Wearing shoes in the house in the Netherlands: it’s a thing. A very strange thing, for those of us who come from different cultures. But where does this custom come from?
I have already written about rather interesting (for me) habits of Dutch people, and have since bought a house in the Netherlands. A special discussion came up when talking about visitors: will we have an Austrian household or a Dutch one? And how do we make Dutch guests understand my strange urgent need that they have to take off their shoes in the hallway?
Cultural differences: Austria
Every time I enter a house I take off my shoes immediately at the front door. I never considered that other people don’t do that or why I am really doing it. It is in my system and has been a habit ever since I can remember. My mom was especially nitpicky about it since we always had a wooden floors, and she never liked dirty shoeprints on the floor. That’s why my brother and I always took off our shoes, even in winter in front of the door to not drag any dirt or snow inside the house. The reasons were that we neither wanted to make our mom mad nor clean the floor afterwards.
So, when coming to the Netherlands and visiting Dutch households I always automatically took off my shoes. That is, until my boyfriend told me that it is not common here. At first, I was a bit confused, but it was summer, warm weather, and I wore sandals, so I just listened. Looking around I noticed that nobody else was walking on socks or barefoot either. People even wore high heels in the living room, walking on tiny stilettos, for my feeling, pinching holes in the wooden floor.
So, why do Dutch people wear shoes in the house?
Afterwards, I couldn’t help it but had to talk about it with my boyfriend. He explained it to me and I started being more aware of this phenomenon. Especially when I started to work here I noticed that all the students ran around in their shoes too. In Austria that would never happen. From kindergarten on every kid wears slippers. You come to school, take off your shoes and walk on slippers all day long.
Our teachers and parents always told us that it would be healthier for our feet. And cleaning personnel were especially happy because we dragged less dirt inside. Only the teachers were allowed to walk on their normal shoes. Once I became a teacher myself I was a little bit proud to have that privilege. But seeing Dutch students coming to school completely soaked from cycling through the rain and then walking around on a carpeted floor left me quite surprised.
So pretty obviously we have a cultural difference here! Still not feeling completely at ease with this topic I googled it. Why do Dutch people wear shoes in the house? And good old Wikipedia gave me a rather funny answer. “In Northern Europe and Austria it is considered rude and unhygienic to wear shoes in the house.” I like how Austria even got its special position in this sentence. Then it told me, “In the Netherlands, people don’t usually wear shoes in the house.” That means that it is not usual but quite common, especially for visitors.
I grew older, I grew wiser, and to be honest I weirdly inherited many characteristics of my mom. Therefore, I know that I don’t want to have people walk around in my house in shoes. I love walking around in socks, I love having it cleaned up and tidy, and I simply have this “no shoe attitude” deeply anchored in my Austrian heart.
So, when it comes to having our own house in the Netherlands I am probably a pretty annoying host. My boyfriend at least stands behind my rule, but guess his main reason is that “a happy wife means a happy life.”
Now I do wonder, what is your opinion on wearing shoes in the house? Let us know in the comments!
Feature Image: Marion Boigner/Supplied.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Feburary 2019 and has been fully updated in November 2020 for your viewing pleasure.