Did you know that the Danes have a thing about shoes?
There was a reminder on the school intra (forget the old days of notes and permission slips hidden at the bottom of schoolbags – that’s so 1990s…) that children were expected to bring a pair of slippers with them, for wear in class. Shoes are taken off and placed on special shelves outside the classroom. And if parents go in to the school building to deliver/pick up their kids, they pop blue plastic covers over their shoes or boots. The aim is to cut down the amount of dirt/damp in the classroom. And it also cuts down noise and keeps the wee souls’ toes cosy!
The Danes take this shoe business very seriously. Especially when the weather is wet. Which can be most of the time. However, the whole ‘to shoe or not to shoe’ thing can be quite confusing for us foreigners. Let’s take some scenarios:
Visiting a friend: You offer – and would normally be expected – to take your shoes off. You walk around their appartment/house in your socks. Sometimes you can borrow a pair of slippers. I’ve often seen a basket full of slippers – for visitors – in the hallway. (Tee hee, we even have one ourself!)
Visiting friends for dinner: If it’s a fairly formal do, you’re likely to be encouraged to keep your shoes on. As long as they’re not wellie boots covered in mud, mind. If it’s a really formal do, or you don’t know the other guests, women usually take a change of shoes (i.e. they take off their boots when they get out of the rain/snow/sleet/ice and change into their dainty party shoes).
Tradesmen coming into your house: builders, plumbers, electricians and joiners will remove their shoes immediately they cross the threshold. No questions asked. Exhibit A: I had a glazier here yesterday.
Exhibit B: And ‘hot on his heels’ (ho ho!), a joiner.
Now, of course, just to make it really confusing, these unwritten shoe rules aren’t hard or fast. And this is when the Soft Shoe Shuffle comes in.
The Shuffle? Yes, a very exaggerated rubbing of shoes on the doormat. Peering down at your feet while you do it, with a look that says “By jingo, these shoes have never been cleaner!” Everybody does it (including yours truly). A neighbour who pops in with a parcel. Council staff. The boss of the tradesmen. Parents who come to collect their child from a playdate, with siblings in tow (though the kids will always take their shoes off). If you don’t say anything while people do The Shuffle, there will be an embarrassed silence for a nano-second, while they reconsider their options. Should they then just walk right in, shoes intact – will you think they are rude? Should they offer to remove their shoes? Even if they really don’t want to/they’ve got holes in their socks/there’s nowhere to sit down (that would be those of us who are more advanced in years)/they’re only planning to stand in the hall anyway?
In order to be a gracious Danish hostess, you must – quicker than lightning – point down at their shoes and say “Det helt’ okay – bare behold din sko på!” ["Oh, it's fine - keep your shoes on!"] After all, you wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot now, would you?