Friday, September 30, 2011

Foreign or Exotic?


Shappi Khorsandi, a female British-Iranian stand-up comic says that "Exotic means the same thing as foreign, except you don't dislike it."

Exotic conjures up images of the far east or the New World. It is exciting colourful, sensuous and maybe a bit sexy. Foreign means something from another culture, but the word somehow lacks the exciting emotive power of the other word.

I am convinced that the English pronounce the word 'foreign' with a certain acidity. When we say the word 'foreign', there is a slight tightening of the mouth and a subtle narrowing of the eyes.

I have mentioned before about the different reactions of British and Americans to shoe removal in Scandinavia and the Far East. Expatriates in Japan and other Asian countries usually love removing their shoes and often bring the custom back, while many expatriates in Scandinavian countries find it really irritating. I suspect that the exotic/ foreign distinction at work.

When a tourist in Thailand has to go barefoot in restaurants and guest houses in Thailand, it is exotic. It is a taste of the colourful and sensuous east. On the other hand, when the same person is on a business trip to Norway and his Norwegian business partner makes him walk about the house in socks, it is foreign. Just like all the other foreign things he hates like undercooked steaks in French restaurants, bossy German policemen, overpriced everything in tourist areas and disdainful Italian waitresses.

Foreign is different, but it has a familiarity to it. Shoes-off in Japan reflects the beautiful alienness of that whole culture, shoes-off in Sweden just reminds you of those irritating fussy people back home (like me) who make you take your shoes-off to protect their carpets.

Nevertheless, we have to challenge our prejudices. We may find that steaks served very rare can be pleasently different. We may find that Germans do have a sense of humour and those Italian waitresses are quite pretty even if they think you don't deserve to be in their restaurant. And you may find that even if Nordic people are fussy about their floors, it actually makes a lot of sense taking shoes off.


Sandro said...

The shoes-off mode is few times mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes Stories. E.g. in the Blue Carbuncle, Holmes puts on slippers coming home with Watson and the criminal character in the story. Quite unexpected for a Victorian gentleman, isn't it?
CF, could you comment it as a true Englishman and add other similar examples from classical English literature with explanations if possible?

Matthew Celestis said...

I'm afraid I have never read any Sherlock Holmes books.

Sandro said...

So it sounds surprising for you as well, doesn't it? What about other classical books?

Matthew Celestis said...

It's difficult to comment without knowing the context. It's in the public domain isn't it? You could paste a paragraph or two into the comment box.

It probably would not have been unusual for people in that period to wear slippers in their own homes.

Sandro said...

“Here we are!” said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room. “The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then! You want to know what became of those geese?”

Matthew Celestis said...

I don't think that would have surprised me. He is just making himself comfortable by changing into slippers.

Sandro said...

Doesn't it look too informal to change footwear in the presence of a guest for Victorian times?

Matthew Celestis said...

Possibly. I don't claim any expertise in Victorian etiquette.

Sandro said...

Ok I see)

Matthew Celestis said...

You're a historian yourself, aren't you?

If it was a question about church or religion in the Victorian era I might be able to give you a better answer..

Sandro said...

Unfortunately nobody has written the world history of shoes-off yet ) I just thought you could find a sort of intuitive answer)
Yet I'll keep you in mind if I need any reference regarding church etc.
And now another citation:
As they went out, Mr. Bucket made me sit down in a corner by the fire and take off my wet shoes, which he turned up to dry upon the fender, talking all the time.
(Dickens, Bleak House)
So the conclusion is: if it's ok to remove shoes not privately, why avoid it when just visiting somebody?

Matthew Celestis said...

In that example the character had already entered the house without removing his shoes. Probably the instruction to remove shoes was to enable the character to warm up and not get ill rather than to dirty the floor.

Sandro said...

Sure, CF, the motivation was health, not cleanliness. Yet my point is: if one finds ok to sit with stockinged feet for warmth, why not remove them to protect the floor?

Matthew Celestis said...


Emma said...


I wonder whether anyone can offer me some advice please.

I always go shoeless at home and when vistiting friends and so on.

I work in an office, but am looking to do some extra work for a babysitting agency.

Anyway, latter this week I have an interview at the home of the lady who own the agency.

I really am not sure what to do regarding shoes.

It seems inappriaite to remove them in an interview, but is is her home.

Should I just keep them on, take another pair of new shoes which have'nt been out side to change into, take slippers or just take my shoes off at the door?


Matthew Celestis said...

Emma, thanks for visiting.

Given that the interview is in a home, removing shoes might be more appropriate. It is likely to be a little more informal than an interview in an office.

If in doubt about removing your shoes, you could ask her what she prefers.

If the work is babysitting in private homes, you will probably have your shoes off on the job anyway.

Sandro said...

Emma, I agree with CF. It would be interesting to read your feedback after the interview )

richyrich said...

