Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Birkenstocks: A Question of Style

23 Comments

One of the German habits I’ve had to get used to is shoe removal. When you get inside, you take your outdoor shoes off and replace them with slippers known as hausschuhe. This is of course inherently practical – it means you don’t drag mess into the house and you’re wearing something comfortable. The slipper of choice is usually the Birkenstock.

I have to confess that while forcing my children to remove their shoes as they come into our home, I keep my shoes on. My premise is that they are more likely than me to have stomped in a puddle or dallied in mud, and also that they will be going to play at other people’s houses so they need to know what the expected behaviour for children is. Children coming to our house on winter play dates will bring along their own hausschuhe so that they and my lot can have a happy little hauschuhfest of an afternoon.

Luckily for me the rules don’t always extend to adults, so I can still visit people’s houses shod. However, those who are eager to protect their floors keep spare adult pairs, which, out of politeness, I will don. It’s not as if I hate my feet. It’s just that (1) my shoes usually accessorise what I’m wearing, (2) my socks may have holes in, and (3) I like to walk not shuffle.

But the main reason I just can’t get into the hausschuh thing is because I find Birkenstocks and their ilk plain ugly. I’m just not a slipper kinda gal. Back home in South Africa, the Afrikaans word for slipper is “pantoffel”, which to me evokes Eau de Trailer Trash, indicating something large, fluffy and covered in cigarette ash. Also, as a child, I was forced to wear stokies, towelling affairs in shades of sludge and pond scum that were the nadir of slipperdom. I think I was damaged, and let it here be known that I always try to purchase attractive hausschuhe for my children.

Some of my non-German friends have gone native, and swear by the extreme comfort and practicality of their Birkies. What is really dangerous is when someone gets so attached to their Birkies that they start wearing them out of the house. This should be the preserve of dental hygienists and software developers only (the latter of whom will have summer Birkies – to be worn au naturel – and winter ones – to be worn with socks). Yes, they will wear their Birkies in the snow.

In other lands, more distant from here, Birkenstocks have an air of cool – Californians may wear them, Capetonians too – but in Germany, where the Birkenstock was born, they are orthopaedic shoes to be worn by people whose jobs require them to stand a lot or at home where no-one can see you. If you step outside in your othopaedic slippers your street cred is nul.

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Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

23 thoughts on “Birkenstocks: A Question of Style

  1. I have to say I agree. I don’t like Birkenstocks either. I’m not really a slipper girl myself, although for the first time last year I bought little fur lined booties for indoors in the winter. My husband says I have baby bear feet when I wear them! Actually they’re very cosy.

  2. Instead of wearing hausschuhs, try wearing funky socks instead. I have about 5 or 6 pairs of them. :)

    Not my photo, but you get the idea.

  3. I like the idea of cosy, but I think those stokies damaged me forever. Perhaps you two encountered rutschsocken when you lived here – socks with plastic anti-slide patches on the bottom. These are quite practical and not in the least pantoffel-esque. I still like to wipe the snow off my boots and stomp around in these at home – Thomas says because I short I like to walk noisily. Maybe slippers are just too silent for me!

  4. Something absolutely shocking happened last week in England… all the ladies were wearing birkenstock shoes out and about accessorizing their fancy clothes! They were. The one strap wunder kind. I had an opportunity to ask a native englander what was up with the shoes, and she said she just adores them and that they are so comfortable. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that Germans only wear them inside, unless they are a computer dork. Well, I must admit, I have two pair of birkies and I proudly wear them both inside and out! Maybe I am a computer dork… uh-oh.

  5. No you’re not a dork, you’re a Californian! So your Birkies are cool …

  6. .. well, if Heidi Klum (not the doyene of brain, but not completely lacking in style) can promote them, why can’t we wear them? Of course there are ways and ways of wearing them, and they do them in gold these days too (so what are we waiting for?). But I reckon we won’t see you, Charl, in them until they do a clacky-heeled version, oder…?

  7. Yes my Birkies should clack not clump …

  8. Hey, though I was born in Scotland but grew up in South Africa too. Brakpan, Germiston, Klerksdorp, Colenso then 8 years in Jo’burg. We left in 1987. I think I remember stokies but I obviously wasn’t scarred by the experience as I’m wearing tasteless but very comfortable and warm bright pink slippers right now!

