Sunday, January 22, 2017

reddit: Hello, Europe! Do you wear shoes indoors?

reddit: Hello, Europe! Do you wear shoes indoors?


Another discussion on reddit about what the custom is in different European countries. The big cleavage comes out between Scandinavian and Central/ East Europeans who all remove their shoes and those from Mediterranean countries where shoes are kept on in homes. At one point somebody wonders if religion has something to do with the difference, but then it is quickly established that it cuts across Orthodox/ Catholic/ Protestant lines.

It's kind of interesting that the shoes off/ on border in the south-east is between Greece and her northern neighbours, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. I don't quite get why this should be. Greece shares religion with Macedonians, Bulgarians and some Albanians and all of them were under Ottoman rule. Climate might be a difference, but winters in Greece can't be that much milder than those in Albania or Bulgaria. Is it down to the fact that Greece was not under Communism?

The original poster is from Bugaria. He says that removing shoes in his country is not down to tradition, but just the practicality of keeping out dirt. I've heard some people in Bulgaria would like to move away from removing shoes because it's uncool, meaning un-western, but no doubt practicality will prevent that. Removing shoes may be uncool, but that doesn't make the streets any cleaner.

40 comments:

Paul said...

My theory is that removing shoes at home is more prevalent in countries that are a) poorer (think Albania and Macedonia), b) have a history of socialism and communism where hiring someone to clean your floors is frowned upon or simply infeasible, c) have Muslim influence (think Albania and most Balkan countries), d) have Asian influence (think Russia and Ukraine), and/or have nasty weather more often than not (think Scandinavia, Russia, Poland.) This might be the reason why U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Greece are all shoes-on countries.

Matthew Celestine said...

Basically they have all the things you don't like?

Paul said...

All or some of them. Ireland can have nasty weather but is shoes on; I think the reason is that it has never been socialist or communist and people can afford hired help and there is little or no Asian or Muslim influence.

Bob said...

Interesting thought Paul. I guess than the reason Canada and many parts of the Northern US tend to be shoes off is only the nasty weather because there is no Asian or Muslim influence

Mark said...

Actually, Ireland is one of the poorest countries in Europe and one of the highest levels debt.
Looking back at the history, no-one in their right mind could ever call Ireland an affluent country.
Greece is bankrupt and has a third world economy.
I read Marx(and his derivations) at length as a younger man. I can't seem to recall any references to show removal being a precursor for revolutionary activity. Although, I have heard that when the bolsheviks stormed the Livadia Palace they did remove their clogs and rags wrapped around their feet at the door, because they didn't want to damage the marble floors and hand woven(by the proletariats) rugs.
It would seem that the history of shoe removal and revolutionary activity are intrinsically linked.
I wonder what AJP Taylor would have to say about that?

Matthew Celestine said...

Ireland did have it's boom before the recession. Dublin is still an emerging financial centre.

Paul said...

Might well be the case. Of course there are a lot of Muslim and Asian immigrants there but not nearly enough to truly influence the shoes customs. Unlike Hawaii, for example, which is shoes off due to the Japanese influence.

Boston and NYC are shoes on, by the way, even though they are in the northern part of the US.

Paul said...

Mark, you are confusing cause and effect. Hiring someone to clean your house is considered bourgeois in socialist and communist society and they tend to frown upon anything that is "bourgeois." In some former communist societies, like Bulgaria or Ukraine, the masses are simply too poor to afford hired help. Ireland might not be as rich as the U.K. but definitely richer than Bulgaria, Macedonia, or Ukraine.

Might also have to do with individualism vs collectivism. More individualistic societies, such as US or U.K., tend to be shoes on, whereas more collectivist societies such as Sweden or Russia tend to be shoes off.

Sandro said...

What about Scandinavians? They are more prosperous than the Irish, while weather conditions are more or less similar, and shoes are off. It must be something about culture

Paul said...

