Sunday, June 07, 2015

Traffic Lighting




I am imagining a map of the world with countries coloured according to how strong the practice of removing shoes is.

Countries marked red would be those where removing shoes is the automatic norm and not removing shoes is largely unknown. Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore would be in the red zone, but possibly also Ukraine and maybe Russia.

Orange countries would be those where removing shoes is by far the most common practices, but exceptions are not unheard of. Norway and Sweden would probably be orange. In Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and India might be orange.

Yellow countries would be those where removing shoes is more common than not removing shoes without it being a universal rule. Poland, which seems to be the least shoe-removing East European country would seem to be in the yellow zone. I think Canada is probably more yellow than orange.

The UK is definitely in the green zone. This would be countries where removing shoes and not removing shoes is equally common. Germany might also be green.

The blue zone would be countries where removing shoes is not the majority custom, but some people will keep shoe-free homes. Australia is probably blue. Large parts of the USA would be blue, but other parts green or yellow. Hawaii and Alaska are probably in the orange zone.

Black countries would be those where keeping shoes on is very much the norm and removing shoes contrary to custom. Spain, most of Italy and Latin American countries would be in the black zone.

My suggestions are based on what I have read on the internet and newspapers. Those who have been to these countries might have a different take.

Any other suggestions as to what countries might come under which colour code?

33 comments:

Kelly said...

I would put Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine, and Russia in the same Orange category. Some parts of the U.S. (especially south and west, i.e. warm climate) are in the same category as Spain and Italy, whereas New England is probably in the same category as England, i.e., green. Not sure why you singled out Poland out of Eastern Europe.

Also, do you classify countries by their propensity to take their shoes in the house only, or also in some other situations such as dressing up shop windows, getting up on furniture, etc.?

Matthew Celestis said...

Thanks for the suggestions.

I'm sure parts of the USA are close to black, or at least navy blue, but perhaps the tendency to keep shoes on has as much to do with latin culture as with climate. I've come across a lot of Texans online who remove shoes or know people who do.

Russia and Ukraine might be orange, but I think they are more reddish orange than the Scandinavian countries. I would definitely disagree about Canada being in the same category as Scandinavian and Russia/ Ukraine. There are plenty of Canadians who do keep their shoes on.


I'm looking really anally retentive right now, I know.

I singled out Poland, because based on what I have read and people I've talked to the custom seems less entrenched there than the Czech Republic or the Balkan countries. I think that is down to Poland absorbing a lot of formerly German, westernized territory. I'd bet real money that removing shoes is a lot stronger in the eastern regions of Poland.

It would hugely confuse the classification if we took situations outside of homes into the equation. In some Asian countries, removing shoes in buildings other than homes is very common, while some former Soviet and Eastern European countries are equally strong on shoe removal in homes, but removing shoes outside of an home situation would be more unusual. In Canada, with it's cold climate, one might encounter more situations where shoes off outside the home is mandated, but there might be more variety in at home behaviour than in some East European countries.

Kelly said...

I think a lot of the U.S. is more like Australia in this regard - with the exceptions of Alaska and Hawaii (where, as you mentioned, it is orange) and possibly New England and areas bordering Canada (where it is green and perhaps yellow in some enclaves closer to Canada, such as Buffalo, NY or some parts of Minnesota.)

As for Russia, it is definitely more like Scandinavia than like Japan. The shoes rules are frequently waived in the summer especially in summer cottages and small towns. If anything, I would say Finland is more uptight about shoes than Russia is.

I got an impression that Denmark is more relaxed about taking shoes off than Sweden or Norway or Finland, although I might be wrong. That said, I did see a lot of people in Denmark take their shoes off when they were riding a train and put their feet up on the seats - even teenage girls did it. Looks like it is a big part of the culture there.

Matthew Celestis said...

Glad you mentioned Finland, because that is a place I have been to. Finland is definitely the reddish of the Nordic countries. Denmark is probably yellow rather than orange.

I think removing shoes is still pretty strong in Russia during the summer. Don't forget that a lot of Russia is very dusty in summer. Though they do seem to keep shoes on in summer cottages. But even the Japanese have some situations where they keep shoes on. I'm not sure if the Finns where shoes in their summer cottages. I went to Finland during October.







Kelly said...

Why is Denmark yellow rather than orange? Btw, Norway is definitely orange and Finland is reddish orange, as you pointed out. By the way, unlike in Japan, in Russia and Sweden the shoe removal traditions are fairly recent - just a few decades (none of these two countries had those traditions before WW2.)

