‘No shoes in the house’ — the cultural difference of wearing shoes in the house in the Netherlands

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.

Wearing shoes in the house in the Netherlands
Wearing shoes in the house in the Netherlands isn’t always rude. Image: Marion Boigner/Supplied.

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.

Thanks, Google

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.

Marion Boigner
Marion Boigner
I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria and moved to the Netherlands out of love. I am working as a "German as a foreign language" as well as "English" teacher. My passion for languages helped me to learn Dutch easily and at the moment I am speaking all three languages throughout my days. Furthermore, I am living and enjoying the wonderful but crazy life of having two homes in two countries. This goes along with seeing the beauty of two worlds and broadening my horizon and point of view.

35 COMMENTS

  1. My Dutch husband learned me to take off my shoes at the entrance door, old farmers habits. I was used to thick square clothes unders my shoes when wolking in my parents house. Hier I have a bord on my front door “shoes off”. if people does not respect my house, may stay outside. bye

  2. In parts of India too we wear slippers inside the house and leave the shoes or sandals outside. For hygiene reasons (dust) plus being a tropical country it is hot so flip flops are more.comfy at home.

  3. At our house ‘schoenen uit’ was a rule. Strangers and friends who had ‘zweetvoeten’ were asked to clean their shoes well before entering. Don’t know of any other house that had this rule so it’s not a Dutch thing but maybe it should be. In schools too. It doesn’t only keep the house clean but also protects the floors and it’s just much more comfortable.

  4. One of the pros of being an Asian in the Netherlands is that people automatically take off their shoes before walking in my room without any questions asked. All they need is seeing me taking off my shoes and they be like “Idk I’ll just follow what the Asian do” ?

  5. I so wish I could get my Dutch partner to take his shoes off in the house! Not only would it keep my floors cleaner, I wouldn’t trip over the shoes he leaves in the living room! Perhaps I need to make a “schoenen uit alsjeblieft” sign..

  6. We never took our shoes off in the Netherlands where I grew up, and I still do not ask friends to take off their shoes, When I invite friends and they come nice dressed I think you can not expect that they take off their nice shoes what are chosen to go with the outfit. I live now in Germany and lived before over 25 years in the USA.

  7. In my household this is normal.
    I think it is an actual cultural thing, that is, interestinly, not universal but still present.
    🙂 That’s kind of cool ^^

  8. I don’t like people taking their shoes off in my house, what if they have smelly feet? I can’t ask them to put their shoes back on. Awkward!

    I’d rather clean the floor after then think about all the nasty possibilities of those feet being dirty

  9. I’m Asian so we always take off our shoes before even entering the door, when I came to The Netherlands, my in-laws are doing the same. So, I am happy I did not had any shock with this thing. Hihi

  10. Exactly! Why would you allow germs in your house by wearing the very same shoes you use to walk on the streets inside?
    In Indonesia we always take off our shoes or sandals before entering a house for such reason. When I studied in the Netherlands, I was also quite surprised when my boyfriend invited me to his parents house, everybody was just walking around with their shoes on. Funny enough, I felt uncomfortable following the rules so I took off mine and walked around barefeet (I didn’t have socks on back then) and my boyfriend looked so concerned asking me whether my feet turned cold due to the cold floor. I think Dutch people don’t like it at all to have cold feet 🙂

    But yea when my boyfriend came to visit me at my place, I always asked him nicely to take off his shoes, he never complained and followed it volunteerily 🙂

  11. Dutch born and raised,of surinamese descent. Shoes are for outside in our culture. Wherever I go, inside people’s houses i take them off (even when they tell me its ok to wear them) and feel deeply uncomfortable not doing so.

  12. As a Finn I have noticed the same thing in The Netherlands. Most people here seem to keep their shoes on in the house. Seems so unhygienic to me! In my house it’s shoes off or stay in the hallway!

  13. I’m originally from Russia and we don’t wear shoes inside.My husband is Dutch but we both are from yoga community and most of our fiends are “no shoes indoors” people.We have small children AND nice carpets,so if you are petulant man-child who can’t deal respectfully with simple request,you are definitely not invited.

  14. BS story….
    Short sighted as well.
    I know a lot of Dutch friends who have the ‘shoes-off- rules in their homes. I take of my shoes in the house but not just for hygene reasons, for comfort. Idon’t really care if ppl wear there shoes in my house, I vacuum clean my house everyday and mob every other day.

    Check this old-school add from UNOX, this is a short version, but in the end you see all the guys with their shoes off.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iESf6RKSb8

  15. This makes me very unhappy. As being handicapt I have to wear special shoes. If people ask me to take them off I could not walk. So I leave. It always surprises how people do not understand.

    • At young age we came to US and always removed shoes my friends found it a strange request
      I too have walking problems without shoes since 1975 so I understand

  16. I am from Finland and lived 6 years with my husband in Holland. I fully agree with everything with you :). We have had the same discussion many times.
    Dutch floors and cold though, they hardly never have floor heating. But still, I prefer clean floor and socks inside!

  17. I am Dutch but I had the same rule, my grandparents were dirt farmers and always took off their shoes, my mother (their daughter) didn’t do it when I was a kid, but later, living alone, I liked the custom and made a rule, now I live in South Korea, and here it’s a custom anywhere, I like it, the floor is heated so the feet are always warm and comfortable,

  18. So I am from Canada and people take off their shoes before entering the house there. Some houses even have a “mud room” – a coat room that is between the front door and the rest of the house to take off and store your outerwear and footwear as you enter. My theory is that in countries or places where there is a snowy winter where you can track mud and snow into the house, it becomes logical to take the shoes off and people do that automatically. So perhaps there is also a practical side to this difference.