Scandinavians are more socialist and egalitarian and might not like the idea of hiring someone to clean their floors.

Somewhere I read that before WW2 Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were firmly shoes-on.

Paul said...

From my experience, all Spanish-speaking countries and nearly all English-speaking countries (the only exception is Canada), as well as many if not most Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Israel) and a few countries influenced by Spain (the Benelux countries) are shoes-on. Especially Spain, Italy, and Israel.

Sandro said...

I read a novel about Sweden in 1920s. Shoes-off is mentioned as a common rule.

Paul said...

Really? I recall talking to a Swede and she said that before WW2 shoes on was the most common thing (and is still practiced by the upper classes as well as the royalty.)

Sandro said...

The novel was written by a contemporary, who lived in Sweden at that time.

Paul said...

Then it was probably not as common back then as it is now. I heard that even Russia (at least the big cities) was shoes-on before WW2.

Sandro said...

Actually, the novel in the reference is Russian. A character is a Russian immigrant in Sweden. He cannot adapt to the shoes-off rule.
In Russia, galoshes were used in cities; peasants used to to de-shoe entering their homes and lords'.
It was after WW 2 that shoes-off in USSR became common in all social groups as more people could afford carpets and parquet floors while galoshes were no more worn as people wanted their footwear to look more elegant.

Matthew Celestine said...

I read in an history book that nobles in17th century Russia used to change into fur slippers when visiting each other.

Paul said...

This might have been true. But no one would go shoeless. This was reserved for those who couldn't afford shoes.

Paul said...

Not sure about the non-Russian parts of the USSR. I heard that in Armenia it is common to wear shoes inside, ditto for Georgia, not sure whether it is true.

As for Russia - I agree with you that galoshes went out of style and that might have to do with the shoes-off trend. But I also think that it has to do with the influx of peasant to the cities and with the decimation of the educated classes born and raised in cities. Suddenly the peasant manners (which would never be considered exemplary in the normal times) became de riguer. Having a maid, once a necessary attribute of an educated family, became really rare. Besides many Russians lived in really cramped living quarters and had to entertain right in their bedrooms. What I am trying to say is that shoes-off in Russia has to do with the poverty brought by the Soviet regime and, sadly, lingered after the demise of the Soviet system.

Matthew Celestine said...

Paul, I presume you don't know where Sandro is from....

Sandro said...

I'd rather say the shoes-off rule was - and is - less common in Yerevan and Tbilisi than in other soviet cities. In Tbilisi, it particularly changed towards shoes-on after the USSR collapse due to 1) lack of water at homes, and ...errr... stinky feet as a result 2) run-down floors (no money to renovate 3)no heating - many wore winter boots at homes November through March. It is still 50-50 with the shoes-off in Tbilisi. The country has always been mostly shoes off.
Only in Tbilisi have I seen guests stepping onto special foot-sized rags and sliding/walking like this.
Villagers did bring their rules into the cities, but same applied to soviet intellectuals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.- not all of them were from poor families, but still applied the shoes-off etiquette.

Sandro said...

Matthew, I missed your comment about Russia in the 17th century. Yes, even the nobles de-shoed at other people's homes. Peter the Great changed that through westernisation.

Paul said...

I didn't know that. I do know that at least from the times of Peter the Great and the end of WW2 Russia was shoes-on, at least the upper classes. Do you really think Anna Pavlovna Scherer (in "War and Peace") made her party guests take their shoes off?

As for the Soviet intellectuals - I don't think they went for shoes-off because it is better or classier; I think it was because most of them lived in crappy apartments where they entertained in their bedrooms and besides didn't have maids to clean their apartments. Kind of related to the decline of the general level of manners in the Soviet society. Still, I think that at least in the cities most women would bring heels with them to a party, rather than walk around in their stocking feet, and most men would bring clean indoor shoes. I cannot imagine a large Russian gathering where no one wore shoes.

Sandro said...

