Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swedish Customs and Holey Socks

As a general rule, if you ever walk into someone’s home in Sweden, you should take your shoes off. I suppose the idea is to keep the floors in good shape, whether they be carpet, wood, or crappy plastic flooring like I have in my apartment.

Taking your shoes off is quite a nice little custom if you ask me. Shows a bit of respect for the home you’re entering, plus it shows a bit of friendliness, a comfort with your host if you will. It’s something I found myself doing over the summer when I went home. It’s something I find myself doing here without even thinking about it. Until recently. Because recently my socks have taken a turn for the worse.

I’m not really sure what happened. But apparently socks have a limited shelf life. And since I tend to buy (and by buy I mean my mom gives them to me for Christmas) socks at the same time, they apparently decide to give out all at the same time. So I am stuck with a drawer full of socks with gaping holes in them. Mostly on the bottom of the sock near the ball of the foot and the heel. This isn’t so bad really, except for the gross sticky feeling I get when walking on the aforementioned plastic flooring in my apartment. What is bad are the holes in the toes. Because when you take your shoes off at someone’s apartment, and your big toe is sticking out, well you feel a bit self-conscious about it.

This seems like it would be a simple problem to solve. There are a couple of options. I could sit around and darn my socks. But that’s not really my style. And there’s an even easier solution. Just throw them out and start over with new socks. I know. It’s easy. And socks aren’t exactly an expensive luxury item. But I have a problem. I can’t throw things away until I have used the hell out of them. So I keep wearing these socks until not only my big toe is sticking out but the rest of the little piggys stick their heads out too.

And while Mr. Fontana always told us to work smarter not harder, I would like to think that there are many different ways of doing that. And so while the smart thing may be to buy new socks, the even smarter thing is to just not wear socks with holes in the big toe when you are going to visit someone. I’m a problem solver.

Welcome to Sweden, where you should always take your shoes off at someone’s door. And where you should always be sure to have socks without holes.

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  1. I grew up this way too (my mom was Swedish) and it all made sense to me. Now if I could only get DH and DD on board with this plan...

    I always assumed it was because so many people in Sweden wear clogs and the sound of people clomping through the house would be maddening after about 17 nanoseconds. At least that's the feeling I get when my daughter clomps around in hers -- until she sees 'the look' and removes them.

  2. I didn't know until recently (well, a bout a year or so ago), that in most countries you don't take of your shoes when walking indoors. Here in sweden it's such a natural thing. The floor gets dirty if you don't. I can understand how people in countries where it is almost always warm and sunny can keep their shoes on, but on a normal autumn day in sweden, it's raining. You're shoes get wet and would leave marks on the floor for sure. After some days wouldn't it be like dirt-floor inside? I just don't understand why people don't do this in other countries, like in england, where it rains as much as in sweden if not more. It takes like 30 seconds max to take of your shoes. And it's nice to give your feets a little air now and then :)

  3. We have the same custom in Finland. Only rude people walk inside with shoes on. For some reason, if there is a party, everybody is entitled and even expected to wear shoes inside. Maybe it's invented by women who want to look good with their high heels at a party...
    Hairy, try walking barefoot next time you visit someone. Would that be cool or gross?

  4. Regarding holey socks, one temporary measure is to wear two pairs of socks: Wear the innermost pair upside-down so any holes on the bottom are on the top side, and then wear the outermost pair normally. This doesn't work all too well though if the socks have too big holes at the toes. Nor if the shoes are too tight for two pairs of socks.
    Anyhow once one gets to this phase, then one knows that the visit to the clothes store is way overdue. Sometimes it just is such a mountain to climb to get that done with.

  5. @christina - I like the noise hypothesis too. shoeless is just a much more relaxing way to move around in a house.

    @izi - unfortunately I can't really shed any light on why other countries dont take their shoes off. if it makes you feel better, as I said in my post, Ive started doing it in the US. one step at a time right?