And here are some blue nations - the Netherlands, France, and Belgium - and two purple nations - Greece and Israel.

Sandro said...

There is a Russian novel about Russian migrants in Sweden in 1920s-1930s. One of them is apologising for not adopting the shoes-off rule.

Regarding Denmark, English-speaking expats usually say it's a shoes-off country. Russians say it's not. I've read some Danish discussion with the help of Google Translate. What I can see, there is some kind of controversy between older generations of Copenhagen (shoes-on) and the capital's younger residents together with rural populations (shoes-off).

Israel I think is mostly black.

Kelly said...

Apparently the shoe-removal traditions came to Sweden earlier than to Russia. Although I heard that in the 1940s it was not common in Sweden to take shoes off, and it is still not common in the upper classes (where people are more likely to have maids.)

As for Denmark, it is interesting - might well be the result of more country folk (conditioned to shoes off) moving to Copenhagen (where the tradition is shoes on.) I have seen Danes remove their shoes on trains and on picnic blankets, but I was not sure what they do in others' homes.

Israel is definitely black (purple), as are most other non-Muslim Mediterranean countries - this goes for southern France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. A possible exception is Croatia.

As for the former Soviet countries, it seems to me that they are orange, with a possible exception of Armenia where it is more like yellow or green.

Sandro said...

I remember a Swedish girl having an annoyed online comment to an upper-classes-keep-their-shoes-on statement. She wondered if a university professor could be considered an upper-class person assuming it's normal for them to leave shoes at the door. I also remember someone saying Scandinavian royals only wear shoes indoors for the public, not in their private lives.

Sandro said...

On Russian TV shows, characters now and then keep their shoes on at home if it is a comedy and off in case of drama. Shoes are also kept on for scenes in "rich homes". Yet the following situation is typical: a Russian TV presenter, herself very rich and glamorous, is interviewing another rich woman at her home for TV. Both are wearing slippers before the camera.

Matthew Celestis said...

Kelly, I think Denmark is either yellow or yellowish-orange. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think the custom is as universally accepted as Sweden and Norway.

The Russian custom of shoe removal seems to be modern, though there was a Muscovite tradition of nobles changing into fur slippers when visiting each other that persisted until the 18th century.

I agree Netherlands and Belgium are blue. France, possibly mostly blue, but by some accounts it might well be green in some parts from what I have heard. The Alpine region might be yellow though.

Greece is mostly black or purple, whichever you think is more appropriate. I think there might some regional variation in Greece, with more northern regions of Greece more likely to remove shoes.

I'm not so sure about Israel being black or purple. I have heard some accounts of shoe removal. Sephardic and Karaite Jews have a tradition of removing shoes, unlike Ashkenazi Jews. Israel has citizens from all over the world, particularly a lot of ex-Russian and ex-Ukrainian Jews. Maybe some of them start keeping their shoes on in a sunnier climate with less filthy streets, but do all of them?

Matthew Celestis said...

Croatia is a country that defies the Mediterranean trend to keep shoes, along with Slovenia, Albania and Montenegro.

The practice of removing shoes in the Balkan region other than Greece shows that it is very simplistic to make this all about climate and to say that warm countries keep shoes on, cold countries take them off.

Matthew Celestis said...

And Albania is not a Muslim country. The census data that claims Muslims make up the vast majority of her population is unreliable. The Catholic and Orthodox communities in Albania are pretty significant.

Kelly said...

I am pretty sure Israel is black/purple. I spent a lot of time in that country, including with former Russian and Ukrainian families. Taking shoes off is simply not done there - I think this has to do with the warm climate, rare or nonexistent rain or snow, and also the stone floors so common there. Trust me, you don't want to go barefoot on the stone floors.

I don't know why Balkan countries other than Greece insist on shoes off, this might have to do with the Muslim population there, I don't know. I do know that the Netherlands are blue, with Amsterdam being blackish-blue rather than green. As far as I know, some parts of England are blue as well.

Albania has a big Muslim population and I am sure it influences shoes off.

As for Sweden - by upper class I mean really rich people as well as aristocracy, I don't think university professors are upper class. I do know that richer people there keep their shoes on. At formal occasions held at someone's home, such as a baptism, shoes are kept on, and this goes for all social classes.

Kelly said...

Oh, and another black (purple) country - South Africa.

