Be My Guest: Shoes off

Be My Guest: Shoe Removal

shoeWhen you are going on a school exchange, chances are that you will be staying in your counterpart’s place. An adventurous person would think, “Wow, this is a great opportunity to see the “real” culture.” Indeed, being able to see first-hand how families live on a day-to-day basis is an excellent way to get to know their rituals, traditions, home rules and much more. However, we all know that living with an unfamiliar family, even for five days, can be pretty uncomfortable.
Below, in red, is a incident, experienced by the participants in the project from Bulgaria, Spain, Italy and Sweden when they were either hosting or visiting. These experiences may have been personal but there is a cultural aspect as well.

Task for students:

Which do you think would be the appropriate thing to do when you visit a home in a foreign culture – enter with your shoes on or take them off ? How would you know? What would you do if you had not done it “the right way”?

Read the following incidents to find out:


Incident one: Shoe Removal

In Bulgaria
An Italian girl walks inside her Bulgarian partner’s home with her shoes on. This raises eyebrows. Read the actual incident here. A similar incident is reported with a Catalan student. Swedish students all take off their shoes inside the homes.

In Sweden
The Bulgarian teachers are staying with a B&B hotel. The owner and the hotel maid walk inside the hotel with their shoes off. The guests feel confused.

What’s going on here? Interpretation.

(This can be used by the teacher to give input or the students can be assigned to research this online or with friends from the respective culture. Then they can compare what they have found with what they do in their culture and have a discussion about the value that is behind such practices.).

  • Shoe removal is one of those issues most people have an opinion on. If you browse the net, you will find explanations ranging from it being a recent fad, through to shoe removal being a generational, religious and even class thing. Many countries favor this practice but we should not forget that practices can vary within each country.
  • In Bulgarian homes it is common practice to take off your shoes. One reason is that many homes have wall-to-wall carpets(carpeted floors) and it is hard to clean those, especially if the weather outside is wet. With home design changing, there are more and more homes with laminate, wood or tile floorings and this has led to more flexibility as cleaning has become much easier. So, as we know, cultural practices may change over time so shoe removal varies from home to home. Therefore, it is best to ask before you enter. It is also acceptable to bring your own slippers.
  • In Sweden people often take their shoes off too; even kids, especially in elementary schools walk barefoot/with socks on at school. A logical explanation might be the weather – no one enjoys dirt and grit inside the building.
  • So the best approach when you visit someone’s home is to look for clues at the entrance – if there are piles of shoes in the hall, offer to remove yours, as after all, it is all about respecting your host.

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