easy to think of other cultures as rather monolithic.

Would I be right in guessing you are the person from Georgia?

Would it really hurt that much to sign in as 'Fred', 'Mysterious Stranger', 'Doctor X' or something a bit more to your taste?

It is your privilege to be anonymous and to share as much information as you choose, but it is nice to know which regular visitor I am communicating to.

Anonymous said...

I am that person from Georgia )
Let me be Mr.Anonymous :)

Anonymous said...

one amendment: even if people are doing well and live in large flats or houses (much more such people now) even if they are from upper social layers, they still follow shoes-off in ex-Soviet countries
Mr.Anonymous

Celestial Fundy said...

Thanks.

From what I have heard, the streets are quite dirty in even affluent areas in postcommunist countries. But I perhaps this is just a negative western impression?

Anonymous said...

streets are mostly dirty, but people still remove their shoes even if they are relatively clean (if coming by car e.g)
Mr.Anonymous