I would even say that the vast majority of the Southern Hemisphere countries are blue or purple, with an exception of perhaps New Zealand where it is more like green.

Matthew Celestis said...

Yeah, South Africa is black or purple.

The other southern African countries are a bit more uncertain.

The islands of the south Pacific are orange to red though.

Kelly said...

Yep, Pacific Islanders tend to be orange or even red. That said, white people living there usually do keep their shoes on. Case in point - New Zealand.

In Europe, the rule of thumb is that the closer you are to north and east the more orange it becomes - from Spain and Portugal to Finland and Russia.

Kelly said...

I am also curious - is the UK uniform green or is it bluer in England and more orange in Scotland and Wales?

Matthew Celestis said...

I would say most of northern England is blue and southern England green, in an inversion of the usual formula. Parts of northern Scotland are yellowy green.

We used to have a regular commenter here from Wales. I would guess Wales is more blue, but he might disagree.

Kelly said...

Just curious why southern England is green? Have you actually seen people remove their shoes there, and if so, was it in a casual situation or at a party when people were dressed up?

Matthew Celestis said...

Kelly, I don't want to be cross-examined. Please just take my word for it as somebody living in southern England, that it is very common for people to take their shoes off.

Kelly said...

Matthew, I believe you. I just wonder why southern England is such a statistical anomaly, so to speak. There must be some reasons.

Matthew Celestis said...

More expensive homes, the south is more modern than the more traditionalist north, a lot of ethnic diversity as a result of their being more jobs in the south. Probably the same reasons why a lot of people in Houston, Texas remove their shoes unlike other parts of the south-western USA.

Kelly said...

Now this is interesting. I was not aware of it, and I don't see how more expensive homes influence this trend. As for Houston, it does attract a lot of immigrants but still it would be safe to say that most people there don't take their shoes off - this also has to do with the climate. I would say Houston is blue while the rest of Texas is black (except perhaps Dallas and Austin that are blue as well.) I have been to Houston and know a lot of peoevwho live there and elsewhere in Texas.

Matthew Celestis said...

If you had to practically sell your soul to get a mortgage to buy your house; you are going to want to look after it a lot more than if you had got it dirt cheap.

Kelly said...

Not necessarily true. My house is very expensive but I would not dream of making my guests take their shoes off - after all, I live in a blue area.

Matthew Celestis said...

I'm not literally saying everybody who lives in an expensive house is going to want shoes off. But I think it is a factor that can influence behaviour.

Northern English people might say they are less materialistic than southerners and less worried about looking after their carpets. I think many might see us southern shoes removers as a but 'fussy.'

Kelly said...

Thank you, this is clearer. I wonder whether in southern England it is still considered impolite to ask your visitor to take her shoes off. Looks like in northern England it is still frowned upon, as it is where I live.

Michael said...

I would say the U.S. is blue as well. I live in New York City and do not wear shoes inside, as do some others I know, but not enough to be considered green or yellow. Given what exists on the streets here, I always wonder why shoes off is not practiced more.

Mark said...

I live in rural Northumberland and it seems to be a standard rule here to take shoes off at the door. It seems to be a little less so in Newcastle.In YOrkshire, East Midlands, Derbyshire most seem to remove their shoes. It is impossible to be 100% accurate with these things and someone will always say that they have never been asked to removed their shoes. In Canada it is the same. Not absolutely everyone removes their shoes, but most do.

Kelly said...

Mark - just curious, is it common to bring your own slippers when you visit people in your area? Where I live, it is truly unusual - and if some hostess prefers no shoes in her house, she has to warn her guests beforehand.

My own observation is that in those areas where people tend not to wear socks for more than two or three months tend to be blue or black, perhaps for hygiene reasons (you don't want people's bare feet on your floors, this is really gross.)

Kelly said...

Michael - I got the same observation - the vast majority of those in NYC who remove their shoes are foreigners who somehow have not assimilated into the American ways. In the continental part of the U.S. it is definitely blue, with purple/black in the South and the Southwest and perhaps yellow in places like Minnesota and Buffalo, NY.

Michael said...

That may be true but as for me, I was born and raised here and remove my shoes just the same. In my case it is for comfort and a release after a long day at work.

Mark said...

Hi Kelly,yes people do bring their slippers when visiting. I also do the same when visiting. The weather here has been warm recently so I have been wearing sandals without socks. It is amazing how much dirt gets onto your bare feet. I went around to friends this week and immediately removed my sandals and took out slippers from my rucksack and put them on.