    @smek - you bring up a good point, fancy parties tend to allow the shoes.

    and about being completely barefoot... Im not sure. I feel like in the summer that actually happens so it can't be that gross I suppose.

    @tim - now that is working smarter. I like it. does it cause an inordinate amount of foot sweat though?

    really i just need to buy myself some new socks.

  6. Thank goodness for shoes off at the door: Cleanliness.

    And it's a good thing Christmas is around the bend, as I'm guessing you'll receive socks then. (The best part about Christmas!)

  7. Hej,

    Jag försökte skicka ett mail till dig, men det studsade. Är adressen verkligen aswedishamerican@gmail.com?

    Quiznight thursday at 20 pm. Southside vid Zinkensdamms tunnelbanestation. emanuel.lindgren@gmail.com

  8. @isle - the shoes off really do keep the floors cleaner.

    and you're right, those socks will be greatly appreciated at christmas time

    @jonas - email is aswedishamericaninsweden at gmail dot com. I think I only gave the first part of my email. apparently I got distracted while typing.

  9. I think it's kinda dumb not taking off your shoes, I mean even if you live in a warm country you'll still bring in dirt and why do that?
    In japan they also take off their shoes right? even when it's warm. They've even gone one step further in this no-shoes-indoors thing and, like you might have seen in japanese movies of tv shows, many houses and apartments have a special little landing area in the hallway where you take your shoes off and change to indoor slippers, and this landing area is like a stairstep lower than the rest of the floor, keeping the dirt from gettin into your apartment. And I think it's brilliant.

    And I don't understand this shoes indoors at partys?
    I've lived here my whole life, been to tons of partys and I've never worn shoes at any of them. Not at big partys either, then there's just a big mountain of shoes on the hallway floor. You take them off in the hallway. Simple.

  10. Hej Hairy,

    It's a custom in Alaska, too. The main idea being that it's muddy or dusty outside and it's just nice to keep the mud and dust at the front of the house instead of all over it.

    Here's a way I deal with not wanting to display my socks: carry a pair of moccasins or other foldable foot cover with me when visiting.

    Yer welcome,


  11. I have to admit this is an entertaining and informative post but really we all know the solution to your problem. GO BUY SOCKS.

  12. @hanna - I agree. Im all for taking the shoes off.

    but int erms of parties, the fancy parties Ive been to shoes have always been lef ton. the normal college aged parties shoes have always come off.

    @ron - I think its a good custom. Alaskans and Swedes obviously share more than just latitude.

    and your suggestion for moccasins is genius. I have a lovely pair of slippers that look like large polar bear paws. Maybe I'll start bringing those along to social gatherings.

    @mo - I know mo.

    @anyara - well, if cleanliness is next to godliness then yes.

  13. Well, the shoeless thing is generally considered to be the Swedish rejection of anything Bourgois, right? In the middle of the olde century. Like, don't keep shoes on, They do.

  14. hmm... interesting. I like it. It would fit in with the Swedes and jantelagen.

  15. Hairy...I feel that I must post a comment here. first, my wife just tried to throw away a perfectly good pair of socks just because they both had holes in the "big toe area" Now I must admit that I'm pretty sure I could cause a serious wound with one of my big toe nails so it's undertandable that they easily cut through socks, but these socks are really a great pair, just a few holes...and really, since I live in the US, I just have to remember not to wear them to the airport where I do have to take my shoes off...

  16. if you don't need to take your shoes off I'm all for wearing those things until they completely fall apart.

    the old man used to throw away clothes of ours that he deemed to be "disgusting." usually I deemed those clothes to be worthy of wearing at least a few more times.

    now when I go home I make sure I do my own laundry. but maybe that was his plan all along...

  17. Why not try holy socks instead?

    Was in Rome a while ago and found a cute little shop (customers mostly from the clergy, I guess) with robes, mitres, and socks!

  18. there we go. problem solved. just go from holey to holy.

  19. To match the holy socks with your wardrobe - be sure to pick clothes in vatican red or bishop purple.

  20. oooh my favorite colors. obviously.