Astute Swiss who watch American sitcoms or series might notice that Americans don’t take off their shoes. Neither when entering their own home or other people’s homes. It looks like they keep their street shoes on even inside. You know what? They do. But there are exceptions to this rule. Aren’t there always?
Let’s start in America. Yes, it is quite normal for an American to get up in the morning, shower and get dressed. They then take their shoes out of the closet, put them on and start their day. When they come home from work they usually keep them on in the house. The exception to this is if you are going to put your feet up on the sofa. Of course you would slip off your shoes; shoes on the sofa are frowned upon. A reason to take your shoes off is if you are going to work in the garden. Muddy, dirty shoes stay in the garage or mudroom. Naturally, in the winter you wouldn’t wear your snow boots around the house either. Again, they stay in the garage or mudroom to dry. Slippers are something you wear when you are in your pajamas.
When I came to Switzerland I noticed quickly there was something about shoes. Following Ben’s lead, when he entered his parent’s apartment he would slip off his shoes. I did, too. I had to be careful that none of my socks had holes in them! How embarrassing. Walking around the apartment in your socks with holes in them is not cool.
But, like in America, there are always exceptions to the rule. When you are invited to someone’s home for dinner you usually keep your shoes on. You might go through the act of wanting to take them off at the door. The hostess might or might not stop you. Generally speaking, if it is a fancy dinner party, you would likely leave them on. If you know the host and hostess well, then you might even bring your slippers with you. I guess this follows the idea “this is what I do at home and I feel at home here.” Sometimes you get offered a pair of one-size-fits-all slippers that you can either put on over your shoes or slip into. I presume the idea is not to dirty the hostess’ floors, even if your shoes are clean. A noble thought.
The German Word for Slippers
Looking at the German word for slippers “Hausschuhe” [house shoes] you can see that these shoes are to be worn inside the home. That makes perfectly good sense. Similar to the Swiss, the Germans also wear their slippers and not their shoes inside their homes. Looking at the Swiss word I can see absolutely no correlation. The Swiss German word for slippers is “Finke” which is a bird, as far as I know. Interestingly, they also use the word slipper as an endearing term for car wheels. But I digress. Often times Swiss German “borrows” words from French but that’s not the case here either. I give up, I have no clue why the word “Finke” means slippers. I guess I will just have to leave it as the Germanic thing to do.
The whole thing with not wearing your street shoes inside the house isn’t difficult to understand. Besides not wearing socks with holes in them it isn’t difficult to implement either. Pretty cut and dry. Still, there are times when if I don’t observe, I might get it wrong.
Once, when my niece moved she had a “open-house party” at her new residence. She invited lots and lots of people. We were invited, too. When we got there the party was in full swing. At the front door we noticed many, many pairs of shoes in different sizes. So, we did the right thing and took ours off, too. Sure enough, when we went inside everyone was walking around in their socks, us included.
As we were leaving I noticed a pair of relatively new shoes that I thought looked very comfortable. I asked my niece who they belonged to so I could ask them where they bought them. See, another advantage to taking your shoes off before entering an apartment. You might end up taking home the wrong, more comfortable shoes. Only kidding.