Scherer didn't - as I said, shoes stayed on in lords' and urban homes since Peter's times. Galoshes were worn over shoes. Regarding soviet elite and middle class, shoes came off after the second war. They mostly didn't before even though the educational and cultural level of people was lower than later. In 1930s, people lived in small rooms with shared facilities. They simple didn't feel it cozy enough to care about shoes. Elite were given relatively good apartments they never felt at home because they could be taken away any time with a political repression. It was considered a 'bourgeois" manner to care about floor or even wear slippers. So, the lower class - mostly factory workers - actually contributed to shoes staying on.
As I said, the reason for change is better housing conditions since 1950s. More and more people had flats with private facilities; they could afford parquet and carpets.
I agree that villagers could bring the idea of shoes-off to cities, but all classes were ready to adopt it.
Of course, there are exceptions. Very few women bother to bring shoes to a party to change into, but most of them don't 'cause it is seen uncomfortable and damaging for the floor.
Paul, I'm a soviet kid, I know what I'm talking bout :)

Sandro said...

https://youtu.be/sXYa35Rp3Gg
This is a nice episode from a soviet film about the post-revolutionary Russia. An old doctor from an upper class (he had grown up before revolution indeed) reprimands his Bolshevik visitors for bringing dirt onto his Persian rugs. He tells them to wear galoshes.

Matthew Celestine said...

Sandro, you really must write a book about the history of shoe removing etiquette.

Paul said...

Russia is the only former Soviet republic I am familiar with (I lived there for a while), and I beg to differ. First, not every family got a private apartment back in the '50s, some remained in shared apartments until the end of the Soviet Union. Second, a Western-style apartment with a large living room to entertain people in was a big luxury the vast majority of people could not dream of. If you are entertaining people in your bedroom and you don't have hired help to clean it, you might be more likely to request shoe removal. Third, until the '60s, many educated families had maids. Then it became uncommon. That, too, contributed to shoes-off policies even in educated families. Fourth, from my experience as well as from what I read, it was almost mandatory for women (and even teenage girls) to bring heels to a party and wear them instead of slippers or stocking feet. Men, too, would bring indoor shoes to change into. I cannot imagine a Russian party where someone is not wearing any shoes. Of course I am talking about Moscow, where I lived, and only about the educated classes - things might be different in provincial cities and towns and with blue-color people but I have no experience with those.

Paul said...

Alas, not everyone could afford galoshes, and besides, it was a bourgeois thing. Besides, taking off galoshes and wearing your shoes is way better than taking off your shoes and walking around in socks. The latter was probably unheard of back in the day.

Sandro said...

Paul, may I ask you how old you are, how long - and when -you lived in Russia and whether you can read Russian?

Paul said...

I am probably older than you. I lived in Moscow in the '80s and yes, I can read in Russian (but not in any other languages of the former Soviet Union.)

Paul said...

Since we are talking about Europe in general and Slovenia in particular, I wonder whether Melania Trump has, or has ever had, a shoes-off policy. I would be very surprised if that were the case.

Matthew Celestine said...

Paul, if you mean has she kept Trump's home shoe-free, probably not.

If you are talking about when she lived in Slovenia probably. Almost everyone in Slovenia takes their shoes off and expects others to do the same. I don't see why Melania would not have done when she lived there before her marriage.

Paul said...

Somehow I think she switched to the shoes-on lifestyle even before leaving Slovenia. She was a model, after all, and her social circle was corresponding to that.

Sandro said...


I am 48 and have been living in Tbilisi, Baku, Kiev and Moscow since birth. I have been to parties at educated families' homes in all those cities. Shoes almost always came off except Tbilisi in 1990-2010.

'First, not every family got a private apartment back in the '50s, some remained in shared apartments until the end of the Soviet Union"
True. However, enough families started receiving private flats in 1950s for the shoes-off trend to become common.