  9. Look at us little misplaced Africans! We left in 1996 for two years. Ten years and three kids later we’re still in Germany.

    I was concerned I would insult people who love slippers, but I’m to going continue to blame stokies (so hideous) for my aversion.

  10. … make that three pair of birkenstocks! I forgot the pair I just got for gardening, they are bright red and I love them. btw – Emma, you are right, the kind that cover the heel are just perfect!

  11. You may not jump in puddles or play in mud, but your shoes still pick up all kinds of dirt.

    Removing shoes at the door is a very sensible custom.

  12. Oh dear – I’m a big Birkenstock fan too – even before I came to Switzerland. At one point in England they were only for very worthy vegetarian people who cycled everywhere but then they started to have a certain cachet. I shall bear all this in mind when I move from Switzerland to Germany.

  13. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Heather. Birkies have cachet OUTSIDE Germany. Here they are merely slippers, or work shoes for people who have stand a lot.

  14. Customs are indeed different from country to country – here in Norway no one would dream of entering a friend’s house (let alone their own) with their shoes/boots still on. Even workmen will take off their shoes entering a house they’re doing maintenance on until being told to keep them on. We are usually in socks (or barefoot); sandals or slippers would be the indoor shoe alternative (seldom worn at home, more typically at school/kindy). The only time shoes would be worn inside would be for dinner parties etc. Then, people will bring a pair of nicer shoes (pumps or what have you) – as an accessory, like you mention – and change from their outdoor shoes upon entering the host’s house.

    As for Birkenstocks, I love them! :) My favorite is the double-wrist-straps slip-ins, preferably suede. I started using the heel-strapped ones when I worked as a physical therapist (proves your point halfway ;) ), but pretty quickly got another, more “fashionable” pair to wear outside. I always make sure to stock up when in Germany, as they are a bit on the pricey side.

    Hope you’re having a great Advent. :)

  15. Well, I have three pairs of Birkenstocks and I just about live in them. I don’t really care whether I am fashionable or not, I don’t give a rip what anybody else thinks about how I am dressed or whether I have a bra on or my footwear. Does my back hurt? Do my knees hurt? Do my feet hurt? Do my breasts feel like sardines in a can?

    NO. That is all I really care about.

  16. I have to say I am in a state of shock. I’ve worn Birks for years (yes, I’m from California) and never knew they were considered indoor shoes in Germany! They are certainly marketed in the US as outdoor shoes (Just add socks! they say). I love them precisely because I can slip them off at the door while I help my kids off with their mucky shoes. Never never would I wear them in snow however…too slippery.

  17. Pingback: The Tale of the Perfect Slipper « Charlotte’s Web

  18. I find Birks good for standing and slow moving around the office as they keep your soles supported, but it’s expensive to pay over a hundred bucks for something you can’t wear outside or for walks. For walking, their strap design is purgatory. I’ve had the skin on my foot tops rubbed off even wearing socks. Get the version with a heel strap if you do use them to walk, loosen the front strap and wear VERY thick socks, or just stand a lot!
    Jacques

  19. I had stokies as a child! I miss them sometimes, but I don’t miss that clunky smelly-foot thing they seemed to attract after a while. I have no Birkenstocks, but I have Crocs, which I believe are worse. Here we have no huisschoenen, (see, some Dutch for you), but everyone is encouraged to take off their shoes. In our house kids must, adults can leave them on. I trust that poop-treading adults will be grown up enough to have a) established that they trod in a drol, and b) will clean it up if they track it in my house.

  20. Interesting post! I stumbled across as I was looking for comfy shoes to stand in. I’m a hairdresser and standing all day on hard floors wears down your joints so quickly… So I believe I fit the bill to wear birkenstocks although I’m trying to find some not-so-hideous ones. haha I completely agree with the no shoes in the house custom. I’m American and was raised to take off your shoes in the house. I was looking for indoor slippers to support my feet rather than going barefoot. Thanks for the cultural insight!

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