Swedish Culture Win – Shoes Off Please

There’s this ongoing battle in many countries. The dispute can destroy dinner parties and make friendships awkward. Some people compare this battle to the War of the Roses, eternal until death do us part.

It is called – The Battle of Wearing Shoes Indoors!

I for one, do not allow shoes in the house. I never have. I never will.

Here’s why:

  • I am Indian, and like all other Asians, our home is our sanctuary.   To not takes shoes off is a sign of disrespect to the owners of the house.
  • I am a Hindi and a Jain, and as such, our home is also a place of worship.   God doesn’t like people schleeping in with shoes and shit on them.
  • I live in Sweden and not wearing shoes indoors is the biggest Swedish cultural win ever. Most of the year it rains or snows in Sweden. Why on earth would you drag stone, snow, mud filled shoes into a home? And Swedes pride themselves on keeping fastidiously clean homes (Americans, for all your cleaning supplies, the Swedes are better at keeping a home tidy). Plus, Swedes find it rude to walk around in a home with shoes you wear for the outside world.
  • Shoes indoors are gross.  No matter how many times I hear the, “ohhh, but it can make people uncomfortable to take their shoes off.   What if they have smelly feet or bunions or holey socks?” Seriously?  If someone gives me that dumbass rhetorical question, my answer is “maybe you should see a doctor and buy a pair of socks without holes.”
  • I am lazy and do not want to wipe scuff marks or water marks from your shoes in my home.
  • Your home is your home.   You have the right to ask, request, and in standoffs, demand people to remove their shoes.   Just as a guest does not have the right to eat food not served to them or throw their coats on the floor or eat before the host (in a formal dinner), a guest can certainly take their shoes off.
  • Wearing shoes all the time is stifling for my feet.  Who wants their feet to be smushed all day long in a pair of sneakers or heels?

no shoes indoors please

When I grew up, half the homes I would visit would take their shoes off and half would not. Even when I lived in New York and the temperature was -30C and blizzard conditions, I saw some friends keep their shoes on.

At my birthday parties, which occurred in December, my mom would always run around and ensure kids took those shoes off. I’m glad she did; no wants to clean up snow blizzard crap on the carpet. Plus, it was a to teach the kids, and adults, that we do ask for respect when you come into our home.

There were always some kids who would cry when they had to take their shoes off. They probably turned into the same adults who “can never take their shoes off because I’ve been doing it for 15 years.” Gross, don’t you want your feet to get some air? No wonder athlete’s foot is a huge problem in the United States.

But after doing some reading, the shoes on indoors turns out to be Anglo-Saxon tradition. Britain, northern Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, and some South American countries.

The Daily Mail had a hilarious article about wearing shoes indoors.

“Is asking guests to remove their shoes before they cross your ­threshold good housekeeping or horribly naff? After all, the suggestion is that your friends’ shoes are so grubby that they are bound to be treading something unspeakable over your carpets.”

Insinuating that your friends shoes are “so grubby” is misleading; shoes ARE dirty. What “unspeakables” would someone tread? Dirt, leaves, mud, water, snow, stones, dog shit, cigarette butts, snus, gum. No unspeakables here, shoes tread dirt.

“One poster wondered whether it was OK to ask guests to remove their footwear at the housewarming party she was hosting. ‘No,’ was the overwhelming response.
‘I’m picturing a Barratt home, twigs in a vase covered in fairylights and that Ikea picture of pebbles,’ sniped one woman on the forum.”

Remind me to never invite the nay-sayers into my home.

“Podiatrist Kate Millns says: ‘Asking people to remove their shoes is giving your guests unnecessary stress, as most people like to keep their feet hidden. It’s more hygienic to make them keep their shoes on, especially if they are not wearing socks or tights.”

By far the most bizarre of all, how does keeping one shoes on be more hygienic than taking them off? Honestly, if your feet smell a lot, you should be seeing a doctor, and possibly not wearing shoes every second of every day.

