Russians Take Off Shoes at Home

I always wondered about the custom of taking off shoes when you go to someone’s place. For me, it appeared to be quite funny to attend parties, sometimes formal ones, and still to see people barefoot. Can you explain that?

 

road washing in Moscow

road washing in Moscow

One thing that really amazed me when we moved to Switzerland was that you could wear black suede boots in fall/winter and they wouldn’t get dusty or dirty each time you went out on the street. At that moment, Muscovites heard what was considered to be a rumor – that in Europe roads are being washed with shampoo. That piece of knowledge really entertained us, it was in line with rumors about people in some countries eating insects or paying for breathing pure oxygen.

So, the most obvious and probably true answer is that the roads in Russia are less clean; hence, people remove their shoes to keep their apartments clean. It is also practical during a long winter season, when it is really cold outdoors, so you wear warm boots, insulated with real fur and it is really warm indoors, so keeping your shoes on in-house is not going to be comfy.

Bye bye youth boots

Soviet-made boots had a nickname – “Bye bye youth”

But we can also speculate on some more reasons. Comfortable footwear is quite a recent thing for Russian consumers. I am not talking about trainers and other sport shoes, I am talking about comfy shoes in general. In Soviet times most shoes and boots produced by Soviet footwear industry were not comfortable, so people wanted to get rid of them as soon as they got home to give their feet some rest. And although now that is not an issue any more, it might be the power of habit. And for girls, it still is an issue since 9 cm heels worn daily are tiring.

Finally, here is what amused me most about your question. Any Russian person would immediately recognize that this question is coming from a foreigner. I bet that not all guests at those formal parties were barefoot, some of them had “smenka” (change shoes) with them and felt in place with the situation. Smenka is something that Russians are used to from early age – kids in school always brought change shoes in a separate bag with them to school, adults used to bring shoes to theater, dances and when visiting friends. At present most hospitals, fitness centers and other organizations provide plastic socks (free of charge) to be put on top of your shoes. And all airports also provide plastic socks that you put on top of your socks, so that you do not have to walk through security line barefoot.

Home shoes

Home shoes

Finally, there is a need to mention domashnie tapochki (in-house shoes, provided by hosts). This wide-spread phenomena has always been in homes of Russians and has been considered one of hospitality gestures of a good host. Typically these are slippers, very often really worn out. A guest who did not consider bringing smenka might feel awkward when faced with a request to wear somebody else’s slippers. The best recipe is – bring smenka to any place you visit in Russia! That is a part of being a good guest!

P.S.  If you are a girl, never ever bring stilettos to house parties as your smenka. They might look awesome, but hosts of the party will hate you for wearing them since stilettos leave dents in wooden floors. Nobody will tell you not to wear stilettos, out of hospitality, but you may never be invited to this house again.

Leave a Reply

  • Christine McDonald - 4 years ago

    In Canada we also take off our shoes, to keep dirt and snow off the carpets. However, if you go to a garden party or a barbeque, you are allowed to go in the house with your shoes on. I am really enjoying your blog, and your English is excellent (much better than my Russian).

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Dear Christine,
      Thank you very much for your kind words! I am very flattered and it makes me very happy, that You read my blog!
      Modern technologieses do make us closer! I look forward your comments, comparisons and opinions! I have never been to Canada, I (and my readers) will learn more about your country via your comments!

  • Marsha - 2 years ago

    As it rarely ever snowed in the southern US, we grew up never having “mud rooms” built into our homes. You could find tornado shelters, but not mud rooms. I was an adult visiting New England in the winter, before I really understood and appreciated having a room in which one could take off snowy shoes and put on dry, warm shoes. I have friends who ask their guests to remove there shoes when entering their house. I think they did so after having children, and not wanting the babies crawling on floors that had outside dirt on them. I thought that was a great idea.

  • Kristina - 2 years ago

    I am a Russian living in US for the past 6 years, and ,yes, this article is written by someone who has an excellent knowledge of Russian culture. Nobody in Russia in their right mind would ever walk inside someone’s home in shoes.
    Yes, the host would often offer slippers but I often times was so worried to wear someone else’s slippers out of my fear of fungus or other contagious foot diseases that I’d decline and just walk in my socks.
    I am not sure if it’s true that in winter people want to get rid of their shoes out of discomfort and I lived in Russia during the soviet times and there were plenty of comfortable shoes. The reason is always the same – it’s too dirty outside, even in winter. The roads are treated with a bunch of chemicals that are there to melt ice, which in turn often creates mushy snow mixed with dirt and chemicals. Besides, most people in Russia don’t have personal transportation and use public one, which means that they have to walk miles on foot between appointed transportation stops and their destinations. So shoes pick up everything and understanding this problem of hygiene people remove their shoes first thing once in a home. I hope that helped to take a deeper look at this issue.

  • Shanthala Vinod - 1 year ago

    Your writings and the language are excellent! Lived your blog.

  • lostinxanadu - 9 months ago

    As a Russian, I think it’s just culturally disrespectful, period. No matter how clean the streets outside may be, I wouldn’t want to track that all over my house, where I then walk around barefoot, do yoga, sit, lay, whatever. I think Japan might have a cultural majority over this custom, but I would say it’s just as important for Russians. Even living in the U.S., I often have to remind my landlord and the maintenance guy to take off their shoes or wear protective covers when in my apartment, haha!