20 October 2009

Cultural Differences

While in Sweden, my friend P, her husband and I got in a conversation about shoes. Yes, I know, talking about shoes isn't that particularly uncommon, or specific to a culture, but that's not really what we were discussing.

In Sweden, when you walk into someone's home, you take off your shoes at the door. If you don't, and you walk around the house with shoes on, you are being rude. In most homes into which I have entered in the US, you generally don't have to take your shoes off, and, in fact, when you do, it is a sign of making yourself comfortable, which may be more familiar than the person merits. (this, of course isn't always the case, I do know people here that ask you to take off your shoes...but, as the episode of SATC showed -- when Carrie had to take off her shoes and then her Manolos got stolen, prompting her to make a single person registry with just one item -- it isn't all that common).

It's interesting how entrenched these customs become, and how hard it can be to break them. P spoke of a fellow Swedish exchange student who really didn't like her experience. She said one of the habits she couldn't break, or adapt to, was the shoe issue. She would always take off her shoes when entering homes (P was an exchange student in Massachusetts). And people felt that was really strange, which I can understand. If someone I didn't really know took off her shoes the first time she was in my home, I may feel a little strange about it! Like, who are you?!

And, if I had gone to anyone's homes other than my friends, I think I would have felt uncomfortable with no shoes on. I can't exactly pinpoint why, but perhaps because it would feel rude to me, even though it would have been rude NOT to have my shoes on.

I think it would definitely change the way you dress to visit friends. I wouldn't be able to wear half of my pants, which are too long unless I have high heels on, for instance. And you'd always have to make sure your socks matched and had no holes (which, of course, mine always do and never have!). And, importantly, that your tootsies always look their best!

Thanks again to all my hosts throughout my trip! The Q family, Stina & Pele, and the Alms. Mwuah!


David Salinas said...

That's funny. I was thinking about this, last weekend, at Kevin and Linda's new pad. I was the first one there. They had just moved in. Upon entering, I immediately took off my shoes. For me, it was a sign of respect. But, I did feel a bit weird doing it. I didn't want anyone to think I was overly getting comfortable. I did set a trend though. Many more people, seeing the ever increasing pile of shoes at the front door, took theirs off as well. I wish it was something we did more often. I prefer to be shoeless anyways.

Pernilla said...

I am with you David! To a Swede it is common to take your shoes off or bring clean shoes that you only wear inside, not outside. (Inside sounds wrong, can't think of a better word right now). To me it is disgusting to keep the shoes that you have been walking in who knows what and who knows where with. YUK. Don't be walking in those shoes on my floors, on my carpets and do not sit with them on my couch. :) That's only a little Swede's opinion. But when in Rome... I spent a year walking into American houses with my shoes on. On the other hand, I would never take my shoes off there and walk barefeet on all that filth. ;)

annie said...

You two are both weird.

Matthew Celestine said...

I think the custom of removing shoes in Sweden is great.

I have an whole blog about removing shoes in homes: Shoes Off at the Door, Please You might like to take a look.