What to do in a Nordic household:

  • Please do take your shoes off being being asked to do-so.   The whole “Opps, I’m American, I didn’t realize it” is a lame and disrespectful excuse to a homeowner.
  • If you are attending a dinner party and do want to wear a pair of heels, ask the host if it is okay to bring the heels in a bag. Clean the soles with soap and water and wrap them up in a nice bag to take to the party.
  • I sometimes take a pair of my flat jutas to a party. I have cold feet and these shoes are meant for indoors only. They’re also very cute and stylish.
  • Some hosts will have a strict no shoes policy. That is especially true with people who have soft wooden floors. My friend had an inflytningsfest (housewarming party) and made the mistake of allowing people to wear clean heels in the house. Only two of the thirty or so guests did. And one of them left divits across a brand new floor. We tracked her “footprints” from the living room to the entrance to the bathroom and around. The cost to steam and fix the imprints will be 3000-6000SEK.
  • When in Sweden, embrace some new traditions. This is an instance of a great tradition.
  • Buy a shoe rack and a chair to help make it easier for guests to arrange their shoes and sit comfortably when taking them off.
  • Last, think about how much money you can save when not needing to buy shoes in Sweden for every new outfit! I call that winning!

shoe and jacket rack

From the forum, Imamother.com:
“Yes its YOUR home but wouldnt you want people to be comfortable in your home? Lets say they put on their worst pair of socks with holes in the front, not knowing that you had such a “policy”. Would you like to take the risk of embarrasing the visitor by them having to wear “holey socks” or putting them in the position of not wanting to take them off?”

If my friends had a pair of holey socks, it is not my problem.  It’s also NOT for me to make fun of them and make it an issue.

One of these days, I will stitch a sign to say “Inga Skor.” And if someone questions me, I will say “we’re Swedes, take off your damn shoes!”

UPDATE: Temporary Stockholmer found a doormat sold at Home Sweet Home.

20 thoughts on “Swedish Culture Win – Shoes Off Please”

  1. We have the same rule in Iceland, and growing up with it, it wasn’t until I started watching American sitcoms and movies that I realized that people wore shoes inside (and STILL put their feet on the table, which is a no-no even when you’re just wearing socks).
    I have no problem with people wearing their fancy shoes inside though, if they didn’t just wear the same shoes on their way over. I bring my heels in a nice bag, or have cute ballerinas that fold nicely in a small pouch when you’re not wearing them (mine were bough at HM).
    Some homes even have simple slippers available for guests. Smart for less formal occasions.

  2. The older generation is used to bring indoor shoes with them and always does (at least all my parents friends always did and do), but i dont even allow that since heels makes marks on the floor (soft wimp “parkett”). Moms friends where not happy when the visited me once but I told them the reason and they had to live with it. Still I got visible marks from that evening…

  3. Growing up in Canada, I never wore my shoes inside my place, or my friends place. We would take our shoes off outside, in the garage, in the “mud room” or cloak room (depending on the house), and then once inside, would go in socks, bare feet, slippers or indoor shoes.

    Actually, I even remember in elementary school, we had indoor and outdoor shoes for this! We had the cloak room for this were you’d also hangup your jackets and bags.

    Place has a zero shoes inside policy. I don’t want rocks/dirt/snow/leaves/etc all over the place. Even having to store my bike inside my place, I wipe it down with a warm wet cloth to get the dirt/mud/rocks off. It’s enough work having to clean my place once a week, I don’t want more work. Plus, I’d hate to see how rocks vs my wood floors would go.

    It does (though be it rarely) happen where I will wear my boots quickly (if I put them on and forgot something in the kitchen) in the house, but never to wear/wander around in. I have slippers for that (which are A LOT more comfortable an fashionable then boots).

    One thing I do like is what gyms like SATS do. Give you those highly fashionable plastic blue booties to put over your boots/shoes. Actually, I should “borrow” a few of those for emergencies.

