Brits are aware that in some countries – Sweden, for example – it’s considered incredibly rude to wear your shoes indoors. But here in the UK things are very different. The basic rule is this: we’re coming in and we’re probably wearing our shoes!
It’s all a bit odd because the unpredictable British weather means there’s a good chance we’ll have dirty shoes. But if someone asks Brits to take off their shoes at the front door, we consider it a little bit eccentric and slightly rude. Unless we’re entering a yoga studio or … well that’s about it really.
We may be wearing filthy shoes, but we don’t want you to tell us that! We’d like to make the gesture of removing our shoes ourselves. We might say something like: “My shoes are covered in mud, let me take them off.” A British host will probably reply, “Oh no, don’t be silly!” even if they are thinking, “Yes, take your disgusting shoes off.” Saying the opposite to what you mean is all part of being British.
Brits are perfectly happy wiping our shoes on the mat outside the front door, of course. That’s why the entrances of most British houses have a brown mat made of sharp bristles to scrape the dirt off your shoes. The mats traditionally have the word ‘Welcome’ on them. There’s nothing more British than the shuffling motion you make on the mat when entering the home of someone you don’t know very well.
The determination with which the Brits hang on to their shoes is odd considering our love of thick carpets and rugs. They can easily be damaged by dirt or five-inch stilettos, but it would be very unusual for a Brit to ask a lady to take her heels off.
So why won’t Brits take their shoes off?
I suspect the real reason Brits don’t like to remove their shoes indoors is the fear of putting their feet on public display. Who knows what horrors will be revealed? Old socks with holes in them? Smelly feet or a smorgasbord of bunions verrucas and cracked heels? Oh we don’t want to imagine…
Hard medical evidence that we Brits are right to keep our shoes firmly in place. Just make sure you get a nice ‘Welcome’ mat so we can wipe our boots.