Best of luck Emma and I also look forward to hearing how you got on. If the job involves working in clients' homes and you take off your shoes when visiting the aganct owner at her home, she may well see that you would respect her clients' homes by doing the same there and that might count in your favour. When you enter her home I would suggest that you start taking your shoes off and maybe say something like "I'll just take my shoes off so as not to dirty your floors", it'll then be up to the interviewer to say that you don't need to if that is the case. But even then she would see that you respect other people's homes.
Also are you in the UK if you don't mind me asking?

Emma said...

Thanks for the advice.

Yes I am in the UK. If I am sucessful I would definatively take my shoes off in client's homes.

At the interview I plan wearing a dress, so would you suggest I just slip off my shoes and go in my stockinged feet or follow her lead?

I would prefer being shoeless, but am not sure in an interview situation.

The interview is on Thurs morning and of course I will let you know how I get on.

Hopefully it will be OK. I have spoken to the lady a couple of times and she seems really nice. Also, she has already taken up references - so fingures crossed.

richyrich said...

Emma, I would still say that you prefer to take your shoes off in people's homes as you think it's healthier and at least offer to do it for the interview. She will then see that you're a person who would respect her clients' property, even if she did tell you that you didn't need to do it at the interview. If you just took off your shoes without saying anything, there is a danger that she'd think you were over familiar, but if you explained your reason you should be OK.
Good luck once again.

Sandro said...

Richyrich, you've explained the case perfectly )

Emma said...


Thanks so much - yes that is what I am going to do.

I should perhaps add that although there is nothing wrong with them I go to the chiropodist every 6 weeks or so to have hard skin removed etc and went last week so they should look OK?

No one likes seeing horrid feet and as I go shoeless so much I try to make sure they look OK.

richyrich said...

Emma, if you wear tights or stockings (which I'd say is advisable for an interview whether you take off your shoes or not)the skin of your feet won't be too visible though.

Emma said...

Hi Richyrich,

Yes I usaully do that (tights or stockings), but like my feet to look good anyway, and love any type of pampering!!

Also, tend to go shoeless in office too.

richyrich said...

Are your bosses OK about you going shoeless in your office?

Moderate Mouse said...

This does not pertain to the conversations started in this thread thus far, but it might nonetheless be of interest here.

I don't know if you remember this, but back in November, I had written a post on my "Musings" blog called "Slipping Away from At Home Shoe Wearing". As I was randomly checking the stats on said blog, it turned out that said post was one of the ones that was viewed today, even though it was written so long ago. In the "traffic sources" section, one of the sets of keywords that was listed was "why angle for a shoe rack" which must've led to the post. (And I don't even blog about this topic very often, and I have not in a long time.) Just thought I'd mention that for what it's worth.

richyrich said...

Emma, was your interview today (Thursday)? How did it go?

Emma said...

Hi Richrich,

Thanks for your meassage - yes it was today and I got the job.

It all went really well, and I need'nt have worried at all. Turns out she prefers shoes off as well. She was smartly dressed but in slippers. I made some remark about the wet pavements and slipped my heels off at the door. There was also a secretary working from the house and she had left her boots at the door as well.

She does ask all her sitters to either remove their shoes or change into slippers in client's homes.

Sorry you also asked a few days ago about my boss. I work for a lettings company and most of the time am in the office on my own, but he is aware that I usually work shoeless. Hope you understand?

I know it seems odd in an office, but I don't like wearing shoes all day.

Any other questions please let me know and I will be happy to reply.

richyrich said...

Congratulations on getting the job. When do you start? It's good to see that the agency's owner is in favour of shoes off and practices it at her home. Did you see if the secretary who had left her boots at the door was wearing slippers or was she barefooted or in her stockinged feet?
It's very kind of you to say that you're happy to answer further questions from me. Feel free to ask me anything as well.
I don't think it's odd to be shoeless in an office. I don't know for how long you've been following this blog but I've said on a number of occassions on it how several years ago I used to work in an office and a young lady there would nearly always take her shoes off as soon as she'd arrived at work and spend the whole day working in her stockinged feet.

Matthew Celestis said...

Well done, Emma. I hope that goes well for you.

I'm glad she encourages shoes-off in clients' homes. A lot of the baysitters I had as a child would remove their shoes. I'll admit, when I did babysitting as a teenager, I would keep my shoes on. I liked to have my combat boots on.

Sandro said...

Well-done, Emma) I'm very sure that you've removed your shoes at her home is one of the reasons you have received this job: you just showed your culture and professionalism. I'm very glad more and more people follow it in the UK, so if I once find myself in an English home, I'll less likely feel what they call a culture shock, at least in one respect )

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Greenstone said...

Emma, this was very professional of you to take your shoes off at the interviewer's house! I am glad you got that job!