  19. I remember visiting a colleague in Hungary where I had to take my shoes of as a guest. This was strange to me.
    I step in to our house with shoes on, but once sitting on the couch I take off shoes and socks to enjoy the warm floor heating and so do we all in our family.
    I must admit though that the shoes laying around the couch with socks in it do annoy me. So I think your style makes quite some sense…

  20. The Dutch give the shoes to their baby since they are borned i suppose. I always see the baby or child in the buggy wear the shoes likes they can already walk .When I go to the Dutch family,they wear very formal shoes likes they are planning to go somewhere but actually they just stay at home.When I see the children wear the closed shoes at home,I just wonder they also wear the shoes to bed ..

  21. I just don’t get what the fuss is about with shoes. It is not the 1700’s where we all walked around in mud and horse dung all day. If it isn’t raining there is nothing under my shoes to make your house dirty. So why be so strict about having no shoes in your home? You give your guests something to drink and they make your glasswear dirty but the extra work to clean the dishes is just something you accept. You invite people over so you clean their crap. Would be pretty rude to ask them to wash their own dishes or bring their own glassware. It is a small effort and is part of being a host.
    And that is how I feel about shoes. You invite them over, if shoes leave any dirt which I doubt you can clean it with 5 mins of vacuuming. Small effort that makes the people you invited feel a lot better.
    I also find it a bit rude if a host is so concerned about every little bit of crap their guests make in their house. To me hanging out has to have a bit of freedom, you are there with friends or fa.ily to have some fun. If that means somebody knocks over a drink by accident or leaves empty cans laying around big deal, just takes 10 mins to clean the next day. To me that is a lot more fun than constantly walking on eggshells because god forbid a dust partical leaves the sole of your shoe and “ruins” the floor.

  22. It’s gross! Thankfully, it seems to be changing: I now see more and more Dutch people taking off their shoes when they come in.However, they do still seem hesitant to ask guests to do the same…expect for my neighbor who has a sign in the front hall that says “Unless you are God, take off your shoes.”

  23. I am from Northern Europe and my boyfriend is Dutch. Overall, we’re a no-shoes-inside household, but on his birthday he insisted (demanded) we don’t ask our guests take off their shoes. I was baffled. Back home we have guest slippers for people who’s feet get cold. I’m wearing slippers so why should I leave my guests without such luxury, and also it’s a good way to politely give a hint. Before the party, I was vacuuming the beautiful fluffy carpet only to have it trampled by damp boots. My heart broke a bit.

    And for every Dutch person fearing their guests stinky feet: you should wash your feet and change socks every day AND make sure you’re wearing weather appropriate shoes that breathe!! Feet should not stink and if they do THEN YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING WRONG!

  24. I live in the U.S.
    I was raised in the Southwest (Arizona) in the 1960s, and in most households people would naturally take their shoes off when entering a house, as did our family. We would never consider wearing shoes indoors! It would have been considered dirty and rude: too much dirt & dust being brought in.

    I have lived in the Pacific Northwest now since the 1970s, and I know of no households that wear shoes inside — we all kick our shoes off upon entering any home; very clean, respectful and natural. This is what children are taught to do, at least on the West Coast. Some preschools schools have this as a rule, but after age 4, schools have kids keep shoes on for the whole day.

    I also lived in Alaska for a few years, and many people would wear their shoes (even muddy boots!) indoors. It makes for a lot of cleaning – however, the middle-class Alaskan culture I encountered is very casual when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness, and the families do not usually focus on upkeep; having a clean house is not important and dirt & mud is just a way of life up North, and seems to be the norm.

    When friends from the East Coast visit me in Washington State, they are often surprised to be asked to remove their footwear.
    I think removing shoes in the house is more of a West Coast thing. We have always done this.

  25. I’m Dutch and never ask people to take off their shoes. They are however free to take them off if it makes them feel comfortable. But if they have smelly feet they will be told to put their shoes back on.

  26. I am Dutch, living in Italy for already 50 years. I always took off my shoes, my husband too (he has worked in the Netherlands) and when I got people to visit me, I took care there were always some pair of slippers they could fihe same dirty shoes in my house??? Nope!!!!

  27. My grandparents came from the Netherlands but my family in the U.S. never took their shoes off in the house, but whe. living in Chicago in the 60s-70s when they burned dirty coal for heating etc I started the habit of removing shoes when coming indoors, Also living in the heart of the city, the sidewalks with so much foot traffic,made the bottom of shoes very dirty! Now my daughters have the same tradition with their families . Shoes off in the house and my little grandchildren kick off their shoes upon entering the house!

  28. I am Argentinian living in The Netherlands and also It isn’t common for me to take off my shoes when I’m in another house

  29. Born in the Netherlands, my shoes is absolutely a NO shoe zone! Most friends and family do the same so no issues.
    The only issue i occur is with e.g maintenance people who respond strangely when i ask them to take their shoes off. My house, my rules. Wondering how others deal with this?

    • Have exactly the same issues with maintenance people. They say they “are not allowed” to take their shoes off. The most respectful ones don’t make a problem of it and say sure. But it also led to many discussions.
      Everytime I had maintenance people over the beautiful wooden floor was left with marks that I can’t rub off.

  30. Dutch people have terrible hygiene. A visitor to my place whined about taking her shoes off and out of politeness I said up to you. She immediately walken in the house with her shoes muddy from walking through muddy grass nearby. By the time she left, my white floor had clear mud stains all over. She didn’t comment or apologize and waltzed out as if nothing happened. She was never invited again.

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