'Second, a Western-style apartment with a large living room to entertain people in was a big luxury the vast majority of people could not dream of.'

A standard flat for a family was two-room ( a living room and a bedroom), 50 square meters in total. Guests were accepted in the living room with a rug.


"Third, until the '60s, many educated families had maids"

Partially true. Such maids usually lived in families for decades like members. Their efforts were also respected. You wouldn't walk with your shoes on.
Paid maids came from villages, which had been very expensive since 1950s. My family had a maid back in 1970s, who came once in a month for grand cleaning.
Now, maids are affordable few times a week again, but people deshoe anyway not to live in dirt or not to damage new expensive floor/rugs.

" Fourth, from my experience as well as from what I read, it was almost mandatory for women (and even teenage girls) to bring heels to a party and wear them instead of slippers or stocking feet. Men, too, would bring indoor shoes to change into. I cannot imagine a Russian party where someone is not wearing any shoes. Of course I am talking about Moscow, where I lived, and only about the educated classes - things might be different in provincial cities and towns and with blue-color people but I have no experience with those."

As I said, exceptions are possible.
This topic is sometimes discussed in Russian forums, which you can check yourself. Most women (Moscow included) opt for stockinged feet. I remember Urmas Ott interviewing Tovstonogov at the latter one's home on TV approx. in 1990, both were wearing slippers. I remember home videos, private pictures etc. as well as occasional references in books.



"Alas, not everyone could afford galoshes, and besides, it was a bourgeois thing."


Galoshes were cheap and looked ugly. Bolsheviks back in 1920 considered it bourgeois indeed, but later, they were ignored for aesthetic reasons.

Sandro said...

Sandro, you really must write a book about the history of shoe removing etiquette.

Dear Mat,
You deserve this privilege more than anyone else :)

Matthew Celestine said...

Paul, models don't always feel the need to look glamorous in the privacy of their homes, sometimes even in private company.

If you tell me you have lived in Slovenia and travelled in the sort of circles Melania travelled in, I'll accept your opinion. But if not, I'll assume she probably did what everybody else in Slovenia does.

I get the impression that Slovenia is more strongly shoes-off than neighboring Croatia and Austria.

Paul said...

Why do you think so? I have actually visited Slovenia and did not notice the shoes-off trend - but then I visited that country in the summer where things might be different.

As for Melania - I am pretty sure she had the need to look glamorous at all times. She is not a "girl next door" Slovenian. She is a "top-model" Slovenian. I am sure she opted for heels especially when entertaining or visiting.

Paul said...

Sounds like you are a few years older than me and lived not just in Moscow, and way later than when I lived there. When I was there, the rules were simple - for an informal visit you would bring your own slippers or the host or hostess would lend you the ones they had for guests (quality varied); for a party you were expected to bring a change of shoes, especially in the winter. For women, it would mean heels. Even for teenage girls. I don't think I have ever seen people (especially women) not wear shoes at a party in someone's house. If you forgot to bring a change of shoes, the host or hostess would either let you keep your outdoor shoes or lend you slippers (but then it would kind of ruin your party outfit.) Letting someone go around your apartment in stocking feet was considered inhospitable. In the summer the shoes rules were more relaxed and some hosts would waive the shoes-off policy. I can't believe things became so different after I left Moscow and the Soviet Union collapsed.

By the way, private apartment varied in size, from one room (a studio-like apartment which would occasionally be occupied by a family of four!) to four rooms.

Sandro said...

As I said, my experience belongs to both before as after the collapse of the ussr since I'm a soviet kid. Of course, your experience is also possible in such a big city as Moscow. I am even familiar with all the options you mentioned. As per the number of rooms, it was the most common option, not the only one.

Sam Stayer said...

Professional website of the company WebiProg. We specialize in bespoke bespoke web site design, bespoke web development and creation of online shops on different CMS platforms, the development of individual software, maintenance and development of finished projects, etc. Visit us at: http://webiprog.com