  4. @Tinna – I too, don’t understand who put feet on the table, regardless of wearing shoes or not. Husband accidentally had his feet touching the table and I went ballistic. He got the ottoman to stretch his feet on and I got some Ajax.

    I kinda wonder if the “shoes on” phenomena in American sitcoms and movies is the result of a fast pace working environment. Scenes are shot 10-20-30 times and putting shoes on and off and on again does waste a lot of time. That would be my only reasoning…

    @Chelsey – Yes, you may! Just not the whole article itself and do link back. :)

    @sabina – Those poor floors. Hmmm…wonder if it is a generational thing.

    On a different note, I read somewhere that in the late 1800s, early 1900s wearing shoes indoors became a sign of higher class. You could afford to wear nice shoes not only outdoors but indoors as well. You also were not working blue collar, arduous jobs that make for dirty shoes.

    Any ideas?

    @Andrew – Did you notice a difference between Canadian and American homes (since you lived close to the border)?

    Yea! Those blue booties are a good idea. :) Borrow a few for me.

  5. Ha great article!

    I think the whole thing (from an english perspective anyway) is about not feeling the need to ask someone to take their shows off, it just not a big deal…if they have high nail heals or crap on their shoes, they should have the sense to take them off anyway without being asked.

    As for asking a whole dinner party of people to take their shoes off…well…works here thats for sure but isnt that the common complaint amongst foreigners that swedes are slightly uptight.

    Besides…its just not cricket :D

  6. I grew up in Texas and always wore shoes indoors. It was super normal for me and my friends. In fact, I can only remember one friend’s mom who didn’t like shoes indoors, but I think I only went over there once or twice.
    When my husband moved in with me (in Texas), he would always take his shoes off and put them right by the door- I thought he was so lazy. He never explained why he did it, even though I’d always ask him to put them in the closet.

    After we moved to Sweden, I thought the whole shoes off indoors was a big hassle and a bit uncomfortable. If you aren’t used to it, it can be pretty strange at first. Taking your shoes off at a stranger’s house can feel very intimate, especially if you don’t know the person so well. I’d especially stress during the summer when I was less likely to wear socks to cover my feet, because yeah, I hate my feet!

    Even so, I always understood why Swedes take their shoes indoors. It makes so much sense, because shoes ARE dirty! I remember when my parents visited us in Sweden I cringed when they wore their shoes in our apartment, I eventually had to explain to them my new house rules. I always find it a bit awkward to tell other Americans that we prefer no shoes inside the house, but I think they always understand.

    Nowadays I hate wearing shoes indoors. It’s uncomfortable and dirty and gross. I especially hate when I have my shoes on and I realize I forgot something like my wallet, if I’m running late I have to run through the apartment to grab it (because running makes for less shoe to floor impact!) When that happens I find myself apologizing out loud to my apartment “sorry, sorry for the shoes!”

    One of the best things I’ve seen regarding no shoes indoors is a friend of mine who kept really nice slippers in basket by the door for her guests to wear. What a great idea, especially if the guest has cold feet, gross socks, etc. One day, when I have a bigger entryway I’m going to do the same.

  7. Wonderful post, well said! I love taking my shoes off, it helps me get more comfortable and relax. Shoes are disgusting, its so much easier to clean here than back home! So much less dirt! Sure, its not the most comfortable thing to do, especially if you are tired, but its a great habit. Its easy to see the difference in cleanliness between the shoes hallway area and the rest of the house, cant argue with that! (I’ve added your site to my blog list!)

  8. There’s this joke, that fits in here perfectly:

    “An American movie star is being interviewed by a European journalist. The movie star gets all comfy, stretches his legs and puts his feet with shoes on the table in front. Then turns to the journalist and asks:
    – You don’t mind if I put my feet on the table, do you?
    – Oh nooo, sir, please, put all four of them!”

    :) Stereotypes…. ?

  9. I have family in the States (I grew up in Canada) and I don’t recall keeping my shoes on at any of the homes I’ve visited while I’m there. I think most people take their shoes off indoors. I have a friend here who allows shoes in her home but that’s only when her floors are really dirty. Shoes indoors is going to be something I’ll keep assuming happens on TV and in movies.

  10. My entire life in France, I grew up removing my shoes once at home. It would be very rude to keep your shoes in someone’s else home. Very rarely some people would allow you to keep your shoes but only they can clean afterwards (never if people had carpet for instance).

    We wear ‘chaussons’ in France. They are indoors-only type of shoes. That’s for instance something which grosses me up in England: people keep their shoes indoors!!! Yuk!

    In Japan, it is also the norm to remove your shoes and if you want to push the politeness even further, you turn your shoes pointing towards the door, which means that you do not want to impose yourself on your host and are indicating your willingness to depart to avoid becoming a burden.

    P.S. My blog now includes quite a few bits about me in relation to Sweden ;)

  11. I have no problem in general about removing shoes. However, it is not so black and white. Diabetics in the states are told to wear appropriate footwear everywhere. It is very much a health and safety issue. Even the cleanest home has hazardous that, although not an issue for non-diabetics, can cause a injury that can result in an infection that could result in amputation. If the person has peripheral neuropathy, it is even more serious as they may not even be aware of the injury until hours or days have passed. In this case both the host and guest need to commicate. Unfortunately, many diabetics do not or will not disclose much less discuss their situation.

    The second is also a safety/health issue. Amputees, specifically AKs and BKs ( above and below knee amps) have prostheses fitted to particular footwear which gives the amp 2 legs of equal length when walking/ running. Removing the footwear can create a difference between the legs and result in not only discomfort in the stump but also result in injury and back problems if it continues. Transmet amps (partial foot – often the toes) also deal with balance issues, particularly if the are bilats (both feet). Shoes provide necessary support. Many amps are also diabetic. This doesn’t even consider the aesthetics of residual limbs/stumps for many non-amps.

    So what is the protocol for those situations. How do Swedes deal with these situations? What about someone in a wheelchair or having to use crutches or walkers?

  12. Thank you so much for this spot! I’m from Iran, so this is an important custom. While I live in the States, I still practice it. In fact, it makes me feel uncomfortable to not take off my shoes. I remember my mom telling the kids that came over to take off their shoes!

  13. I grew up in Southern California and have to say, in most cases, you weren’t supposed to wear your shoes indoors either. When I moved up to Seattle however it became more a mix. As well, up north in Sweden one of my friend has a large home where they regularly wear shoes indoors. Odd!

  14. Wow, I didn’t know that taking your shoes off at home is something unusual in America :) I’m from Czech Republic and even though some people don’t mind you walking in their home with dirty shoes on(which I really don’t understand since you are the one who has to clean the floor at your home not your gests) it’s usual you just don’t wear shoes indoors.

  15. John R Davis, about people with diabetes and wheelchairs.
    In Sweden we dispose of those people instantly if they try to enter our houses with shoes and dirty wheels.
    We have no sense of priority, The “no shoe rule” overrides logic and reasoning and all other rules.
    Our firemen have to take off their shoes when entering a burning building too!

    Srsly thou if someone have a medical condition forcing them to wear shoes i think most people here would accept that or lend them a pair of slippers.

  16. Ofcourse we dont have anything against if they sit in a wheelchair and the same goes with crutches.
    Those who would deny them entry are idiots.

  17. I found this so strange to read, as I am from the UK and noone has ever insisted I remove my shoes! I’ve always kept my shoes on in my own house, and I always ask the homeowner if they would like me to remove my shoes on entering their household – 95% of the time they say no, doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s just some weird quirk of British culture to keep your shoes on? Not sure!

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